Auditor has arrived – our free tool for bullying and self-harm detection on GMail!

auditor, school, student, safety, email, gmail, detectLast year, we introduced “Auditor by Securly” – a free tool that helps schools ensure the safety of their students by monitoring GMail for messages that are indicative of bullying or self-harm. Today, we are emerging from closed Beta after an extended period with 20 customers in which we scanned 70,000 emails daily for indicators of cyberbullying and self-harm.

Already, Principals and IT Admins are finding Auditor to be a powerful asset to student safety. Tom Walker, Massac Unit School District #1, remarked, “The ability to detect bullying, self harm, or other potential destructive behavior is something we’ve never had before. One Saturday evening, I received an email from the Auditor Safety Bot. The email contained wording about a video being uploaded to YouTube with a suicidal line. Upon further inspection, the video was not uploaded by one of our students, but was from a popular YouTube channel that the student had subscribed to. However, the fact that the Auditor was able to detect it gives us another tool to have in the struggle against bullying and self harm. From a legal perspective, it makes perfect sense that a school district would want the Auditor on their side.”

How Auditor Came to Be

As Google Mail became the chosen tool in thousands of schools across the world, we realized blocking these channels is no longer a productive solution. However, from conversations with our customers, we learned that these resources have opened up new avenues for students to vent negative emotions such as bullying and self-harm.

In general, we found that many schools did not have good solutions in place that address this issue due to the following:

  • By its very definition, “web-filtering” does not apply to emails. A lot of schools that we’ve spoken to use Google’s default compliance options to flag emails that contain a predefined set of keywords. This can be prone to lots of False Positives (False Alarms) and False Negatives (Missed Alerts) and does not scale well in a large District where IT becomes the bottleneck in sorting through these flagged messages.
  • Old school approaches to monitoring these channels involving human auditors are costly.
  • The CIPA law is vague about the need to cover this vector – “The policy proposed must address.. security and safety of minors using chat rooms, email, instant messaging, or any other types of online communications.” However, the meaning of “safety” is left too vague.

Auditor’s Unique Benefits – COMING SOON

Automated sentiment inference approach: While existing tools rely heavily on keyword matching to detect inappropriate behavior (e.g. by looking for words like “suicide” or “ugly”), Auditor will use our tried and tested machine learning techniques. For example, consider the following post that was flagged by our algorithm: “slowly i’m realizing i don’t really have a purpose here say good-bye cause Fryday it’s all over <3” It should be clear to the reader that a keyword-based approach would not have worked in detecting this.

911 Emergency Response Notifications to Parents and Guidance Counselors: We will extend our existing Delegated Administration and Parent Reports functionality from our flagship web-filtering product to Auditor. In the context of Auditor, these services will become 911 Emergency Response notifications to both guidance counselors and parents. Parents, principals and guidance counselors will receive an alert whenever our Auditor detects disturbing emails sent or received.

It’s free? What’s the catch?

No catch! Keeping Auditor free –forever – is our commitment to the pursuit of student safety. Given the lack of any compliance requirement, and cash-strapped schools already reluctant to spend on paid solutions, we felt it necessary to introduce a free tool to address this serious issue.

As with any other company that is trying to build a sustainable business, we need to charge a fee for our services and grow our revenues year over year. However, while achieving this somewhat “practical” goal, we aspire to make a dent in the universe. In our mind, that “dent” has always been (and likely always will be) ubiquitous child safety – both at school and at home.

 

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The first ever proxy-less browser-less DNS-based iPad filtering solution for K-12

securly, filtering, schools, ipad, proxy, filter, device, app

iPads have a prominent place in the K-12 ecosystem. While we often see the higher grades go with Chromebooks as the 1:1 device of choice, lower grades typically go with iPads due to its tactile interface. Educational apps minimize the need to type while fostering learning.

With many schools choosing to send these devices home, both the CIPA law and pressure from the local parent community forces schools to provision their iPads with some form of filtering. Apple’s architectural limitations have thus far allowed only 2 options. Both of these have their own limitations.

Safe browsers: This approach requires uninstalling Safari and installing a specialized browser that filters web traffic. The approach suffers from the following limitations:

  • App traffic is not filtered.
  • Hyperlinks on any webpage tend to use Safari as the default browser.
  • Removing Safari breaks a number of Edu critical apps such as docs and drive.

In other words, Safe Browsers are simply not an option for a school or district trying to ensure that their taxpayer dollars spent on devices will move the needle on student achievement.

