Category Archives: Family Safety

Zooming with the Grandkids: Five Easy Video Chat Apps for the Holidays

Holiday Video Chat

Zooming with the Grandkids, Nieces, and Nephews: Five Free and Easy Video Chat Apps for the Holidays

All the kids are doing it, and so can you.

If you haven’t hopped onto a video chat with the family yet, the holidays are a great time to give it a whirl. While there are plenty of apps and services out there for video chatting, I put together a quick list of the more no-nonsense options.

Broadly speaking, I selected video chatting apps that are free, relatively straightforward, and possibly something you already have on your smartphone, tablet, or computer. From there, I also offer up some advice that can keep you and your family safe while you chat. Let’s take a look …

Video chatting with your smartphone or tablet

One of the easiest ways to hop onto a video chat is with your smartphone or tablet. They can save you a bit of configuring and fiddling around with settings because these devices have cameras, microphones, and video chat apps already built in. In that way, they’re optimized for video chat, so using one of them is practically “point and shoot.”

Depending on what smartphone or tablet you have, you have a couple of leading options:

FaceTime – iOS and Mac OS devices

Pre-installed on iPhones and iPads, FaceTime can connect up to 32 people on iOS and Mac OS devices at one time. That way, if you want to chat with a few family members at once, you can have plenty of people join in. Note that only iOS and Mac OS devices can use FaceTime, so the person you want to chat with will need FaceTime on a iOS or Mac OS device as well. Connections are quite simple. In fact, as simple as making a phone call. You can start a FaceTime call with a tap of family members in your contact list. Your device does the rest.

Google Duo – Android devices and multiple platforms

Google Duo is a voice chat app much akin to FaceTime that’s found on plenty of Android phones and tablets. However, it differs from FaceTime because it’s available for multiple platforms. For example, there’s a Google Duo app for iPhones, so if your grandkids have iPhones, they can install the Google Duo on their iPhones and have a chat with you on your Android phone.

Also, you can use Google Duo on a web browser without an app by clicking here. That’s a great option if you have a camera-ready laptop or computer—which we’ll talk about more next.) Google Duo also features “Family Mode” where you can put on masks and make doodles on the screen if you’re signed in with a Google account.

Free video chat from your computer

If you don’t have a smartphone or tablet, there are still plenty of options that are free and relatively easy as well.

For starters, you’ll need a laptop or computer with a microphone and camera, which is more or less standard in laptops today. If your laptop or computer doesn’t have that combo already, not to worry. There are plenty of moderately priced web cameras that include a microphone. I suggest getting one with a physical lens cap. That way it always protects your privacy. Likewise, you can always disconnect yours when it’s not in use.

With that, here are a few options for video chatting on your computer:

Zoom

Originally aimed at a business audience, families and schools quickly latched on to Zoom for its ease of use at the start of the pandemic. Zoom offers unlimited time and unlimited calls for one-to-one meetings yet has a 40-minute limit once there are more than two devices connected. While there’s an app available, I recommend that you set up a free account and run it through a browser window. That way, you don’t have to deal with an install and you’ll always have the latest security protocols in play.

Skype

Skype from Microsoft has been around for a long time, getting its start back in the early 2000’s as a voice and text chatting app. Today, it comes standard on Windows PCs and supports apps for all kinds of tablets and smartphones too. Up to 50 people can join, which is of course plenty. If you want to create a video chat without an account, you can simply visit this page and start an instant video chat with a click. That’ll give you a link that you can copy and share with your family. And when they click on that link, you’ll all be connected.

Google Meet

Free to anyone with a free Google Gmail account, you can use Google Meet just by clicking its icon from your Google apps menu or by visiting https://meet.google.com/. Originally designed for businesses, governments, and schools, this premium product is now available to all. Some nice features include the ability to schedule a meeting with your family using Google Calendar and additional security features that help make sure your call is private. Like Zoom and Skype, it can run in the window of your browser, so there’s no app to download and install.

Setting up your computer for a video call

As I mentioned above, there’s practically setup when it comes to running a video call on your smartphone or tablet, as they’re already configured for video. Computers, however, may take a little more effort.

The first thing is to make sure that your microphone, speakers, and camera are all set up and ready to go. If you have a Windows computer, you can check out this quick article to get your audio set up and this article for setting up your camera. For Macs, check out this article for audio and this article for video.

From there, you can log into your video chat app or service of choice and give your audio and video a test just to make sure everything is a go. You can do this before you make a call by starting the app as you normally would and then clicking on the menu item for “Settings.” Each app handles it a little differently, yet the interface should show you if it detects your camera, microphone, and speakers. Once you’re set up, you likely won’t have to go back in and do it again.

Lights, camera, chat!

Now, it’s time to think like a movie director. As you might think, the camera angle and lighting in your room make all the difference on a video chat.

In a way, the camera is the way you’ll make eye contact with your family. Set the camera or hold your device so that it’s at eye level with you. That way, it’ll appear like you’re making eye contact with them. Few things feel stranger on a video chat than a camera angle that appears to have you looking down at them (and with them looking up your nose in return).

As for lighting, avoid sitting with a light source behind you. The camera will adjust itself to the light source instead of you, putting your face in the dark. Instead, look to have a light source that’s in front and a bit off to the side from you. That’ll light your face without washing out your face in harsh light. Likewise, if you’re sitting in front of a computer monitor while you’re chatting, see if you can lower the brightness on the monitor. That’ll keep your video looking great as well.

Keeping safe on your calls

Once you’re all set up, here are a few things that will help keep your calls private and secure.

Set a password

If you’re initiating the chat, be sure to create a password that that uninvited parties can’t join the call. Also, don’t be shy about asking your family members to use a password on the calls they initiate. It’s pretty much a standard practice nowadays.

Double-check any video chat invitation links

Many services, like Zoom, allow people to join a video chat by clicking a link. As with any link that’s sent to you, be sure that it’s legitimate. Confirm the link with the family member who sent it, particularly if you weren’t expecting one.

Use security software

Likewise, make sure that you’re using comprehensive security software that protects you from scam emails and links, plus block links that could send you to sketchy websites. That way, if you do get sent a bogus invite link from a scammer, you’ll be protected.

Join using your browser when you can

When you click a link to join a video call from your computer, it will open a new browser tab that will prompt you to join the call. Often, there will be an option to “join using the app,” which your browser will automatically download if you click that option. However, the easiest way to join is by clicking the option to “join using my browser.” In addition to being a no-fuss option, it also means one less app on your device to keep current.

Keep your apps up to date

Aside from giving you the latest features and functionality, updates also often include essential security improvements. Set your computer to update itself automatically and consider using security software that will scan for vulnerabilities and install updates automatically as needed.

Chat it up!

With the holidays upon us and the and New Year on the horizon, now’s a great time to give video chatting a try. As with any new app you try, do a little research of your own before you download it. Check out the news reviews to see if it’s right for you or if there have been any security concerns.

I hope this overview gives you a great start and that it becomes just one more of the many ways you keep in touch, whether during the holidays or year ’round.

Stay Updated 

To stay updated on all things McAfee and for more resources on staying secure from home, follow @McAfee_Home on Twitter, listen to our podcast Hackable?, and ‘Like’ us on Facebook.

