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John I. Carney

Loose Talk

John I. Carney is a former editor of the Times-Gazette and now works for Bedford County government.

Protect your children online

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

This is National Consumer Protection Week, and Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs has issued a news release reminding parents of the importance of protecting children's privacy online.

"Whether they are studying, socializing, playing games or learning, kids are spending a lot of time online," states the news release. "Parents must ensure kids make smart and safe choices when they are online. Your child's personal information and privacy are valuable -- to you, to them and to marketers."

Some experts, including the FBI Web site, suggest that the computer used by the child be kept in a common area rather than in the child's room, to decrease the likelihood that the child will surf to unwanted or potentially-dangerous sites without permission. Whether that's the right solution for your family depends on your situation.

The state suggests that parents know what sites their children are visiting and read their privacy policies. Web sites need your permission before they can collect personal information about your child, and parents have the right to ask a site to delete personal information about a child. Parents should be selective about the web sites their children are allowed to visit and about what information is shared.

Parents should also talk with their children about what information should be private.

The U.S. Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 requires that Web site operators:

* Post a privacy policy and link to it on pages where personal information is collected.

* Explain its process and get parents' permission to collect information from their children.

* Allow parents to choose if their child's information will be shared with other people.

* Give parents access to their child's information and the opportunities to delete it and to opt out of future collection.

* Protect the personal data collected from children.

Of course, the issue goes beyond privacy and can affect your child's safety and security. The FBI Web site offers some warning signs that your child may be in danger online:

* Your child spends large amounts of time on-line, especially at night.

* You find pornography on your child's computer.

* Your child receives phone calls from men you don't know or is making calls, sometimes long distance, to numbers you don't recognize.

* Your child receives mail, gifts, or packages from someone you don't know.

* Your child turns the computer monitor off or quickly changes the screen on the monitor when you come into the room.

* Your child becomes withdrawn from the family.

* Your child is using an on-line account belonging to someone else.

Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs can be reached at (800) 342-8385 or www.tn.gov/consumer for information about privacy and consumer protection issues. Suspected criminal activity, such as sexual exploitation of a minor online, should be reported to law enforcement.

--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government. He is also the author of the self-published novel "Soapstone." His personal web site is lakeneuron.com.