Proxy: Apple provides the option to push out a global proxy setting via MDM. This would mean that every byte of data from the iPad would need to be routed through the designated proxy. This approach has the following downsides:

  • Most proxy solutions are hardware appliance based. When the device leaves the network, the traffic is forced back through the appliance which is usually installed on the school’s network. By definition, this requires the school to become a 24/7 ISP for at-home traffic!
  • Even those proxy solutions that are cloud based like Securly’s often see Apps “break” because many cloud based services simply do not like to see their App traffic be proxy-ed. These services need to be constantly exempted from PAC files as the school runs in to them.
  • Many Firewalls tend to block proxy traffic out of the box. To address this, schools often need to maintain a running proxy whitelist on their Firewall.

The holy grail of iPad filtering: Thanks to months of often time frustrating R&D + recent advances in iOS 10, Securly is able to introduce the first proxy-less off-site filtering solution for iPads that is not a safe browser. The solution involves provisioning the iPad with a lightweight DNS setting – as a result of which ~1% of the device’s traffic is selectively proxy-ed. This includes App traffic. Securly is also able to avoid proxy-ing all of the traffic.

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Your Digital Citizenship Resource Guide

digital citizenship, digital literacy, education, schools, cyberbullying

What is digital citizenship? Essentially, it is responsible technology use rooted in community awareness. In order to be practice good digital citizenship, you must consider how your actions online can compromise your safety, and also of those (virtually) around you. In recent years, many school districts have begun implementing digital citizenship education for educators and students. Why? Digital  Citizen training is not only essential for student online safety but also integral for cyberbullying prevention.

At the advent of personal computing, many focused mainly on digital literacy, the ability to understand and integrate into a digital society. However, understanding the technology is not enough. By contrast, digital citizenship is all encompassing. Common Sense Media defines multiple components of digital citizenship including awareness of Internet Safety, Privacy and Security, Relationships & Communication, Cyberbullying, Digital Footprint, Self Image & Identity, Information Literacy, and Copyright Laws.

digital citizenship, digital literacy

Google Trends search frequencies for “digital citizenship” vs “digital literacy” from 2012 – present.

Then, with personal computing came to the rise of social media and cyberbullying. However, though cyberbullying awareness has increased over the years, the numbers for digital citizenship queries are dismal – especially given the positive relationship between them. In fact, many schools require digital citizenship education as part of their 1:1 Acceptable Use Policy. Some states even mandate digital training for students and administrators for school districts to receive funding. Florida House Bill 5101, grants at least $250,000 for digital classroom development. To receive this funding, each district must submit a digital classroom plan which includes provisions for digital citizenship education.

digital citizenship, digital literacy

Search frequency for “cyberbullying” and “digital citizenship” (2012-2017) – we need to close this gap.

 

The following free education resources are intended to impart digital citizenship best practices in the everyday technology usage of parents, educators, and students:

> Teach InCtrl

The Internet & Television Association (NCTA) launched InCtrl to provide free lessons for both teachers and students on digital citizenship. InCtrl is unique from other online curriculums in two main ways:

  • it provides guides for teaching digital citizenship across different subject areas, giving specifics for how to integrate digital citizenship into English/Language Arts, Social Studies, Science, Math, and Library/Media.
  • the curriculum is based heavily on collaboration and communication

> Common Sense Media Curriculum

Common Sense Media has crafted a Digital Citizenship curriculum intended to teach children how to make “safe, smart, and ethical decisions online”. Lesson plans come in a variety of formats (PDFS, iBooks, Nearpod, videos, interactive games, etc), segmented by grade (K-12) and subject. 76% of public schools across the US use these guides. However, it is not isolated only to the classroom. They also provide separate modules for professional development, teacher training, and family education.

> Microsoft Digital Citizenship Training

Last month, Microsoft released their “Digital Civility Index” in honor of the 5th anniversary of Safer Internet Day in the US. Despite their findings, Microsoft is still optimistic for a safer Internet and has started a new initiative The Digital Civility Campaign. This is an addition to their newly released training courses published for the public on their Microsoft Education platform.

Their 30 min Digital Citizenship course provides a toolkit for educators to use in their classrooms and is based on three pillars: (1) Digital Literacy, (2) Digital Civility, and (3) Information Literacy.