 

 

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5 Fun Ways to Keep Family Connections Strong (and Secure) This Holiday 

Digital holiday dinner

5 Fun Ways to Keep Family Connections Strong (and Secure) This Holiday

The reality is beginning to hit: The holiday season will look and feel different this year. Traditional family gatherings, complete with mile-long dinner tables and flag football games, are now considered COVID “super spreader” events, putting a dent in plans for large gatherings.

Still, there’s a bright side. We may be dealing with a pandemic, but we also happen to live in time of amazing technology and ingenuity. That means when the face-to-face connection isn’t possible, we can connect with a click or two.

Physical and Digital Safety

According to the Center for Disease Control, it’s important to keep basic safety protocols such as mask-wearing, disinfecting, and social distancing in place. In addition, they recommend limiting the number of guests, celebrating outdoors if possible, and limiting the number of people in food prep areas. One of the most important things you can do, says the CDC, is to “have conversations with guests ahead of time to set expectations for celebrating together.”

A part of those conversations can also include ways to digitally connect with elderly or at risk loved ones who can’t gather and how to do it safely and securely. Here are a few ideas to get you rolling.

5 Creative (and Safe) Ways to Stay Connected

One big tip in organizing a successful, digitally connected holiday is to prep your technology logistics before your gathering. Ensure everyone invited to the call has downloaded the right app, adjusted privacy settings, and understands app and safety basics. For family members who may be uncomfortable connecting digitally, consider calling a few days ahead of time, previewing the app, and answering any questions. Prepping your tech will maximize your time together and ensure everyone feels confident.

1. Cook together. Use video apps such as FaceTime or Zoom to share recipes and even have grandma teach the kids to cook her famous corn casserole. Since everyone is together, you may even want to crowdsource favorite family recipes in a google doc and make a family cookbook.
Safe Family Tip: Your FaceTime app is always ideal because it’s encrypted and still private. When using video apps such as Zoom, make sure your account and meeting settings are personal.

2. Share a virtual mealtime. You might be surprised at how much fun sharing a mealtime virtually can be (we’ve tried it!) It’s easy: Set up your phone or computer on a stationary tripod or shelf that frames your dinner table. Agree on a time with family members. Dial them up on your phone or in your app. Toast the holiday in real-time.

Safe Family Tip: Be aware that with the increase in people going online to connect with family, shop, and work, hackers are also working overtime to get into Zoom (and other apps) conversations and figure out ways to plant malware. With increased digital activity, think about a comprehensive security solution, which can help protect devices against malware, phishing attacks, and other threats.

3. Enjoy movie time together. Using apps like Hulu Watch Party, Watch2gether, Amazon Watch, Netflix Party, and Houseparty makes it easy to watch a movie together from multiple locations. For kids, there’s Disney Plus Party for kid-friendly group viewing. Some of the apps require screen sharing, others separate logins, while others are simply one account holder sharing a link. The Verge offers this step-by-step on how to for several of these apps.

Safe Family Tip: Make sure the movie site or app you are using is legal and safe. Cybercriminals are hot on the trail of movie fans and have created movie apps designed to download malware onto computers. Avoid clicking on pop-up ads or random links while looking for movies or apps. Add an extra layer of protection using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to encrypt your online activity, keep your identity secure, and secure downloads.

4. Multiplayer Game Apps. Don’t worry. Family game night lives on! Even if you are separated by miles, you can play virtual family games like Charades, Uno, Pictionary, Trivia, and many video games.

Safe Family Tip: Be sure the app you are downloading is legitimate. Read reviews and make sure there aren’t any virus or malware issues before downloading. Once downloaded, maximize your safety settings on the app, use strong passwords, and only connect with known players.

5. Virtual Karaoke. Gather on apps like Smule to enjoy some family karaoke together.

Safe Family Tip: Any group app can be a danger zone for cyberbullying or connection from strangers. Be sure that family members are aware of the dangers of allowing younger users to keep these apps on their phones following the holidays. Parental Control Software is an easy way to make sure your kids engage with safe content online.

Thanks to technology, it’s possible to shrink just about any distance. Will it take effort? Sure. Some learning? Yup. But hopefully, even though your home may feel a little more empty this year, your heart will be full.

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What You Need to Know About Among Us

Among Us – one of the Most Popular Online Game of 2020

(pictured credit: axel 795, Pixabay)

If you have teens and you haven’t yet heard of ‘Among Us’ then I guarantee it won’t be long. Among Us is an online deception and strategy game that is having a real moment worldwide. Over the last six months, it has amassed 85 million players on both PC and mobile. In September, it broke the all-time record-setting peak player ceiling on Steam when nearly 400,000 people played it simultaneously and, Google Trends reports that there were 50 times more Google searches for it at the beginning of October, as compared to the beginning of August.

What’s The Game About?

Among Us is an online multi-player game that is set on a failing spaceship. Suitable for up to 10 players, it has been compared to ‘Murder in the Dark’ or ‘Murder Wink’ – the old-school party game you may have played as children.

At the start of the game, you’re advised whether you are a regular crew member or an imposter. Crew mates are tasked with completing small tasks that benefit the spaceship eg cleaning our air-conditioning ducts whereas imposters (between 1-3 players) create havoc on the spaceship and seek out victims to kill – without letting anyone know.

Every time a dead body is found, a crewmember will call a meeting to workshop who they think the imposter is. This is one of the few times players can talk to each other. As you can imagine, this can get very heated (and entertaining) as players try to implicate others and remove themselves from focus. All players then vote on who they think the imposter is – and the player with the most votes is ejected from the spaceship’s airlock.

Crewmates win by managing to repair the ship and eject all the imposters while the imposter wins by killing all the crewmates before they complete their jobs.

Why Has It Become So Popular?

Among Us was actually launched in 2018 but to little fanfare. But the planets have aligned for the developers at InnerSloth and it has become one of the biggest online games ever. In fact, it’s so successful that the developers have abandoned plans for a sequel and are instead, investing their resources into perfecting the original.

There’s no doubt that pandemic life has contributed to the popularity of Among Us with many touting it as the ultimate group party game. In fact, some believe it brings all the energy and pizazz of board game night – just virtually.

It is extremely easy to learn. So, if you aren’t a gamer with years of experience (that’s me) you can absolutely play. This concept has been described by popular YouTube gamer Pegasus as ‘ingenious’ for its simplicity, and praised for its ‘extremely social’ nature.

The game is also very well priced. In fact, it’s free on mobile – but you will have to view some ads. And it’s only around $7 on a PC – so much cheaper than anything my kids have played in years!

What Parents Are Asking

Is it Suitable?

The Classification Board here is Australia gives Among Us a PG rating which means the content is mild in impact. But they do state that PG rated content is ‘not recommended for viewing by people under the age of 15 without guidance from parents, teachers or guardians.’

In Australia, the game is rated as suitable for 9+ on the App Store. On Google Play it is nominated as suitable for ages 10+.

The role of the imposter in the game to hunt and murder players is aggressive and violent. Yes, it is a cartoon-like visual which does reduce the impact but there are still bodies left lying around after the deed is done.

Parents know their children the best. Absolutely take heed of the advice, but ultimately, you need to decide what’s suitable for them. If you do decide to let your younger children play – or they’ve already discovered it – please talk about violence in video games. Does watching violent images make them feel scared or more aggressive? Do they feel better if they talk about it or, in fact, choose to watch something less violent?

