As a highly-engaged parent of three, I’m more than normally aware of the promise and dangers of the online world, so I’m always on the lookout for companies trying to help us keep predators away from our children. I don’t accept the “teach your children, then trust them” approach, for a variety of reasons, though certainly education is a critical component of a familial online safety policy. When I bumped into Social Shield.com I was intrigued by the combination of software and workshops, and asked CEO Sean Percival if he’d answer a few questions. Here’s our resultant interview.
Q: Tell me about socialshield and what you’re trying to accomplish with this new product. In particular, how is it different from existing content filter systems like Net Nanny and so on?
Our main goal is to provide parents the information and tools to protect their children on Social Networks. With the explosive growth of this types of sites many parents have been left in the dark on what these sites are and are unaware how vulnerable their child might using them. Although we do offer monitoring software our main product is information.
Kids now days are very tech savy and can usually circumvent filters like Netnanny. If parents have the proper information they can talk to their child about the potential risks without sounding like they don’t know what they are talking about. Think of it as the “don’t talk to strangers” talk for the information age.
Q: Sean, you are focused on social sites like MySpace and Facebook. Why? And does your product help parents keep their children safe in the world of IM, chatrooms and online discussion boards?
Although our main focus is sites like Myspace and Facebook we cover all avenues of online communication. Websites like Myspace are of special concern because of the amount of personal information a child includes in their profile. In a chat room or discussion board very little information is available to the general public where as with Myspace the child might include their school, their work, their feelings and other sensitive information in their profile.
Q: At what age do you believe children should be able to circumvent or disable content filtering and do their own thing online?
Its getting younger and younger each year, I would say at age 13 and above many children will find a way to bypass almost any type of filtering. This is why we aim to provide parents with information before attempting to block access. If an understanding can be made the child can still access Social Networks in a safe and secure manor.
Q: You’re also going to be teaching some seminars on how parents can keep their children safe online. Perhaps you can tell us a bit about your core message and how it fits in with sexual abuse statistics and related?
We have the following statistics on child behavior online:
- 71% reported receiving messages online from someone they don’t know
- 45% have been asked for personal information by someone they don’t know
- 30% have considered meeting someone that they’ve only talked to online.
(source: Chapel Hill, N.C. Police Department Technical Services Unit)
At our seminars we teach parents what Social Networks are and how to talk to their child about safe use. We also include training on various topics like how to find their child’s profile so they can conduct their own passive monitoring.
Q: Are you just selling fear, or do you genuinely believe that there’s a meaningful chance that a child using a social network can connect with a predatory or otherwise dangerous person and have their worlds collide?
Its certainly a very real problem, take the Dateline special that setup several online predators who arranged meetings with what they thought was an underage girl. Lately there was also a lawsuit filed against Myspace for 30 million by the mother of a 14 year girl who was raped by an older man she met through myspace. Lastly Congress has just passed the DOPA act which aims to block Social Networks from schools and libraries. [ref] Q: Is your work endorsed by MySpace, Facebook or any of the other sites that you’re filtering and monitoring?
Our website is not endorsed or affiliated with any other social network website. These sites have been slow to enact safety features for their users. They have made some recent progress by partnering with wiredsafety.org but they have a ways to go. We hope to fill the gap in the meantime.
Thanks for the time, Sean. Now, dear reader, what’s your reaction?