> iKeepSafe Generation Safe – New Media Mentor for Digital Citizenship

The iKeepSafe organization provides benchmark tests (ex: 360 Self Assessment) to help schools examine the school’s e-safety competence. They then break down Digital Citizenship Success into six tenets: each page devoted to an individual element provides (1) comprehensive definition (2) tips for schools (3) tips for youth and (4) guiding questions to assess readiness. iKeepSafe also breaks down concepts into three action items – Prevention, Detection & Intervention, and Incident Management & Response – accompanied by worksheets and themed curriculums for classrooms.

 

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Who else is collecting data about your children?

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Digital footprints are not exclusive to online shoppers or avid social media users; everyone has one, including your 5-year-old child. Any online activity contributes to their “digital portrait”, making them vulnerable targets to advertisers and internet predators.

Taking Precautions

In an effort to protect minors on the world wide web, the FTC Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) created compliance regulations for online operators that host children under the age of 13 in 1998. Websites must (1) provide notice of what type of information is being collected and what it is being used for (2) obtain verifiable parental consent for collection/use of said information and (3) establish procedures to ensure confidentiality of data collected. In addition, it is illegal to make site entry/game participation contingent upon the amount of information disclosed.

However, “age limits” did not stop persistent pre-teens from joining social media and gaming sites. Regardless, 10 years later, data collection came to be mostly implicit. Thus, the FTC expanded COPPA in 2013 to include photos, videos, audio, device location, as well as other “persistent identification systems” (cookies, unique serial numbers on mobile phones, IP addresses).

The Current Situation

COPPA mostly attempts to thwart behavioral advertisers and 3rd party marketing agencies. For example, this past year, consumers claimed that Google violated user privacy as they consolidate user data across all platforms (Google Maps, Google search, etc.), making for a more comprehensive user profile. The announcement of this pervasive policy change was deemed “deceptive” by consumer advocates. This is not the first time they have received contention.  Now, Google Maps includes “shareable lists”; on the note of privacy, WLRN writes “..the latest version of the Google Privacy Policy — dated Aug. 29, 2016 — states that ‘depending on your account settings, your activity on other sites and apps may be associated with your personal information in order to improve Google’s services and the ads delivered by Google.’ A note on the side specifies that ‘your activity on other sites and apps’ might come from your use of other Google products.”

However, parents need be aware of the privacy policies of common online tools (covered under COPPA or not), as well as the unconventional modes of data collection –like the following– and their possible repercussions. 

> 3rd party utilities. Despite this Facebook Hoax that claimed all personal information would be disclosed, Facebook privacy policies have relatively come under less fire. However, the 3rd-party Stalkscan makes access to FB personal content easier than ever before: “Stalkscan collects the huge amount of information revealed by that search term and puts it in an easily accessible form, allowing anyone to see all of the information about a person that it would be able to dredge up.” Although they claim it is not a breach of Privacy Policy, it exposes data that users may not know is defaulted “public”. Facebook provided Privacy Checkup to mitigate this vulnerability.

> Smart Toys. In recent years, toy companies have released products that allow for major security breaches. In Germany, the Federal Network Agency advised parents to destroy the My Friend Cayla doll. The Cayla doll interacts with children and responds to their questions by searching the web; it then stores child searches to be used by agencies.  In addition, researchers discovered “a hack allowing strangers to speak directly to children via the My Friend Cayla doll”. Mattel’s version Hello Barbie proved vulnerable after reports that the Wi-FI-enabled doll could be used as a surveillance device by hackers via the connected network; hackers could find out where the toy/child was or send back false data to the parent about child’s location. Hello Barbie also stores Wi-FI network names, the account IDs, and the audio it records.

> Video games.  According to the Wisconsin Department of Justice, child predators a lurk in chat rooms of sites “kid-friendly” gaming platforms. The predators can randomly search for a name in the database, see that the child is a Minecraft player, and then strike up a conversation in a chat room. Minecraft, not unlike other games, allows kids to play with other people in three ways: (1) a local area network (LAN) (2) online server or (3) Minecraft Realms. In addition, many kids post videos of themselves playing games which leak heavy clues to personal information and location.

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The Edtech Revolution: 2010 – 2017

School Devices People Isometric

In December 2010, The Journal –“the leading Technology based education publication for K-12 and higher education”– published an article with a 5-prong prediction for the following year. Will the cloud continue to reign? Will more schools embrace student-centric mobile devices? These were the pressing questions of the time – a time 8-months after the release of the first iPad and 6-months before the release of the first Chromebook.

Now, we know that edtech has been proven to improve test scores and overall classroom engagement. But, how does the 2010 vision for edTech match what’s actually happening today?
 