Can They Chat With Strangers During The Game?

There is opportunity to chat with strangers in the game but it is less than most online games. Players can chat in the online waiting room before a game starts and of course, there is also interaction in the meetings during which the group tries to work out who the imposter is. Enabling the censor chat mode is a good option here – this limits word and aims to block out expletives however I understand that isn’t completely fool proof.

But you can choose to play the game offline, locally, which means you play only with people you know. You simply share a generated code with the players you want to join the game. I highly recommend this for younger children and teens or if you want to play the game as a family. The game can be played with as few as four players which makes an offline game far easier to get happening.

Does It Share A Positive Message?

Both trust and deceit are at the core of this game. Learning who to place your trust in is part of being a successful crewmember in Among Us whilst being a master of deceit will win you the game as an imposter.

You could argue that these themes are no different to playing Murder in the Dark or even the old classic Cluedo. However, I would absolutely have a conversation with your kids about the difference between real life and online (or gaming) life. Why not weave it into your dinnertime conversation?

My boys are really enjoying playing Among Us, in fact – we have earmarked this weekend for a family game. But please ensure you are comfortable with the game before you give your kids the green light. And if you do, be assured that one of the reasons this game is so popular is because players feel like they are part of a community – and isn’t that what we all need at the moment?

‘till next time.

Alex xx

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Helping Your Family Combat Digital Misinformation

children learning about misinformation

Helping Your Family Combat Digital Misinformation

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that our ability to think critically about the information we encounter online is now a fundamental life skill we need to learn, practice, and pass on to our offspring. But the actual task of teaching kids how to discern real and fabricated information online these days is easier said than done.

How did the truth get so hard to pin down? In the documentary The Social Dilemma, the answer to that question comes down to two things: Our growing reliance on social media for both human connection and information and the data-based algorithms social networks use to mine and sell data, nurture device dependence, and influence our behavior.

2019 Pew Study reveals that 55 percent of US adults get their news from social media either “often” or “sometimes.” A July 2020 Pew Study shows that people who rely on social media for news are less likely to get the facts right about the coronavirus and politics and more likely to hear some unproven claims.

The power of algorithms to deliver customized, manipulative content to a person’s screen is alarming, says Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist at Google, who is featured in The Social Dilemma, adding, “Never before in history have 50 designers made decisions that would have an impact on two billion people.”

Fighting Back

On the heels of the recent election, Media Literacy skills will make a difference as false reports are likely to surface in our social feeds in the foreseeable future. For many, the willpower to shut down their social feeds altogether isn’t a viable option. So how do we wade through the veiled forms of manipulation and misinformation taking place all around us online?

One approach is to make a personal commitment to stay alert, slow down, and carefully vet the content you consume, create, or share.

Media Literacy 

One thing you might consider is making 2021 the year your family masters Media Literacy, a topic we’ve written extensively about on this blog. In short, Media Literacy is the ability to identify different types of content and understand the messages each is sending. Content includes texts, social media memes or posts, videos, television, movies, video games, music, and various other digital content. Reminder: Someone creates each piece of content and that person, group, or company has an agenda or message.

Grow Your Family’s Media Literacy Muscle

  • Watch: The Social Dilemma is a must-see for families. The Netflix film blends documentary investigation and narrative drama to explain the hidden maneuvers behind social media and search platforms. Watch it. Talk about it. Do social media wiser in 2021.
  • Go Deeper: The Social Dilemma refers to books written by the people interviewed and includes collateral video clips. Medium put together this great list of supporting quotes and resources from the film.
  • Read: Stories are powerful ways to teach kids of any age how to process the digital world around them. The Media Literacy thought leaders at Cyberwise recently created this list of children’s books designed to teach kids how to think critically and become informed consumers of online media.
  • Fact-check. Even kids have a responsibility to share truthful content online. Discuss how to fact check articles and rumors before sharing. Here are a few resources:
  • PolitiFact from the Poynter Institute
  •  AP News Fact Check from the Associated Press
  •  Reuters Fact Check from Reuters News
  • Discuss: Talk about the practical ways of challenging each piece of content by asking:

Do I understand all the points of view of this story?

What do I think about this topic or idea?

Am I overly emotional and eager to share this?

Am I being manipulated by this content?

What if I’m wrong?

Lastly, consume all media with thoughtful intention — avoid mindless scrolling and liking. A few other practical ways to fight back against the algorithms we drew from The Social Dilemma: Don’t click on video or content recommendations. Fight back against algorithms by choosing your content. Uninstall social media apps that are not useful and waste your time. Turn off notifications or any other alert that interferes with living life. If an issue has you angry or emotional, stop, breathe, and research the facts before sharing.

 

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Cruel Ghouls: New Digital Scams Target Every Age Group

Halloween Scams

Cruel Ghouls: New Digital Scams Target Every Age Group

There are few situations more personal than a distressed family member calling to ask for financial help. But personal is precisely the angle bad actors are taking these days in scams that target both the young and old.

Grandparents Fall for Help!’ Scams

Called “The Grandparent Scam,” this con usually begins with a simple, “Hi, Grandma!” from a criminal posing as the victim’s grandchild who claims to be in trouble. Then comes the ask — that the loving (and worried) Grandparent wire money for bail, airfare, a collision, or some other emergency. Some scammers have even managed to spoof the incoming caller ID to read “U.S. District Court.”

Safe Family Tips: 1) Ask the caller to prove who they are and call the child’s parent or another relative to verify the situation. 2) Never wire money, gift cards, or send cash by courier. 3) Be skeptical of “urgent” requests and tearful pleas for cash or personal information.

Tricksters Target Millennials

While it’s hard to imagine being duped by this kind of phone call, you might be surprised to learn that it’s younger people falling hardest for scams. The Federal Trade Commission reports that Millennials (20-30-year-olds) are most likely to lose money to online fraud. The top 5 scams targeting Millennials include online shopping, business imposters, government imposters, fake check scams, and romance scams.

Safe Family Tips: Be skeptical when shopping online. Cybercriminals have created countless look-a-like merchant sites to gain access to your credit card and other personal information. Confirm the seller’s physical address and phone number before you make a purchase. Consider putting security software on your family’s devices that protect against malware, viruses, and provide families with Virtual Private Network (VPN) encryption for safe shopping.

Hackers Exploit Schools, Students

With many school districts operating on a hybrid virtual and in-class education model, the digital gap between teachers and remote students has given bad actors a new channel to launch ransomware, phishing, and social engineering scams against exposed IT infrastructures. According to the FBI, “cyber actors are likely to increase targeting of K-12 schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Too, a recent Microsoft Security Intelligence study found that 61 percent of the 7.7 million malware over the previous month targeted education, a number far higher than other sectors. Scams include malware attacks on e-learning platform ransomware attacks on larger districts.

Safe Family Tips: Inquire about on-site security measures in place at your child’s school. Look into software to protect your home network and personal devices against cyberattacks launched through email, school networks, or social media sites.

How’s Your Cyber Hygiene?

