Sunday, August 30, 2015

Snapchat isn't as safe as kids think it is

I first heard of the mobile app called Snapchat a few years ago when the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) graciously sent members of its Child Exploitation and Computer Crimes Unit to my place of employment to speak about child safety on the Internet.

Snapchat is an online messaging app that allows users to share "moments" by sending photos and brief videos (annotated with the sender's comments) to one or more recipients. The unique feature of Snapchat is that the image sent is deleted within 10 seconds of being viewed. Unfortunately, this function gives kids the illusion that their image cannot be recorded, saved, and shared with others.

That's where they are wrong. The old adage of "Once it's on the Internet, it's there forever," rings true even with an app that claims to dispose of images instantaneously. Most computing devices—cell phones, tablets, laptop computers and desktops—have the ability to save an image that is displayed on screen by creating a screen shot of it, often with the simple press of the Prt Sc (print screen) key on the keyboard, or other shortcut, depending upon the operating system. That screen shot can be quickly saved to a file, stored and re-shared publicly and privately.

Snapchat is often referred to as "the sexting app." To "sext" is to send sexually explicit photo images or text messages via mobile device. Snapchat provides uninformed children with a seemingly safe way to sext. The average kid thinks this is harmless, until an illicit selfie snapped in his/her bedroom is revealed to, say, all the kids at school. Or, worse, the image is maliciously posted publicly on FaceBook, YouTube, or other social media site.

To compound things, it's doubtful that most children are aware that any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor (under 18 years of age) is a felony under Title 18 of the United States Code. For first time convicted offenders, this will land them 15-30 years in Federal prison. If you think your teenager is immune from prosecution or other legal consequences, read this horror story on CNN: 'Sexting' lands teen on sex offender list. What kind of life does that teenager have to look forward to, forever branded?

For more information about the law, see the Citizen's Guide to U.S. Federal Law on Child Pornography on the Department of Justice web site.

For more information about Snapchat, simply Google the phrase "dangers of snapchat," or read A Parent's Guide to Snapchat by ConnectSafely.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Snapping photos of my kid can be dangerous?

Today's smartphones typically come equipped with (1) a camera, and (2) geolocation services (that rely on the Global Positioning System, or GPS).

When you snap a digital photo using a device that has GPS navigational services enabled, that photo file is embedded with the time, date, location, device information and other "metadata" (data about data). This is called geotagging, and it means that when you post a photo online that was taken with your smartphone, essentially you are uploading a digital file that contains private information about the whereabouts of the original photo.

That data, in conjunction with all the information you've posted on FaceBook about your recent trip to Disney World, your dog's name, information about your kid's soccer tournament, the PTA, etc., provides stalkers with a fairly complete picture of your child's world.

Side note: Keep in mind that many phones upload your pictures to some cloud service automatically. This is a feature that you might consider opting out of on your phone. For example, if you have your Android device configured to back up your phone's photos via your Google Plus profile, it puts a copy of all those photos on your Google Plus Photo page. All of that location data goes with those photos, wherever they may go on the Internet. And guess what? Google has full access to those photos, as well as equal ownership. But that is another story, outlined in your Google terms of service agreement, should you choose to read it.

Parents, here is where you want to pay attention. Pictures of your child in his or her bedroom, at school and elsewhere can provide the rest of the world sufficient information to locate that child, as outlined in this NBC affiliate news story posted to YouTube:

What is your recourse? You can either disable geotagging on your smartphone, or disable all location services on your phone (which improves your privacy drastically, but disables your ability to navigate with a map app and renders useless all of your apps that rely on geolocation services).

To learn how to disable geotagging, conduct a Google search on how to disable geotagging coupled with your particular phone type. Sample queries on are: "How to disable geottagging Android," and "How to disable geotagging iPhone."

For more information, see: