Online Safety

For the past several months, online safety has been in the news, primarily in relation to Facebook, a social networking site that many young people—as well as adults and businesses—use, and not for a good reason. Facebook has made a number of product changes, as well as had a security flaw, that have dealt blows to user privacy and security. These include changes to the default privacy settings, as well as changes to how users’ profile information is disclosed to others.

With charges that these changes ““violate user expectations, diminish user privacy, and contradict Facebook’s own representations,” Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed a complaint against Facebook with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on May 5, 2010. Fourteen other consumer advocacy groups joined in the complaint.

Besides Facebook,, a newer social networking site started in November 2009, has also made the news this week. The site is based on “honest” answers to users’ questions—answers that are allowed to be made anonymously. This translates as gossip and insults, mainly pertaining to appearance, intelligence, popularity, and sexuality. In other words, the site seems to sanction cyberbullying. The suicide in March, 2010 of Alexis Pilkington of Long Island followed the receipt of many cruel messages on Formspring.

Apparently, many tweens and teens have been joining without their parents’ realizing. There are 28 million visits each month, half of those from US members. It is not known what percentage of visits (or members) are under 18.

If you want to understand more about on-line safety, we suggest three things:

• Do an online search on “facebook privacy settings” and share your findings with family members, friends, relatives, and colleagues.

• For more on protecting privacy online, read our article “Online Safety.”

• For more on cyberbullying and other kinds of bullying, read “School Bullying” on Educationbug’s sister site,