Your best defense against a scam — should it come via phone, email, or a website — is a solid offense. Consider boosting your cyber hygiene routine by using strong passwords, a VPN, and staying informed about the latest scams. By now, we know the bad actors online don’t discriminate based on age; they are out to steal data and dollars from anyone who lets down their guard.

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#BeCyberSmart: Equipping Kids to Stay Safe on New Video Apps

protecting kids online

These days, spending time with friends face-to-face still isn’t always an option for teens. So, finding a fun, new app can be a little like discovering your own private beach where you can chill out, connect with friends, and be thoroughly entertained. Keeping them safe on that digital beach? That’s where parents can make a difference.

With all the popular, increasingly sophisticated video apps available, it’s easy to understand why safety ends up being the last thing on our kids’ minds. I get it. My daughter and I recently sat for hours watching Tik Tok videos and laughing until we cried.

However, October is National Cybersecurity Month and the perfect time to hit pause and talk about how to stay safe on all the apps vying for our attention.

Popular Apps to Monitor

Triller. The Triller app is a video-based platform, much like Tik Tok, that has been around since 2015. Triller has a variety of filters, and music kids can use with the videos they create.

What to monitor: Triller’s content may not always be appropriate, and because viewers can leave comments on videos, there’s a risk of cyberbullying. Also, Triller has some privacy loopholes such as data collection, location tracking, and a public account default — all of which can be modified in Settings.

HouseParty is a group video chat platform nicknamed the “Quarantine App” since its popularity increased by an additional 10 million users during the COVID lockdown. Houseparty allows users to invite friends and “friends of friends” into group video-chat sessions — much like a party. The app displays up to eight live streams on the screen at a time, creating an instant sense of community.

What to monitor. Because the app allows “friends of friends” to livestream in a group, that unknown element opens the door to a number of safety issues. Encourage kids to deny join requests from unknown people. While some users leave rooms unlocked while live streaming their party, encourage your child to use the padlock function to limit conversations to people who know each other.

Yubo. The Yubo app (formerly Yellow) is also called the “Tinder for Teens.” Kids can connect and live stream with people they know — and easily connect with people they don’t. If two users swipe right, Yubo will match them, and they can share Snapchat or Instagram names. Another app very similar to Yubo is the Hoop app.

What to monitor. Content on Yubo can be explicit and cyberbullying can arise more often since fake accounts are common. Yubo’s swipe format promotes a appearance driven match standard may not be healthy for some teens.

Byte. Another app similar to Tik Tok, Byte, features short-form videos. Byte, created by the Founders of the now defunct Vine app, lacks the filters and music of other video apps, but that’s okay; the simplicity is a plus for Byte fans.

What to monitor: Be aware of inappropriate content, cyberbullying in comments, and unknown “friends” who may be part of your child’s Byte community. Online predators have been known to reach out to kids on this app. While unwanted followers can be blocked, surprisingly, Byte doesn’t give you the ability to make your account private.

App Safety Basics

Practice personal responsibility. The theme for Cybersecurity Month 2020 is Do Your Part #BeCyberSmart. With this in mind, discuss the responsibility that comes with owning technology, be it a smartphone, a game system, a smartwatch, or any other connected device. The goal, says The National Cyber Security Alliance,

“If you connect it, protect it.”

Privacy settings. To protect privacy and keep unknown people from connecting with minors, maximize privacy Settings on each new app.

Increase safeguards. Apps can be addictive and siphon family time, study time, and sleep. A comprehensive security solution can help parents limit device time, monitor activity, and block risky content and apps.

Share wisely. Even a 15-second video shared with “close friends only” can end up in the public stream. Advise your child to only share videos or photos they’d feel good sharing with the world.

Protect personal information. Remind your child not to share private details about themselves or their family members with anyone online. This includes emails, full names, phone numbers, pet names, school names, or location.

Block and report. Talk with your child about what you consider appropriate versus inappropriate content, how to block strangers, and how to report cyberbullying and scams.

Finally, keep talking with your kids — about everything. Ultimately, it will be your consistency in having honest, ongoing dialogue with your child that will be your most valuable tool in keeping them safe online.

 

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How Searching For Your Favourite Celebrity May Not End Well

Most Dangerous Celebrity

How Searching For Your Favourite Celebrity May Not End Well

2020 has certainly been the year for online entertainment. With many Aussies staying home to stay well, the internet and all its offerings have provided the perfect way for us all to pass time. From free movies and TV shows to the latest celebrity news, many of us have devoured digital content to entertain ourselves. But our love affair with online entertainment certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed by cybercriminals who have ‘pivoted’ in response and cleverly adapted their scams to adjust to our insatiable desire for content.

Searching For Our Favourite Celebrities Can Be A Risky Business

Cybercriminals are fully aware that we love searching for online entertainment and celebrity news and so devise their plans accordingly. Many create fake websites that promise users free content from a celebrity of the moment to lure unsuspecting Aussies in. But these malicious websites are purpose-built to trick consumers into sharing their personal information in exchange for the promised free content – and this is where many come unstuck!

Who Are The Most Dangerous Celebrities of 2020?

McAfee, the world’s leading cybersecurity company, has researched which famous names generate the riskiest search results that could potentially trigger consumers to unknowingly install malware on their devices or unwillingly share their private information with cybercriminals.

And in 2020, English singer-songwriter Adele takes out the top honours as her name generates the most harmful links online. Adele is best known for smashing the music charts since 2008 with hit songs including ‘Rolling in the Deep’ and ‘Someone Like You’. In addition to her award-winning music, Adele is also loved for her funny and relatable personality, as seen on her talk show appearances (such as her viral ‘Carpool Karaoke’ segment) and concert footage. Most recently, her weight-loss and fitness journey have received mass media attention, with many trying to get to the bottom of her ‘weight-loss’ secrets.

Trailing Adele as the second most dangerous celebrity is actress and star of the 2020 hit show Stan ‘Love Life’ Anna Kendrick, followed by rapper Drake (no. 3), model and actress Cara Delevingne (no. 4), US TikTok star Charli D’Amelio (no. 5) and singer-songwriter Alicia Keys (no. 6). Rounding out the top ten are ‘Sk8r Boi’ singer Avril Lavigne (No. 7), New Zealand rising music star, Benee (no. 8), songstress Camila Cabello (no. 9), and global superstar, singer and actress Beyonce (no. 10).

Most Dangerous Celebrity

Aussies Love Celebrity Gossip

Whether it was boredom or the fact that we just love a stickybeak, our love of celebrity news reached new heights this year with our many of us ‘needing’ to stay up to date with the latest gossip from our favourite public figures. Adele’s weight-loss journey (no.1), Drake’s first photos of ‘secret son’ Adonis (no. 4), and Cara Delevingne’s breakup with US actress Ashley Benson (no. 5), all had us Aussie fans flocking to the internet to search for the latest developments on these celebrity stories.

We’ve Loved New Releases in 2020

With many of us burning through catalogues of available movies and TV shows amid advice to stay at home, new release titles have definitely been the hottest ticket in town to stay entertained.

Rising to fame following her roles in ‘Twilight’ and musical comedy ‘Pitch Perfect’, Anna Kendrick (no. 2) starred in HBO Max series ‘Love Life’ which was released during the peak of COVID-19 in Australia, as well as the 2020 children’s film ‘Trolls World Tour’. R&B and pop megastar Beyonce (no. 10) starred in the 2019 remake of Disney cult classic ‘The Lion King’ and released a visual album ‘Black Is King’ in 2020.