7 YEARS LATER…

 

1. “There will be more momentum for mobile devices in classrooms with an eye toward affordable alternatives to traditional 1:1 rollouts.”

The 1:1 initiative aimed for districts to issue each student a laptop for use in-school and at home. For some districts, the cost per student quickly became unrealistic to initially implement, leading schools to create alternate strategies.

Then there was the iPad. Appealing to all ages for all occasions, the iPad topped the market in the following years after its release. Given that many children were acquiring iPads for personal use, some schools adopted a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) Policy. Districts even integrated the two models to cut costs.

However, it was the Chromebook (2011) that truly revolutionized 1:1. While the iPad cost anywhere from $300 – $400, Chromebooks were sold from $199. The cost, plus it’s easy manageability and durability, made Chromebooks a main player in the edtech game. In 2012, Chromebooks accounted for only 1% of the devices sold to US classrooms; now, they make up more than half of the edtech market.
 

2. “Web-based instruction will gain more traction at the K-12 level.”

2010 was also the year that the Common Core Standards Initiative was enacted in response to numerous indicators of low student academic performance. Although the Common Core itself elicits mixed feelings, its effect on edtech is unwavering: “Integral to the Common Core was the expectation that they would be tested on computers using online standardized exams. As Secretary Duncan’s chief of staff wrote at the time, the Common Core was intended to create a national market for book publishers, technology companies, testing corporations, and other vendors.”

Indeed, $2.3 Billion has been invested in US K-12 education technology companies since 2010. Globally, edtech spending is predicted to reach $252 Billion by 2020.
 

3. “More tech-based monitoring and assessment tools will be incorporated into to the instructional mix.”

In 2000, the FCC created the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). CIPA requires schools and libraries to install measures to protect children from obscene or harmful content in exchange for discounts offered by the E-rate program. Many schools employ the use of a web filter to meet these requirements; however, administrators required new solutions that extended protection to school-owned devices at home.

Monitoring now includes take home policies and cyberbullying & self-harm detection. Parents are engaged via student activity reports on school-owned devices.
 

4. “The cloud will help ease the financial burden on schools while helping to expand technological capabilities.”

1:1 + Common Core = $$$$$. Valerie Strauss, a Washington Post reporter, claimed: “The financial cost of implementing Common Core has barely been mentioned in the national debates. All Common Core testing will be done online. This is a bonanza for the tech industry and other vendors. Every school district must buy new computers, new teaching materials, and new bandwidth for the testing. At a time when school budgets have been cut in most states and many thousands of teachers have been laid off, school districts across the nation will spend billions to pay for Common Core testing.”

Ironically, the cloud brought us light. Along with Chromebooks came Google Apps for Education – a suite of free, cloud-based productivity tools that allow for easy collaboration and engagement on any device. Check out their “Impact Portraits” to see specific examples of how the GSuite has benefited school districts in a variety of ways.

In addition, cloud-based web filtering allowed schools to abandon appliance based filters – saving them time, money, and effort with utmost CIPA compliance.
 

5. “Teachers will have access to expanded professional development programs.”

In 2011, the FCC updated CIPA compliance requirements. By 2012, all school Internet safety policies had to include educational programs detailing proper online behavior, cyberbullying awareness and response. In order to impart this knowledge to their students, teachers also had to go through digital literacy training.

Now, many schools now provide digital training professional workshops to help teachers integrate online safety best practices in their everyday classrooms. Some states mandate digital citizenship training for students and administrators in order for school districts to receive funding. By the 2014 House Bill 5101, each Florida school district will be granted at least $250,000 for digital classroom development. In order to receive this funding, each district must submit a digital classroom plan. The proposal must meet Florida Department of Education criteria. This includes creating a device Acceptable/Responsible Use Policy for students and providing digital literacy training for teachers, both of which are intended to combat cyberbullying by teaching students to be good digital citizens.

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How to Balance Trust and Safety in Digital Monitoring

parents, online, content, trust, safety, teens

Malware, spyware, online predators, phishing, etc. – your child faces these threats each time they log in to their device. The internet can be a devious place, with questionable content tucked into its darker corners.  As parents, you are inclined to install every safety measure possible to protect your children from harm.

Sure, these precautions are imperative for younger, elementary school-aged children. However, as kids become teens – chances are they won’t want you tracking their movements, monitoring their online activity, and/or filtering their content. To them, it is a breach of their privacy and a lack of trust. Perhaps this sentiment is merely a front for content they are trying to hide, but let’s not start off too skeptical. Psychologist Michael Rubino has worked with teens and families for 20 years; he says teenagers often ask, “If they want me to be responsible, how can I be responsible if they do not give me a chance?”

