AOL launches tool to monitor kids' social networking (podcast)

AOL is teaming up with SocialShield to offer AOL SafeSocial, a tool to help parents monitor their kids' online behavior.

Home screen from AOL SafeSocial AOL

Ever wish you could be a fly on the wall for what your kids post on Facebook and other social media sites? One option would be to get them to friend you, but a lot of kids are reluctant to let that happen. Privacy issues aside, some kids find it uncool to have their parents show up on a friends list.

AOL, in partnership with SocialShield, is launching AOL SafeSocial, a $9.99-per-month service that lets parents monitor their kids' online activities without having to be a "friend."

The service doesn't work in stealth mode. In fact, kids have to agree to be monitored. But once a kid does agree, the parents get to see what the child posts and who their kid's online friends are.

In addition to posts, the service shows what photos a child posts as well as pictures where he has been tagged.

One problem with monitoring everything your kid does online is that you're likely to be overwhelmed with a lot of irrelevant information. To counter that, the service has software that looks for words or phrases that raise red flags for possible conversation about drugs, sex, violence, alcohol, and suicide. You get alerts if these conversations come up and anything alarming is brought to the top of the dashboard.

The service also tries to find out what it can about your child's "friends." According to AOL, it checks your child's online "friends" against "more than 50 Web sites to find out more about them."

Holly Hawkins, AOL's director of Consumer Policy and Child Safety, said that the product "requires open and honest dialog between the parent and the child." The service sends an invite to the teen so "it's completely open and upfront." Hawkins said that "it's very important to speak with the child to let them know that this is a way that mom and dad can keep an eye on you for peace of mind." Because the parent isn't seen as a friend on the site, they "don't have to worry about peer pressure or being ridiculed by your friends."

The site works with Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter.

The service, which is based on a similar service from SocialShield, costs $9.99 per month after a 30-day free trial.

Listen to my podcast interview with AOL's Holly Hawkins

Podcast


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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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