Music Has Soothed Our Souls This Year 

While live concerts and festivals came to a halt earlier this year, many of us are still seeking music – both old and new – to help us navigate these unprecedented times. In fact, musicians make up 50% of the top 10 most dangerous celebrities – hailing from all genres, backgrounds and generations.

Canadian rapper Drake (No. 2) sparked fan interest by dropping his ‘Dark Lanes Demo Tapes’ album including hit songs ‘Chicago Freestyle’ and ‘Tootsie Slide’ that went massively viral on TikTok. New Zealand singer Benee also came out of the woodwork with viral sensations Supalonely and Glitter topping charts and reaching global popularity on TikTok.

Known for her enormously successful R&B/Soul music in the early 2000s, Alicia Keys (no. 6) released a string of new singles in 2020. Camila Cabello’s ‘Senorita’ duet with Canadian singer and now boyfriend Shawn Mendes, was Spotify’s most streamed song of 2019. The couple continued to attract copious attention as fans followed stories reporting on the lovebirds self-isolating together in Miami earlier this year.

How to Avoid Getting Caught In An Online Celebrity Scam

Please don’t feel that getting caught by an ill-intentioned cybercrime is inevitable. If you follow these few simple tips, you can absolutely continue your love of online entertainment and all things celebrity:

  1. Be Careful What You Click

If you are looking for new release music, movies or TV shows or even an update on your favourite celebrity then ALWAYS be cautious and only click on links to reliable sources. Avoid ‘dodgy’ looking websites that promise free content – I guarantee these sites will gift you a big dose of malware. The safest thing is to wait for official releases, use only legitimate streaming sites and visit reputable news sites.

  1. Say NO to Illegal Streaming and Downloading Suspicious Files

Yes, illegal downloads are free but they are usually riddled with malware or adware disguised as mp3 files. Be safe and use only legitimate music streaming platforms – even if it costs a few bucks! Imagine how devastating it would be to lose access to everything on your computer thanks to a nasty piece of malware?

  1. Protect Your Online Safety With A CyberSecurity Solution

One of the best ways of safeguarding yourself (and your family) from cybercriminals is by investing in an  comprehensive cybersecurity solution like McAfee’s Total Protection. This Rolls Royce cybersecurity package will protect you from malware, spyware, ransomware and phishing attacks. An absolute no brainer!

  1. Get Parental Controls Working For You

Kids love celebrities too! Parental control software allows you to introduce limits to your kids’ viewing which will help minimise their exposure to potentially malicious or inappropriate websites when they are searching for the latest new on TikTok star Charlie D’Amelio or go to download the latest Benee track.

I don’t know how my family of 6 would have survived this year without online entertainment. We’ve devoured the content from three different streaming services, listened to a record number of hours on Spotify and filled our heads with news courtesy of online news sites. And while things are looking up, it will be a while before life returns to normal. So, please take a little time to educate your family on the importance of ‘thinking before you click’ and the perils of illegal downloading. Let’s not make 2020 any more complicated!!

Stay safe everyone!

 

Alex x

The post How Searching For Your Favourite Celebrity May Not End Well appeared first on McAfee Blogs.

8 Ways to Help Senior Adults Stay Safe Online These Days

senior looking at smartphone

8 Ways to Help Senior Adults Stay Safe Online These Days

Technology has come in handy for most of us during these days of pandemic distancing. But for the -at-risk, homebound senior population, technology has been a lifeline connecting them to family members, online services, and healthcare. Still, this unprecedented shift to virtual life has also come with potential risks that seniors and their families should keep in mind.

According to a Pew study, senior adults continue to become more digitally connected, but adoption rates continue to trail younger users, and digital divides remain. The study also revealed that 77% of older adults needed assistance when it came to learning how to use technology.

If you are a senior or someone helping a senior become more tech-savvy, online safety should be a priority. Here are just some of the risks seniors may encounter and some helpful ways to stay safe.

Secure home routers and devices. Be sure to change your router’s default username and password to something strong and unique. Also, change the default passwords of any connected device before connecting to your home network. IoT (Internet of Things) devices are all the technologies under your roof that can connect such as security systems, healthcare monitors, hearing aids, and smart TVs.  These technologies are embedded with sensors or software that can connect and exchange data with other household devices — and each must be secured to close privacy gaps. There are also routers with embedded security, to help secure the home from threats, no matter what devices is connected to the home network.

Use strong passwords. Strong passwords are essential for in-home devices, personal devices, social media sites, and any healthcare or banking portal. Creating a strong password is also a front-line defense against identity theft and fraud.  For seniors, keeping passwords in one place is important, but can be hard to remember them all.  comprehensive security software  includes password management functionality, which makes it easer, to create and safely archive your passwords. -.

Avoid scams. There are a number of scams that target seniors. Phishing scams are emails that look legitimate that end up taking millions from seniors every year. For this reason, never click on suspicious links from government agencies, banks, hospitals, brokerages, charities, or bill collectors unless you are certain they are legitimate. Scammers use these malicious links to con people out of giving away cash or personal data that can be used to create a number of fraudulent accounts. Consider protecting all personal devices with a comprehensive security solution.

Use a personal VPN. A Virtual Private Network (VPN) encrypts (or scrambles) your data when you connect to the Internet and enables you to browse or bank with your credentials and history protected. To learn about VPNs, watch this video.

Beware of dating scams. People aren’t always who they appear to be online. And while dating scams can happen to any age group, they can be especially harmful to a vulnerable senior who may be lonely and living on a limited income. Love scam red flags: Beware of people who claim to be from the U.S. but often travel or work overseas. Also, avoid people who profess their love too quickly, share personal struggles too soon, and never meet face-to-face.

Take a closer look. Fraudulent websites look very real these days. A secure website will have an “https” in the browser’s address bar. The “s” stands for “secure.” If the web address or URL is just http, it’s not a secure site. Still unsure? Read reviews of the site from other users before making a purchase. Never send cash, cashier’s check, or a personal check to any online vendor. If purchasing, always use a credit card in case there is a dispute.

Never share personal data. Be wary of emails or websites that require you to give personal information, such as your social security number, phone number, account, or family information.  This includes those fun social media quizzes, which are also ways that cybercriminals can find out your personal details, such as a pets name, year you were born, your home town. All those pieces of personal data can be used to commit identity theft.

Monitor financial accounts. Nowadays, it’s essential to review all financial statements for fraudulent activity. If suspicious activity is found, report it to your bank or credit card account immediately. It’s also a good idea to put a credit alert on your accounts to detect potential fraud.

This unique time has issued unique challenges to every age group. However, if you know a senior, keep their potential technology needs in mind. Check in from time to time and offer your help. If you are a tech-savvy senior (and I know many), consider reaching out to peers who may be struggling and afraid to ask. In addition, YouTube has a number of easy-to-understand videos on any tech question. In addition, both Apple and Microsoft stores offer free advice on their products and may also help. Just be sure to visit their official websites to reach legitimate tech support channels.

