A syndicated technology columnist for nearly two decades, Larry Magid serves as on air Technology Analyst for CBS Radio News and writes a column for CBSNews.com. His technology reports can be heard several times a week on the CBS Radio Network. Magid is the author of several books including "The Little PC Book."
Steve Jones is Professor of Communication at the University of Illinois, Chicago. He's also the author and editor of numerous books, including "Society Online" and "CyberSociety." His research interests include the social history of communication technology, popular music studies, Internet studies, and media history.
Cynthia P. Hunter is a career and technology educator at Thomas S. Wootton High School in Rockville, Md., outside of Washington. She is in the process of setting up the Academy of Information Technology program at Wootton. She is also coordinator and director of the Girls in Technology Summer Exploration Camp at Wootton, which introduces eighth- and ninth-grade students to the world of information technology.
I found that my 13-year old stepdaughter has a site on MySpace.com. She has said that she is 19 years old. She has 126 buddies and many pictures are shown. I found her by a random check from another person's Web site. How can I track her information? I tried to register and get a password to get online and kept receiving error messages. How can I get online to check? What do I look for on there?
First, as you may know, 13 is too young to use MySpace. The company has a policy of 14 and over, but it has no way to verify a person's age. If you know her profile or the name or e-mail she used to register for MySpace, you can subscribe to a service that gives you daily reports on what she does. It's called MySpaceWatch. They offer a free basic version which should be sufficient and a paid version ($6 a month) with more bells and whistles. KidQuery has a similar service.
As per her age, click on the Help link near the top right corner of MySpace home page and scroll down to the question "where do I report underaged users?" Click on that and you'll be able to file a report. MySpace will take down her site if they agree she's underaged — but it may take a while.
Sorry you weren't able to get your own account. They are free and it's generally pretty easy to sign up. Click the orange "Sign Up" link near the right top of MySpace.com and fill in the blanks. The hardest part is deciphering the verification code at the bottom.
Can you get into your child's account on MySpace or related sites? If so, can you see their history? How can you see if they deleted history? Will they know you were in their account? Is there any way to see what topics have been discussed — such as whether the teen has talked about specific topics such as sex or drugs? Also, if there is inappropriate behavior (threats, or propositions), who do you contact?
— Long Island, N.Y.
If you can find his or her profile (there is a search link near the top of every page), you can see what is being posted on their public account. That won't get you into their private configuration area. For that you need their password. Of course, there are programs you can install on your PC to monitor (spy?) on what people are doing, but you should think about whether you really want to do that with your kids. If so, the two leading companies are SpectorSoft and IamBigBrother.com. You can also check the browser's history, but that may not give you as much information as you're looking for.
Personally, I recommend that you start by talking with your child, letting him or her know you're concerned and seeing what you can work out together.
My 26-year-old daughter isn't opposed to finding a match online. She tells me she's smart about it — but I am concerned that even the smartest person can be fooled about someone with "smart" moves. Is meeting someone even on a popular matchmaking service safe?
Caution is smart before you get together with someone that you meet on the Net. Having said that, there are thousands of happy couples who met on dating services and social-networking sites. If she finds a person she wants to learn more about, she should correspond using the internal e-mail feature of her service (most offer them), which means she won't have to give out her real e-mail address or even her real name. If she eventually decides she wants to meet someone, it should be in a public place (like a well-lit restaurant) with a friend or two present.
Is one of these type of accounts safer than the other (MySpace vs. Facebook vs. Friendster)?
Facebook has some level of authentication in that you need either a ".edu" address to prove you're associated with a college or university or, if you're in high school, you have to be invited in by another member from your school. They also let business people in from certain companies and they require you have a valid company e-mail address. Friendster is for people over 16 only, but mainly for adults. MySpace has privacy features available to people under 16 but if you're older than that you must have a public profile — at least for now. I think the real issue isn't how safe the site is but how you use it. If you don't give out personal information on the site and are careful about what you say to others and how you respond to solicitations, then there is very little chance that you can get into trouble. The overwhelming majority of kids who do get into trouble are "compliant victims," which means they weren't forced into a bad situation but they were lured into one. Please feel free to visit my site, www.blogsafety.com for lots of help and access to an interactive forum where you can ask more questions.
What about programs like Picture Trail that your child's friend has pictures on which identifies everyone is the photo — what is your right when it comes to asking to have your child's identity removed?
— Dix Hills, N.Y.
This is a very interesting question. To be honest, I'm not sure what your legal rights are but certainly you have the right to request that someone not put up pictures of your kids and you can ask the service to take them down. PictureTrail has a place where you can contact customer support. I would start there. I'd also ask your kids to talk with their friends about this issue. It's a real problem on social-networking sites, including MySpace. Even kids who try to be careful are often out there in public on someone else's profile.
Do you ever see a day when it's actually easy to set up and maintain computer systems at home?
— Washington, D.C.
Well, if that were ever to happen I'd lose my job as CBS News' technology guy. Just kidding. I do find it amazing that PCs are still as complicated as they are considering they've been around for more than 25 years. These days, the biggest problem isn't the hardware or even so much the software but all the spyware and other malicious code. Still, Microsoft and its hardware partners have a long way to go before I would call PCs "user friendly." Microsoft says its new operating system (Vista), which is scheduled to come out next year, will be easier but from what I've seen only a bit easier.