This in turn often leaves parents with the question: How do I walk the line between trusting and monitoring my teen?

It is possible.


In most cases, parents buy their child’s device (smartphone, laptop, etc.) and parents pay for the data service. Thus, it is important to remind your kid that their screentime is a privilege and thus can be taken away. Although this seems rather authoritarian, it is a point often taken for granted.

On a lighter note, the following includes more collaborative practices for establishing trust, while maintaining your child’s safety:

1. Transparency

“Spying” is masked with an incredibly negative connotation that lies in deception and secrecy. Tracking all of your child’s online activity without their knowledge already diminishes the chance of parent-child relationship built on trust.

It is best to tell your child of the x,y, z security measures you have installed to avoid feelings of betrayal, and later retaliation. By being frank with your child, you are establishing an openness intended to be respected/reciprocated. It sends the message: “Hey, I think these security measures are necessary. I can see what you’re doing. I’m giving you the responsibility to make decisions, and I’m holding you accountable for them.”

2. Compromise

48% of parents have read through their teen’s messages, and 61% monitor their browser history. However, this does not encourage an atmosphere of trust. A recent NYT article Should You Spy on Your Kids? claims: “A parent who constantly micromanages a teenager’s life — Why did you stop here? Why did you go there? — risks stifling the independence needed to develop into an adult.”

Please, do allow your child more freedom as they move through elementary school and onto middle and high school – but this does not mean you have to relinquish all responsibilities as the protectorate. Oscar Wilde once said, “With age come wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.” Although a bleak statement, this lends to the more moderate notion: although the transition from child to young adult marks a large jump in maturity, there is still a lot to be learned.

To foster a relationship built on mutual trust, discuss trade-offs. This can be as simple as being “friends” on Facebook or keeping Location Services on, but no reading through messages. When approached correctly, these tools should need not feel intrusive.

3. Talk Boundaries   

First and foremost, teach your children how to properly use technology as with great power, comes great responsibility. Impart digital literacy and digital citizenship practices and make clear what sites should and should not be accessed. Set ground rules and discuss expectations with your young adult as soon as possible: this includes individual screen time limits as well as restrictions on interacting with others on online platforms. In doing their part, parents should also be aware of the current technological climate.

On the other hand, if your teen is sharing a part of their world with you (being friends/sharing updates on social media) show the same respect by being courteous and following online etiquette: do not comment on every post, do not like every photo, etc. Check out this guide “How Parents Should Approach Their Teens on Social Media” for helpful tips to navigating this fairly new type of relationship.

4. Data Usage/Limits

Relative to the other practices, this is quite simple. Parents can set the data plan through their wireless provider to limit their teen’s browsing and app usage. This includes specifications like (1) app access only through Wi-Fi or (2) blocking texts, calls, and browsing during a designated time. These simple implementations limit access to online content (and also saves money), while still giving teens the freedom they crave.

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Help Your Kids Spend Screen Time Wisely

screen time, games, children, parents, media

A recent study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics re-evaluated appropriate screen time limits for young children. The assessment redefined “screen time” as the use of digital media exclusively for entertainment.

In the past, scientists and parents regarded screen time as the collective amount of time a child interacted with their device –and used this as the main factor to assess the potential benefits and/or consequences of screen exposure. However, this new metric focuses on the content and intent of device usage, addressing the positive results from educational-technology research. For example, an experiment in Australia concluded that children who play video games every day tend to perform better academically than those who do not. The theory goes that children who play video games develop critical thinking skills by solving challenges presented in the game. In contrast, students who use social media more frequently performed lower on standardized tests.

Given the debate over the relationship between screen time and child development –especially in the edtech world–this provides a point of clarity for parents as they work with their child to develop healthy device usage habits.

The new guidelines are as follows:

  • 18 months and younger: no screen time
  • 2-5 years old: one hour/day
  • 6-years-old and up: prioritize and complete other activities before screentime. Another study showed that ~4 hours was “just right” for peak performance.