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Can You Decode Your Teen’s Texting Language?

texting slang

It’s hard to believe, right, parents? In just a blink or two, you went from being the teenager dropping cool phrases like “rad” and “gnarly” to monitoring a teenager texting words like “lowkey,” “IRL” and “CD9” into her smartphone non-stop.*

For generations, teens have been crafting terms to differentiate themselves from other age groups. The difference today is that smartphone texting has multiplied the scope of that code to include words, emojis, numbers, and hashtags.

The times have changed, fo’ sho.’

Digital Deciphering

You don’t have to speak your child’s language (please don’t). However, with new terms and risks emerging online each day, it’s a good idea to at least understand what they are saying.

Since kids have been spending more time online due to the pandemic, we thought we might discover a few new and interesting terms. We were right. We found stories of teens referring to the Coronavirus as “Miss Rona” and “Rona,” and abbreviating quarantine to “Quar.” A “Corona Bae” is the person you would only plan to date during a lockdown.

Much of the coded language kids use is meant to be funny, sarcastic, or a quick abbreviation. However, there are times when a text exchange can slip into risky territory. Seemingly harmless, text exchanges can spark consequences such as bullying, sextortion, privacy violations, and emotional or physical harm.

Stay Connected

To help kids avoid dangerous digital situations, we recommend three things: 1) Talk early and often with your kids about digital risk and behavior expectations, 2) Explore and use parental monitoring software, and 3) Know your child’s friends and communities online and in real life.

Note: Context is everything. Many of these terms are used in jest or as casual banter. Be sure to understand the context in which a word is used.

A Few Terms You May See **

Flex. This term means showing off. For example, “Look at her trying to flex with her new car.”

Crashy. Description of a person who is thought to be both crazy and trashy.

Clap back. A comeback filled with attitude.

Cringey. Another word for embarrassing.

Hop off. Mind your own business.

Spill tea or Kiki. Dishing gossip.

Sip tea. Listening to gossip.

Salty. Mad, angry, jealous, bitter, upset, or irritated.

“She gave me a salty look in class.”

Extra. Over the top or unnecessarily dramatic.

Left on read. Not replying to someone’s message.

Ghosting. Ending a friendship or relationship online with no explanation.

Neglext. Abandon someone in the middle of a text conversation.

Ok, Boomer. Dismissing someone who is not up to date enough.

(Throw) shade. Insult or trash talk discreetly.

Receipts. Getting digital proof, usually in the form of screenshots.

THOT. Acronym for That H__ Over There.

Thirsty. A term describing a person as desperate or needy. “Look at her staring at him — she’s so thirsty.”

Thirst trap. A sexy photograph or message posted on social media.

Dis. Short for showing blatant disrespect.

Preeing. A word that describes stalking or being stalked on Facebook.

Basic. Referring to a person as mainstream, nothing special. Usually used in a negative connotation.

Chasing Clout. A negative term describing someone trying too hard to get followers on social media.

9, CD9, or Code9, PAW, POS. Parents are around, over the shoulder.

99. All clear, the parents are gone. Safe to resume texting or planning.

KPC. Keeping parents clueless.

Cheddar, Cheese, or Bread. These are all terms that mean money.

Cap. Means to lie as in “she’s capping.” Sending the baseball cap emoji expresses the same feeling. No capping means “I’m not lying.”

Hundo P. Term that is short for “hundred percent;” absolutely, for sure.

Woke. Aware of and outspoken on current on political and social issues.

And I oop. Lighthearted term to describe a silly mistake.

Big oof. A slightly bigger mistake.

Yeet. An expression of excitement. For example, “He kissed me. Yeeeet!”

Retweet. Instead of saying, “yes, I agree,” you say, “retweet.”

Canceled. Absurd or foolish behavior is “canceled.” For example, “He was too negative on our date, so I canceled him.”

Slap or Snatched. Terms that mean fashionable or on point. For instance, “Those shoes are slap” or “You look snatched.”

And just for fun, here’s a laugh out loud video from comedian Seth Meyer’s on teen Coronavirus slang you’ll enjoy on YouTube.

* lowkey (a feeling you want to keep secret), IRL (In Real Life), CD9 also Code9 (Adult Alert used to hide secretive activity). ** Terms collected from various sources, including NetLingo.com, UrbanDictionary.com, webopedia.com, and from tweets and posts from teens online.

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Back-to-School: Could Your Remote Learner Be Cyber Cheating?

Back-to-School cyber-cheating

Back-to-School: Could Your Remote Learner Be Cyber Cheating?

As families across the country ramp up for the new school year, most are considering one of three basic learning options. Kids can attend traditional, in-class learning, they can attend their classes online from home, or they can choose a hybrid of the two. There are also learning pods, or small community groups, springing up as we recently discussed.

Whatever learning scenario your family chooses, each will likely have its own unique challenges. One challenge that seems to be heating up online chats lately is cyber cheating. And it’s not just teachers, administrators, and parents concerned about the potential fallout, kids aren’t thrilled either.

Macy, who is going into her sophomore year of high school will be returning to the classroom. “I’m going to be in class every day taking notes and then studying at night. On exam day, I’ll take the exam and if it’s a tough subject like Statistics, I will be lucky to get a C. My friend Lindley, whose parents let her learn do school online can take the same exam, figure out a way to cheat, and probably get an A. How is that fair?”

The topic is inspiring a number of potential solutions.

Some schools have included cyber cheating as part of their Back-to-School Guidelines for teachers. Others are leaving testing and monitoring up to individual teachers while some districts with bigger budgets are hiring digital proctors or relying on robots, video feeds, and webcams to curb cyber cheating.

At the college level, the effort to reduce cyber cheating is getting sophisticated. T staff at Georgia Tech recently programmed an online bot named Jack to infiltrate popular online cheating sites and pose as a student willing to write papers and do homework for a fee. It’s working.

While exactly how to even out testing requirements for all students — in-class or at home — is a work in progress, there are some practical ways to set your kids up for success this school year wherever they choose to learn.

Ways to Curb Cyber Cheating

Discuss expectations. Does your child understand exactly what cheating is? Sometimes the lines between the real world and the digital world can blur and create grey areas that are tough for kids to navigate. Depending on the age of your child, be sure to define cheating and establish the expectation of integrity and honesty whether in a classroom or at home. Discuss the goal of comprehension and understanding versus googling answers.

Don’t do your child’s work. Parents want to help struggling kids but can often go overboard. When we do our child’s work, it’s easy to forget — we’re actually cheating!

Review the hot topics. Discuss the big topics around cheating such as plagiarism, googling answers, cheat sites, downloading past tests, crib sheets, sharing school work between friends, doing work for others, copyright violations, giving proper attribution.

Keep in touch with teachers. With school guidelines constantly changing, it’s important to keep in close contact with teachers. Ask about test monitoring and expectations for remote students.

Be present. It’s natural to hover over younger kids but we can get lax with our teens. Be present and monitor their workload. Let your remote high schooler know that his or her learning is a priority.

Monitor workload. As academic pressure mounts, so too can the temptation to cut corners or cheat. Talk through the rough spots, get your child a tutor if needed, and step in to help prepare for tests (just don’t do the work).

Rely on software for help. If you suspect our child may be cheating, or that it may be a temptation, use parental monitoring software. Monitoring software can show you a log of sites accessed on any given day and allow you to block other sites.

