Last year we formed a relationship with Enough is Enough — an organization that educates parents on Internet safety, as well as with the Interfaith Center for Public Policy and the Attorney General's office, to bring Internet education to parents through churches in Virginia. Through that effort, we've distributed dozens of Enough is Enough's very effective Internet 101 curricula. While the program focuses on protecting our children from Internet predators who stalk Facebook and other social networking sites, there are other dangers online that, while not physically threatening, are problems nonetheless. For example, the online conglomerate Google currently is promoting an art contest for students called "Doodle-4-Google," offering prize money to schools and prizes to winners. Sounds harmless enough and, for the most part, it is.
Except in early online parental consent forms (and forms distributed to schools) Google asked the children participating to hand over private information, such as home addresses, dates of birth and the last four digits of their social security numbers. This is information that is perhaps worth millions of dollars to marketers and retailers. They also ask for the children's place of birth — information that, when combined with one's date of birth, can be used to take a statistical guess about the first five digits of social security numbers.
Now, there is no evidence that Google plans to financially benefit from the information. It simply may plan to toss it. But if that's the case, why ask for it in the first place? Under pressure from advocacy groups, the company did change the parental consent form and no longer requires the social security number, but many schools participating in the contest still are using the original form.
This is just one example of why it is very important to monitor what our children are doing online and, just as important, teach them not to share personal information online. Whether it's sexual predators or marketing executives, our childrens' safety and personal information is highly valuable. Please take the time to monitor everything your children do online — even when it seems "harmless."