Ultimately, it’s not necessarily how long children spend online, but what they are spending their time on. The following are fun resources for quality, engaging, and educational online content:

Common Sense Media

Common Sense Media includes resources for educational purposes or pure entertainment. They regularly compile a “Best of” List for Games, Apps, Websites, Movies, TV, etc. that are easily accessible through a navigation pane. These lists are broken down on a scale of 1-5 and organized by age group (“Preschoolers”, “Little Kids”, “Big Kids”, and “Tweens”). Another helpful feature for parents: they provide reviews for new movies and games, basing their rating on seven key elements (positive messages, positive role models, violence, sex, language, consumerism, drinking/drugs/smoking).

screen time, games, children, parents, mediascreen time, games, children, parents, media

 

PBS Kids – Reading Games

PBS Kids hosts a variety of game on their website and mobile app. The games are organized by subject/topic or by the TV show it’s based on.

screen time, games, children, parents, media

 

Kids.gov

“The U.S. government’s portal site that provides a gateway to hundreds of Federal and other websites for use by kids and teens.”

Kids.gov provides games and other educational resources for Kids (grades K-5)  and Pre-Teens (grades 6-8). They have a variety of interactive activities centered around learning the science and history of your environment – for example, they have a “Design Your Own Roller Coaster” challenge listed under the Science category. Other resources include Art and Music, Math, Jobs & Careers, Online Safety, etc.

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How to Be a Digitally Aware Parent in 2017

parents, children, screen time, online safety

Kids are trading in swing sets for headsets and see-saws for Slither. There are apps developed specifically for 1-year-olds, and on average, a child receives their first smartphone at the age of 10. It’s 2017 – parents must be cognizant of the virtual playground, just as they looked on while their children scaled the jungle gym.

This constant influx of technology – and at increasingly younger ages – poses a variety of risks for children that range from compromised cybersecurity to impaired cognitive development. However, the best way for parents to ensure online child safety is to be digitally literate and digitally aware themselves. And here’s how:

1. Know the Trends

To understand your child’s device habits, it’s important to know what types of content they are consuming.  For parents who feel that monitoring browser history is too overbearing, this is a less intrusive way to gain insight into what type of material their kids are exposed to. Business Insider surveyed a large group of teens to see what the biggest trends were among young adults this past year.

App Annie regularly reports top download apps and games by category: social networking, kids, entertainment, etc. Google Trends reports top searches and YouTube populates the most viewed videos on their home page.

2. Use Your Resources

The US government has compiled a list of resources centered around cybersafety and cyberbullying prevention. Additionally, there are a variety of tools available that are designed to help parents monitor and protect their children online at all times:

Web filters block inappropriate content, protect from malware, and can detect instances of bullying or self-harm. For full coverage, these apps allow parents to track and regulate their kid’s activity undetected. Google’s My Activity feature compiles watch and search history across all Google Apps, including YouTube. It also tracks devices, where they have been, and what apps you have used; these settings are adjustable. Although controversial, checking your child’s “My Activity” is a free way to follow their digital footprints.

 

3. Engage With Your Child

Younger Children

A recent study focused on how toddlers learn from touchscreens. Researchers observed the difference in a child’s retention and reproduction of a puzzle pattern when the puzzle-assembly tutorial was (1) demonstrated by a “ghost demonstration” on a tablet and (2) performed by an adult sitting next to them. The results: “The 2- and 3-year-olds who saw the ghost demonstration had a hard time replicating the task — but did well after they saw the human hand. Researchers concluded that having a human guide — often referred to as having social scaffolding — helped these young children learn.”

Young Adults

Reassign the hours usually devoted to scrolling through social media apps or online shopping in for a “device-free”, family activity time: start a project with your children, decide upon a book to read together, or introduce a regular time to catch-up and talk about your day. Being attuned to your child’s behavior on-and-off screen is an integral part of keeping them safe. Many young adults fall victim to cyberbullying and serious consequences may ensue. However, many teens do not reach out for help;. Spotting the signs early through shifts in your child’s behavior can prevent the devastating consequences, and ensure they are receiving the proper support they need.

Signs your child may be experiencing cyberbullying:

  • Becomes withdrawn
  • Suddenly stops using the computer
  • Loses interests in hobbies once enjoyed
  • Stops using computer or dims the screen when someone is nearby
  • More can be found here

4. Connect with Other Parents

Many parents have the same concerns when it comes to privacy and internet safety. CommonSense Media, a non-profit that works to promote safe technology usage, has created a trusted forum for parents to voice their concerns. Parents can both “Ask an Expert” and receive guidance from other parents. The forum is segmented by age group.

parents, children, screen time, safety

 

5. Set Guidelines for both Parents and Kids

In 2016, parents spent a daily average of 9 hours and 22 minutes interacting with some sort of screen media. About 8 of these hours were devoted to recreational use. To effectively set screen time boundaries for children, parents must lead by example and consciously make an effort to forgo picking up their device.  Set “no-phone zones”, schedule outdoor activity time, and impose daily screen time limits. Also, make sure that children do not use their device directly before bedtime; studies have shown that this disrupts sleep patterns and can lead to poor academic performance.