Equip Yourself. Follow the advice of a Pennsylvania superintendent who says his teachers will be reading Generation Z Unfiltered, a book by Tim Elmore, to help them easily identify signs of cheating.

No matter where your child settles in to learn this year, it will take a family-sized effort to navigate these new academic halls. Stick together, keep talking, give extra grace for mistakes along the way, and work together to make this the best school year ever. You’ve got this, parents!

The post Back-to-School: Could Your Remote Learner Be Cyber Cheating? appeared first on McAfee Blogs.

What Security Means to Families

digital parenting

What Security Means to Families

One truth of parenting is this: we do a lot of learning on the job. And that often goes double when it comes to parenting and the internet.

That’s understandable. Whereas we can often look to our own families and how we were raised for parenting guidance, today’s always-on mobile internet, with tablets and smartphones almost always within arm’s reach, wasn’t part of our experience growing up. This is plenty new for nearly all of us. We’re learning on the job as it were, which is one of the many reasons why we reached out to parents around the globe to find out what their concerns and challenges are—particularly around family safety and security in this new mobile world of ours.

 Just as we want to know our children are safe as they walk to school or play with friends, we want them to be just as safe when they’re online. Particularly when we’re not around and there to look over their shoulder. The same goes for the internet. Yet where we likely have good answers for keeping our kids safe around the house and the neighborhood, answers about internet safety are sometimes harder to come by.

Recently, we conducted a survey of 600 families and professionals in the U.S. to better understand what matters to them—in terms of security and the lives they want to lead online. The following article reflects what they shared with us, and allows us to share it with you in turn, with the aim of helping you and your family stay safer and more secure. 1

What concerns and questions do parents have about the internet?

The short answer is that parents are looking for guidance and support. They’re focused on the safety of their children, and they want advice on how to parent when it comes to online privacy, safety, and screen time. Within that, they brought up several specific concerns:

Help my kids not feel anxious about growing up in an online world.

There’s plenty wrapped up in this statement. For one, it refers to the potential anxiety that revolves around social networks and the pressures that can come with using social media—how to act, what’s okay to post and what’s not, friending, following, unfriending, unfollowing, and so on—not to mention the notion of FOMO, or “fear of missing out,” and anxiety that arises from feelings of not being included in someone else’s fun.

Keep my kids safe from bullying, or bullying others.

Parents are right to be concerned. Cyberbullying happens. In a study spanning 30 countries, one child in three has said they’ve been the victim of cyberbullying according to a study conducted by UNICEF. On the flip side of that, a 2016 study of more than 5,000 students in the U.S. by the Cyberbullying Research Center reported that 11.5% of students between 12 and 17 indicated that they had engaged in cyberbullying in their lifetime.

Feel like I can leave my child alone with a device without encountering inappropriate content.

If we think of the internet as a city, it’s the biggest one there is. For all its libraries, playgrounds, movie theatres, and shopping centers, there are dark alleys and derelict lots as well. Not to mention places that are simply age appropriate for some and not for others. Just as we give our children freer rein to explore their world on their own as they get older, the same holds true for the internet. There are some things we don’t want them to see and do.

Balance the amount of screen time my children get each day.

Screen time is a mix of many things—from schoolwork and videos to games and social media. It has its benefits and its drawbacks, depending on what children are doing and how often they’re doing it. The issue often comes down to what is “too much” screen time, particularly as it relates to the bigger picture of physical activity, face-to-face time with the family, hanging out with friends, and getting a proper bedtime without the dim light of a screen throwing off their sleep rhythms.

Where can parents get started?

Beyond our job of providing online security for devices, our focus at McAfee is on protecting people. Ultimately, that’s the job we aim to do—to help you and your family be safer. Beyond creating software for staying safe, we also put together blogs and resources that help people get sharp on the security topics that matter to them. For parents, check out this page which puts forward some good guidance and advice that can help. Check it out, and we hope that you’ll find even more ways you can keep you and your family safe.

Stay Updated 

To stay updated on all things McAfee and for more resources on staying secure from home, follow @McAfee_Home on Twitter, listen to our podcast Hackable?, and ‘Like’ us on Facebook.

 

 

  • Survey conducted in October 2019, consisting of 600 computer-owning adults in the U.S.

 

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How to Keep Remote Learning Pod Students Safe Online 

learning pods

The upheaval of 2020 has forced us all to reimagine familiar pathways, and parents are no exception. Cautious about sending their kids back into the classroom, families across the country are banding together to form remote “learning pods.”

pod learning

Learning pods are small groups of families with like-aged children that agree to educate their kids together. Parents also refer to learning pods as micro-schools, pandemic pods, and bubbles. According to parents, a pod environment will allow students to learn in a structured setting and safely connect with peers, which will also be a boost to their mental health following months of isolation.

According to media reports, each pod’s structure is different and designed to echo the unique distance learning challenges of each family. In some pods, parents will determine the curriculum. In others, a teacher or tutor will. As well, parents have set some pods up so they can take turns teaching and working. Some will have a cost attached to cover teacher fees and materials. Working parents are also creating “nanny share” pods for pre-school aged children.

Social Networking

Facebook is the place to connect for families seeking pod learning options. There are now dozens of private Facebook “pod” groups that enable parents to connect with one another and with teachers who have also opted out of returning to the classroom.

While parents may structure pods differently, each will need to adopt standard digital security practices to protect students and teachers who may share online resources. If pod learning is in your family’s future, here are a few safeguards to discuss before the pod-based school year begins.

To keep the family discussion about online safety fun, here are 6 Flashcard Tips from MBot to print out and discuss with your kids.

Digital Safety & Learning Pods

Be on the lookout for malware. Malware attempts, since COVID, continue to rise. Pod learners may use email, web-based collaboration tools, and outside home networks more, which can expose them to malware risks. Advise kids never to click unsolicited links contained in emails, texts, direct messages, or pop-up screens. Even if they know the sender, coach them to scrutinize the email or text. To help protect your child’s devices against malware, phishing attacks, and other threats while pod learning, consider updating your security solutions across all devices.

Use strong passwords. Back-to-school is a great time to review what makes a strong password. Opt for two-factor authentication to add another layer of protection between you and a potential attacker.

learning pods

Consider a VPN. Your home network may be safe, but you can’t assume other families follow the same protocols. Cover your bases with a VPN. A virtual private network (VPN) is a private network your child can log onto safely from any location.

Filter and track digital activity. One digital safeguard schools usually have that a home environment may not, are firewalls. Schools erect firewalls to keep kids from accessing social networks and gaming sites during school hours. For this reason, families opting for pod learning might consider parental controls. Parental controls allow families to filter or block web content, log daily web activity, set time limits, and track location.

Learning pods are still taking shape at the grassroots level, and there are still a lot of unknowns. Still, one thing is clear: Remote education options also carry an inherent responsibility to keep students safe and secure while learning online.

(Download some fun, free content for kids. Here are 6 online safety flashcard tips from MBot. Just print out and discuss with your kids).

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 Ways to Strengthen Your Family’s Digital and Mental Wellbeing

mental wellbeing

There’s a lot that feels out of control right now. City and school re-openings are in limbo, and life for many still feels upended. But one thing we can control is our efforts to safeguard our family’s digital and mental health.

