2007-12-07 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

AUDREY PHEFFER AUDREY PHEFFER If you have teenagers living in your house, you are probably very familiar with the terms Facebook, MySpace and Friendster.

These websites, often referred to as social networking sites, provide users with a convenient way to communicate and connect with other users, usually through message boards, chat rooms, blogs and e-mail exchanges.

These sites have become extremely popular in recent years, especially among tweens and teens.

While social networking websites can provide children with a fun and interactive way to communicate with their friends, there is a growing concern about the privacy and safety of young adult members.

There have been instances of unsavory individuals, including sexual predators, contacting young adult users. Fortunately, there are a number of precautions that can be taken by both parents and teens to help ensure that the use of social networking sites by children can be both enjoyable and safe.

The first step that may be taken is to set ground rules with your child regarding the use of social networking sites. Be sure to teach them that any information they post online can be viewed by anyone.

It is extremely important that your child is warned against divulging personal information while using a networking site. Instruct them to not give out their name, address, phone number, e-mail address, school name or school address, or daily schedule to people they do not know while on the site. Make sure your child is aware of the fact that the Internet makes it easy for individuals to misrepresent their identity.

A user claiming to be a local teen could actually be located hundreds of miles away, or worse, an adult posing as a teen. Your child should never agree to a face-to-face meeting with anyone they have met through the site without parental consent. If they want to meet with someone, it should be in a public place with parental supervision. If your child receives inappropriate material from another user of a social networking site, or if someone is harassing them or displaying other questionable behavior, tell them to not respond and to inform you. If the behavior seems very suspect or dangerous, you may want to report it to the local police.

Ask your kids which networking site(s) they belong to, and read the sites' privacy policy to determine what privacy settings are available to users. Some networking sites feature strong privacy settings. Many allow users to limit who can view their online profile and who can contact them. Remind your kids that any images, videos or blog entries posted to their profile may appear on the Internet even after they delete them. Any content posted on their profile can be copied and reposted on other sites, or remain in cached databases. Once information is posted for public view, it is essentially unable to be retracted.

There are resources available if you are interested in learning more about safe online networking. The Connect- Safely website (http://www.con nectsafely.org/) features networking safety tips and advice, a discussion forum for parents, and instructional videos.

You may also want to consider visiting the Federal Trade Commission's website on safe social networking at: http://onguardonline. gov/ socialnet working.html for more tips and information.

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