Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Protecting your teens from cyber-creeps takes vigilance

I am usually a pretty even-tempered person -- I leave the volatility to my husband -- but some things make my blood boil. The recent incident involving a Google engineer who apparently/allegedly took liberties with the private Gmail and Google Voice accounts of an undisclosed number of teenagers is one of those things.

It's bad enough that parents have to worry about their kids getting nasty texts from their classmates on their cell phones. Then this bonehead -- all reports indicate that while he's creepy he hadn't devolved into sexually predatory behavior -- decides to forget that he's an adult, and starts messing with confidential account data in at least a handful of incidences. I'm just happy that the kids had enough common sense to tell someone, so that this whole thing could get disclosed and resolved relatively quickly.

Except it really isn't resolved, is it? The engineer in question may no longer be on the Google payrol, but Google has got to be nursing a big black eye over this whole thing. Because for all its attempts to protect the privacy of Gmail and Google Voice users with policies and security, this guy managed to breach that wall. Mind you, this individual IS an engineer AND a self-described hacker at that. We're not talking John Q. Public. But still. This has got to be especially troubling for the schools that have been deploying Gmail as their email option left and right, because (um) it's free.

It's another pretty stark reminder that we, as a society, are still neophytes when it comes to managing the role of email and texts and mobile phones and social networks in our lives. For all the advantages they bring, there are a whole string of puzzling and unanticipated disadvantages. We can't afford to let our guard down, even if we are the parents of the world's most responsible teens.

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