It’s especially important to limit screen time during early stages of development. Check out these new guidelines for screen time exposure by age group, abridged from an American Academy of Pediatrics report.

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Web Filtering: equally beneficial for your 5-year-old & 15-year-old

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Web filtering is required by law, as long as schools wish to receive e-rate funding to supply their digital classrooms. The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) requires that schools “block Internet access to pictures that are (a) obscene (b) child pornography or (c) harmful to minors.” CIPA also requires schools to monitor student online activity and provide training for responsible technology use.

The general sentiment: students –especially teens– hate web filtering*. Most students find web filtering to be unnecessarily inhibitive, citing that it blocks perfectly acceptable web pages due to one keyword or denies access to social media pages. One argument goes that filtering prevents exploration and blocks students from using tools like Facebook for academic causes. Another, that it is a breach of student privacy.


*Misdirected blame: Web filtering is different at each school. Federal law doesn’t specifically require schools to block Facebook, Twitter, etc. Your web filtering provider doesn’t dictate that X, Y, or Z website needs to be blocked. Besides fundamental protection against pornography and similar graphic content, it’s at the discretion of each school district to whitelist or blacklist the specific sites that students take issue with. Some schools leave social media open, some schools restrict access, etc. Web filtering, when used correctly, can be utilized to help –not hurt–the student experience.


Web filtering applies to all schools, which means the measure applies to all students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Older students are particularly irked by filtering and feel that although filtering content is necessary to shield younger kids, it is gratuitous for those close to adulthood. Web filtering does vary dramatically from elementary, middle, to high school – however, it offers additional aspects often forgotten that are equally optimal for students of any age.

1. Cyberbullying & Self-Harm Detection

Particular web filters can screen for instances of bullying and self-harm in social media posts. From 2007-2016, the number of students who experienced bullying roughly doubled from 18.8% to 33.8% according to a Cyberbullying Research Center report.  The CDC analyzed cyberbullying by age group and found that 15.5% percent of high school students are cyberbullied, as are 24% of middle school students. Technology is now integrated into daily life at a very young age, leaving even elementary school students at risk for cyberbullying.

37% of cyberbullying cases go unreported; often, students are fearful that 1) the bullying will get worse 2) they’ll be considered a “rat” 3) no one will listen if they seek help. Given bullying’s devastating consequences, detection of bullying and negative sentiment can allow schools/parents to give students the proper care. And even save lives.

2. Productivity and screen time management

In our recent international survey, 53% of students aged 9-18 reported being productive only half of the total time spent working on school assignments. Blocking sites like social media and gaming (especially for younger children) keeps students focused on learning. Some filtering services even allow the admin to establish time restrictions on certain sites (social media, gaming, entertainment, etc.) to create a good balance between recreational and study time.

Also, overexposure to screens may have harmful consequences for cognitive development. Although 5-year-olds may not have research papers to write and assignments to finish, web filtering can help parents and educators manage healthy levels of device usage.

3. Defense against malware and phishing

We asked students their take on web filtering. One student responded, “You don’t get rude ads or viruses.” Pop-ups and pseudo-content are not only annoying but also often dangerous.  Online aggressors specifically target children, enticing them to click on attractive advertisements or links leading to viruses.  

A web filter screens the origin and content of a web page, checking for objectionable content, spyware, and viruses that may compromise your network. It helps keep students safe online and protects from intrusive viruses, malware, and ransomware.

4. Helps teachers understand students

On his blog, an IT admin expressed how web filtering helped school staff understand student preferences: ”…you can see stats for student web access. Not blocked pages, which they have a view for too, but sites kids are using. In our case, as we begin having discussions about whether Newsela is a service we want to pursue as a district standard, we now have compelling data telling us that it’s already being widely used and is, in fact, our most accessed website on a weekly basis.”

Teachers can use these insights to create engaging lesson plans and foster a collaborative learning environment, while best-integrating technology into their classroom.