Both adults and kids use television, tablets, and smartphones more these days for both school and entertainment. According to a study by Axios, children’s screen time during the pandemic is surging by as much 50 to 60 percent putting screen time for children 12 and younger at nearly five hours or more per day. Another study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research indicates people’s mental health has worsened during the Coronavirus.

Priority: Family Wellbeing

It’s clear this season has impacted all ages in myriad ways and put the spotlight on the importance of digital and mental health. Here are some resources and tips to help strengthen both.

Keep structure in-tact. Experts agree that establishing a daily structure is the best way to keep family life as healthy as possible right now. Scheduling set times for learning, chores, exercise, mealtimes, screen time, and connecting with peers in online hangouts, is essential. Safe Online: Establishing structure may be easier with software that also helps limit screen time, monitor activity, and filter apps and websites.DigitalWellbeing

Clarify the news. Kids pick up on everything, both true and untrue. They often collect bits and pieces of “news” from TV, overhearing adults, or fragments of stories from peers, all of which can increase anxiety. Safe Online: Parents can help ease the fear caused by misinformation by (age-appropriately) updating children with facts on current events and helping them understand the context of what they see online or on television. 

Encourage connection. Social distancing does not mean social isolation. If your child seems lonely or isolated, help pull them back into the mix. If they can’t meet in a safe, socially-distanced setting with friends face-to-face, allow extra time on Messenger Rooms or Zoom to group chat with peers or relatives. Safe Online: Keep kids safe by using privacy settings in video apps and always supervise young children. 

Keep device use in check. Yes, we’re all on devices more, but that doesn’t greenlight a device-free for all. Balance (pandemic or not) is always the aim of managing digital and mental health. Consider putting away devices during mealtime, before bedtime, and even challenge each other to go phone and screen-free one full day a week. Safe Online: Check your phone usage stats on your devices daily or use software to track it for you. 

Get moving. Squeezing in even 15-30 minutes of exercise a day alters our biochemical and hormonal balance and reduces mood swings, fatigue, anxiety, and feelings of hopelessness. Safe Online: If you use mobile fitness apps, maximize your privacy settings, read app terms to understand how the app tracks your health data.

Parent self-care. “You can’t pour from an empty cup,” is a simple but powerful sentiment these days. Unplugging, turning off the news, and resting or meditating can turn a stressful day around. Safe Online: Minimize scrolling mindlessly online or engaging in online conflict. Modeling balanced digital habits is self-care and is a powerful way to help your child do the same. 

Family Resources Online

Consider online resources. To meet the demand of families at home, most insurance plans now offer online counseling. Also, surprisingly, Instagram is becoming a mental health hub. As worry continues around finances, job loss, health, and the impact of isolation, meeting with a counselor or therapist 1-1 online may be an easy, useful solution. To get started, do a hashtag search for #FamilyCounseling #Marriage #Counselling #Therapy #Stress #Anxiety or a profile search with the same keywords. Safe Online: Vet online counselors and therapists to make sure they are licensed and not part of an online scam.

MHA resources. Mental Health America has compiled an impressive range of resources and information for people in need of services such as domestic and child abuse, drug and alcohol issues, financial issues, suicide, depression, and LGBTQ issues. The site houses endless blogs and on-demand webinars specific to Coronavirus and family mental health issues.

As this season of uncertainty continues, it’s important to remember you are not alone. Everyone is feeling all the feelings, and no one has things like structure and balance mastered. But, we’re all getting wiser each day simply by committing to protecting the things that matter most.

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Messenger Rooms: New Video Chat Option is Fun But Has Risks

Messenger Rooms

Messenger RoomsOne of the many things we’ve learned during this season of being homebound is that video chats with friends can save the day. One of the newest channels for video chatting is Messenger Rooms. While the new Facebook feature isn’t groundbreaking in terms of how it works, it’s the ability to pull together a big group of friends spontaneously that may make this a popular digital hangout for kids.

The Basics

Messenger Rooms functions similarly to the popular video conferencing app Zoom. The exception: There’s no need for users (or guests) to download a new app, create an account, or send out pre-planned meeting invites.

Messenger Rooms is simple. One person sets up a Messenger Room, that Room is assigned a URL, the organizer sends his or her friends that link, and those friends can instantly click it and be in the room. With so many families still opting to avoid large gatherings, Rooms may be the next best way to socialize in the most organic, pre-pandemic way.

The app makes it easy to watch movies together since one user screen can be pinned to the top of the chat for shared viewing. Kids can also have game nights, birthday parties, organize workout and study groups, or have a “squad hangout” as the Room title options call out (see graphic, below).

The Fun 

A few specific features may make Messenger Rooms appealing to kids. First, it’s easy to drop friends a link and be together almost instantly in a private room. Messenger Rooms is free, doesn’t have time limits, and up to 50 friends can get together in one room — from anywhere in the world. Kids joining a Room from their mobile app can apply quirky filters to their backgrounds or faces, which brings in the creativity element they get from Instagram Stories and Snapchat.

The Risks

Privacy. So far, privacy seems to be the biggest concern being raised and here’s why. Messenger Rooms, like Facebook, collects metadata from users — including guests without Facebook accounts. Metadata may include the people you talk with, at what times, and how often, all of which can be shared with a third party. Also, Messenger Rooms, while it does not record calls (like Zoom), lacks end-to-end encryption, which makes the channel vulnerable to hackers and compromises private conversations.

Troublemakers. Live chat rooms are not password-protected, so if a Room organizer decides to make a Room public or fails to lock a room they intended to be private, anyone can pop in and do anything. Much like the Zoom bombers emerging, anyone could crash a meeting with racial rants or graphic content. A link to a room can also be shared with others by anyone who has the link.

Cyberbullying. As with any app, conflicts can arise as can cyberbullying or harassment.

The Conversation

If you notice your kids using Messenger Rooms, you may consider having a few conversations that highlight the risks.

  • Privacy settings. If you organize a Room, lock it to keep unwanted people from crashing your meet up.
  • Nothing is private. Messenger Rooms isn’t encrypted, so it’s not the place to have private conversations or share sensitive content. Note: The internet in any form isn’t the place to share any personal content. Anything exchanged online — even a “private” text between two people — is vulnerable to hackers, device theft, or the possibility of a relationship falling out.
  • Nothing is free. Remind your children that services online are free for a reason. There is always an exchange: Free use for data. Be aware that profile information and bits of a conversation could be mined and used by a third party. To understand better how data is collected, Facebook’s help center or data policy.
  • Lock your room. Unless your child adjusts his or her preferences, it will be open to anyone that person is friends with on Facebook who will see the public Room at the top of their newsfeed. That means lovable Uncle Pete may mistakenly stumble into your daughter’s “squad” rant unless the Room is locked.
  • Report and block. If an unwanted person disrupts a Room kids can block the user and report it to Facebook.
  • Age-appropriate options. For kids under 13 (Facebook age requirement), there’s Messenger Kids, a Facebook feature that allows younger kids to video call with friends in a parentally-supervised room. It’s a great tool for teaching kids safe, online practices before they use the real thing.

To stay ahead of the digital hangouts available to kids, visit McAfee Consumer Family Safety blogs each week. You may also consider monitoring your child’s devices with parental controls designed to filter content, monitor screen time, and track new apps.

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