Software alerts parents of Facebook users (podcast)

ZoneAlarm SocialGuard is a new Windows program that allows parents to scan their children's Facebook profiles to look for suspicious posts and contact with strangers.

Sample warning screen from ZoneAlarm SocialGuard alerts parents to a suspicious Facebook "friend".

ZoneAlarm SocialGuard (download) from Check Point Software Technologies is a Windows program released today that allows parents to monitor children's Facebook activities to see if they're bullying, being bullied, friending strangers, or engaging in potentially dangerous online activities.

No stealth mode
For parents to monitor their kid's profile, the child has to sign in once with his or her Facebook user name and password. That password is not passed on to the parent and the parent can't actually see the child's profile or what they're posting. Instead they get alerts of anything that the software considers to be suspicious. Requiring that the child or teen agree to be monitored not only protects the child's privacy but helps encourage conversations between the parent and the child, according to Bari Abdul, vice president of consumer sales at Check Point and a parent of three children.

With this program, the parents can monitor their kids without having to friend their kids. Some kids find it embarrassing to have a parent show up on their friends list.

Triggers
The program analyzes all friends to see if any appear to be "socially separated," which means that there are few if any mutual friends. It also looks at each friend's profile to try to determine if the person may be lying about his or her age.

The program also looks for certain words that might be associated with bullying or dangerous activity and if it repeatedly encounters words or links associated with sex, drugs, alcohol, suicide, gambling, hacking, hate speech, violence and other threats, it sends out a warning to parents. Parents can add their own words to watch out for certain types of ethnic or sexual slurs or anything else that they're concerned about. Parents can also enter their child's phone number and address to be notified if they show up in posts.

Underage Facebook users
In a podcast interview, Abdul (scroll down to listen) said that he and his spouse "struggle with how to manage the independence that we give to them and at the same time monitor their social media habits." Abdul acknowledged that part of the market for the product are parents of children under the age of 13 who, according to Facebook's terms of service, are not allowed to be on the service.

Separate studies in both the U.S. and Europe have shown that a substantial number of kids under 13 are among the more than 500 million Facebook users. A 2010 study commissioned by McAfee found that 37 percent of U.S. 10- to 12 year-olds were on Facebook and the recently released EU Kids Online study found that 38 percent of European 9- to 12-year-olds "use social networking sites with one in five having a profile on Facebook." The authors of that European study called age restrictions "not effective."

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About the author

Larry Magid is a technology journalist and an Internet safety advocate. He's been writing and speaking about Internet safety since he wrote Internet safety guide "Child Safety on the Information Highway" in 1994. He is co-director of ConnectSafely.org, founder of SafeKids.com and SafeTeens.com, and a board member of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Larry's technology analysis and commentary can be heard on CBS News and CBS affiliates, and read on CBSNews.com. He also writes a personal-tech column for the San Jose Mercury News. You can e-mail Larry.

 

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