 

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5 Reasons Why Securly is Trusted by Schools in 42/50 States

parent, securly, school, supportGiven the shift towards cloud computing in recent years, schools are moving away from traditional hardware web filtering appliances for the following reasons:

  1. The don’t have school-focused features.
  2. They’re too expensive.
  3. They’re not designed to filter students at home. They require nontrivial setup and maintenance.

Our unique approach to student safety combats all of these issues, and has garnered us a presence in schools in 42 of the 50 States, and in the UK – all of this accomplished in less than four years. In the past year alone, we were 1) chosen as a SC Media 2017 Excellence Award Finalist in the Best Compliance Solution 2) awarded the Tech & Learning’s Award of Excellence for “Best Upgraded Product” and 3) became the first web filtering company to receive the iKeepSafe California Privacy Badge.  

Here’s why schools trust Securly as their answer to CIPA Compliance and online student safety:    

1. Quick, easy set-up and maintenance

Contrary to traditional hardware appliances which require an arduous set-up process, Securly can be independently installed within 5 minutes through a web browser session. The only changes to your network would involve a change in DNS forwarder settings. Securly is infinitely scalable in the cloud and does not have any bandwidth limitations.

Our cloud-based solution eliminates complicated set-up and constant maintenance that often burdens IT admins. It also eliminates extraneous costs of mandatory updates and extra features, cutting expenses dramatically for schools.

Securly continues to work for school-owned devices at home. Chromebook filtering uses a Chrome extension that takes only seconds to deploy. To find out more, check out “How to install the Securly Chrome Extension in 5 Minutes”.
 
 

2. Excellent support

Securly is with school IT every step of the way. We were even awarded the Tech & Learning Stellar Service Award for “Sales Support You Can Believe In.” We have a first response time of 12 minutes and a median ticket solve time of 1.5 hours pre-and-post sale. We give IT admins a white-glove onboarding experience which includes network configuration changes and an end-to-end UI walkthrough and training.

In addition, Securly’s support site is easy to navigate and features a variety of step-by-step guides intended to answer quick questions and smooth the configuration process (for example “How to Install the Securly Chrome Extension in 5 Minutes” featured above).

support, Securly, school, parent

 

3. Bullying and self-harm detection

Our commitment to student safety goes beyond CIPA compliance – Securly is the industry’s first cyberbullying detection solution. Using Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning algorithms, Securly can detect instances of bullying and self-harm on social media, and now Gmail*. This technology does not rely solely on keywords to detect human audits.

Nowadays, students often turn to social media to express emotional distress. At the first sign of negative sentiment, we send high confidence alerts to both parents and school administration so that the student can receive the proper support ASAP. Mark Nelson, the Technology Director of Romeo Community Schools, has seen the power of this feature first-hand: “Securly’s Flagged Activity has helped us contact school counselors four times to make them aware of alarming posts by teenagers. The avoidance of a single tragedy with one of our students is worth 1000x the subscription price.”

*Auditor by Securly is our free tool to monitor Gmail for bullying and self-harm. Keeping this tool free forever is our commitment to K-12 schools.

 

4. Parent engagement

We believe that online student safety is best achieved when IT Admins, School Administration & Guidance Counselors, Parents, and Students work together. Thus, we provide parents with the tools to be engaged in and aware of their child’s online activity.

For parents, we provide automatic weekly email reports of their child’s online activity on school owned devices and more detailed activity information with our parent portal. The portal gives parents a bird’s eye view of their child’s activity on school owned devices. Parents can also customize what their child can do and see at home using the school-owned take home devices. More about parent features can be found here.

We also created a mobile app for parents to help them stay in the loop while on-the-go.
 
 

5. Relief for IT Admins and Teachers

An IT Admin’s job often becomes a bottleneck of support tickets and flagged student activity. To alleviate this inefficiency, Securly has created solutions to reduce the stress on IT Admins that engage teachers, guidance counselors, and parents.

Teacher-Centric Filtering. Admins can allow teachers to temporarily or permanently whitelist individual sites as exceptions to a district policy. “This is precisely how we felt after making the move to Securly,” says Tom Walker, Director of Technology for Massac. “We felt compelled to go with Securly because of its teacher-friendly benefits. For example, if teachers come across a blocked site, they can simply temporarily whitelist the site to grant access for themselves or their students. As an IT administrator who typically receives numerous support tickets, this made my job a whole lot easier, and my teachers a whole lot happier!”

Delegated Administration. Our “set-and-forget” solution allows IT Admins to allow automatic access for Principals, Guidance Counselors, and Parents access to student activity reports.

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