It is not uncommon (although completely unethical) to find out that an online company is fishing through an individual’s contact list in order to generate more traffic. But when I read today, about Klout automatically creating user accounts (for under-age children no less), I couldn’t stay quiet about it.
The article I’m referring to is “When Sites Drag the Unwitting Across the Web” which was posted in Sunday’s New York Times. The article states that a Washington area mother, Maggie Leifer McGary, frequenter of the social web, found that Klout had automatically created an account for her 13-year old son. Ms. McGary had her Klout profile (as many of us do) linked up to other networks in hopes of increase her online profile status. Her son, was her Facebook friend so that she could monitor his interactions (as any good mother should do), and Klout, who doesn’t have any mechanism to determine an individual’s age created a profile on his behalf.
How did that happen?
It turns out, Ms. McGary’s son’s profile was public – and therefore, it allowed Klout to dig into his information. Klout has since removed this automatic account feature in response to this situation however, this does raise questions about children and their understanding of how to effectively use Facebook and other social media channels.
Too many times, we hear parents talking about how much more knowledgeable their children are about social media, and in response to that they tend to lean on them to learn the ins and outs about these networks. We set up content filters and monitor our childrens’ activity. We talk to them about not posting too much personal information and not trusting everyone they meet online, but do we show them the steps that they can take to ensure that their profiles are not made public or accessible to everyone?
They are kids at the end of the day, a careless post about being alone at home could have serious repercussions – especially if the post was made public. And as with the case above, unsolicited account creation on other networks that you don’t know about can jeopardize their safety.
So what can a parent do?
Children-specific sites: the teens likely wouldn’t go for this but sites like Webkinz or Club Penguin are especially made for children and they are closely monitored by site owners. These sites are good because they don’t let you upload your own photos. Instead, children are able to adopt a pet or customize an avatar to represent themselves. They also have policies that prevent account holders from entering in proper names, numbers or from using words that are a part of their excluded list of words.
Teach them how to use it: Show your children the ins and outs of Facebook, MySpace or Twitter. Where are the privacy settings? What do those settings mean and what can they do for me?
Not understanding the features of a social network can harm anyone – even if your child understands that it’s not safe to say his real name or have a real-life meeting with anyone she’s met online, a lack of understanding around how to navigate social sites can be very harmful.