by Ann Zeise
Privacy online is gone, yet the game of over protection goes on, seldom working.
As I write this back in April, homeschool mail list posters have been fuming over these events: Amazon.com being sued for not protecting child product reviewers enough; AOL and other providers protecting everyone so much from spammers that they are blocking legitimate opt-in mail; and the ability to easily find out everything about yourself online. I’ll attempt to address these issues and give a suggestion or two.
Amazon.com has provided a forum for site visitors to review books and products for several years. They have two forms. At the top of the adult form, which is the default, they say “Under 13? Use our Kid’s Review Form.” Do all kids pay attention to this? Some do, but still in the middle of their review, they reveal enough about themselves to be considered unsafe. The people who have filed the lawsuit want Amazon.com to preview ALL the reviews on their site, all the time to make sure no child reveals their full name, age, and town. As this is impossible, it may mean that Amazon will have to curtail book reviews by site members.
Many homeschool webmasters are watching this one closely. Obviously, Amazon.com is being picked on because they are big and make money. There are many homeschool and educational websites that encourage kids to participate in one way or another. Maybe we just have a message board for them to write to each other. Are we likely to be sued should a child post personal information on a board?
Parents have to be responsible for their children online. Children should never to give out their full name – in fact, let them make up a nickname to use online. Something other than “HotChick12!” They may tell what state they live in, but not their city. They should not lie about their age. Explain what it means to be “jail bait.” They should not tell other family names, their street address, or phone number. Tell them it is OK to be rude to a person who insists on knowing such things, to just “hang up” on them. Even OK information should not be given out until a parent is asked. Let them know that there will be consequences if they violate any of these rules.
Spam, real nasty spam, can be a bigger problem then posting personal information on Amazon.com. Some of the big services for email, AOL, Yahoo and MSN, have recently blocked all but certain types of mail servers from emailing their members. Suddenly, opt-in homeschool mail lists that have run for years on personal email servers can’t reach their members that are on these services, not even to tell them what the problem is. If you are on a service that is too censorous, find one that is not, and then use it for all your mail lists. Read the lists in your browser.
Having your own domain and web space helps and can be less expensive than an AOL account. Email addresses come with the domain. Make the default email address using the characters above keyboard numbers. I use *email@example.com. Don’t try to email me there! It will bounce back to you. It will also bounce back to all spammers who try to send email to any made up @gomilpitas.com address. I love spamming spammers!
Put your 10-digit phone number into google.com. See your name and address and a link to a couple of maps right to your home! Now try a google search on “phone directory” and look in any of the 4 million directories for your name. This is nothing new. You’ve been in there for years. These lists even included unlisted numbers! A couple will even generate my age for you. Ack!
Is paranoia necessary? I’ve been online since 1989, and as there were not many online in Milpitas, it was hard to hide my city. Now that I’m even a more recognizable onliner, with my full name all over my website, am I having strangers appear at my door? Nope. Not one problem in 13 years… except one person who called looking for a dentist in Milpitas early on a Saturday!