For Immediate Release:
May 8, 2020
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Consumer Alert: The Division of Consumer Protection Provides Safety Reminders for Keeping Kids Safe at Home and Online
A Review of Privacy Policies for Popular Children’s Video Conferencing Apps Reveals Ways Parents and Guardians Can Protect Child’s Privacy
Be Sure to Practice Fire Safety in the Home and Keep Children Safe from Common Household Hazards
The New York State Division of Consumer Protection (DCP) is alerting parents and guardians how to keep children safe at home. With the remaining of school year being taught remotely and children using popular video conferencing apps and a variety of online tools, parents and guardians can take several steps to protect their child’s privacy online to secure their immediate and long-term safety. Consumers are also reminded that it’s important to keep children safe in the home by staying up to date on fire prevention and preventing injuries from common household hazards.
“With New York State on ‘PAUSE’ during this unprecedented public health crisis, kids and families are spending more time indoors and online,” said Secretary of State Rossana Rosado. “It’s important for parents and guardians to ensure the home is safe for the entire family. Following these simple safety tips and engaging the family in these fun activities will help prevent harm and unnecessary trips to health care facilities.”
More children are turning to video services to do schoolwork and stay connected with each other. To adapt, companies are making more services available, often without additional privacy protections or considerations. DCP reviewed the following services and their privacy policies to inform consumers about their privacy risks while utilizing these different platforms: Facebook Messenger for Kids; Google Education (Parent Company: Alphabet Inc.); Zoom & Zoom for Education; and Skype.
Below are tips to help protect your child’s privacy online:
- Facebook Messenger for Kids. The social media platform Facebook’s Messenger for Kids tool has grown exponentially during social distancing. If you are considering this tool for your children to keep in touch with their friends, it is important that you review and set parental controls. For instance, choosing to “limit adult content” in the Restrictions section does not allow “adult” videos to pop up after your child opens a video link from a friend.
- Other Videoconferencing and Meetings Apps. When joining a video chat, the default settings are not always favorable to private meetings. Before joining a meeting, parents and guardians should:
- Know the meeting organizer and only use trusted links where the meeting organizer is controlling who enters the meeting.
- Not join public links that appear on public sites or social media without password protections. If someone sets up their meeting using those details, ask them to make the meeting more private or set up the meeting yourself.
- Check whether the meeting is being recorded. Each video conferencing program indicates when their meeting is being recorded differently – find out in advance how the program sets those indicators and double check when you are on the call.
- Follow these additional basic steps to protect your family while using video conferencing apps.
- WiFi. Confirm you are using a secure network for logging on to devices and apps while at home. Even when a WiFi router comes with a password to access the network, the main router may not be fully secured because it can be accessed through a universal login. Check with your WiFi provider before connecting to your WiFi network. If the network is secured with a universal login, work with the provider to adjust the settings.
- Software Updates. Keep security software and system updates current. Having the latest version is the best defense against viruses, malware, and other online threats. When updating software and apps, it is critical to know what you are installing. BEFORE clicking install, do a search to see if there are any known issues with the upgrade, particularly for your devices and computers.
- Sneaky Cameras. Cameras are in everything from phones, computers, toys, baby and pet monitors, televisions and communications devices. However, cameras can be accessed and activated by hackers without the devices being engaged. When you are not using the camera, put a blocker in place over the opening. Protect yourself from unwanted invasions of your home.
- Fun Activity. Go through any apps that your children use and adjust the privacy settings together.
Fire Safety Tips:
- Charging Electronic Devices and Toys. When charging phones and other electronic devices (toys, tablets, wireless headsets, etc.), keep charging stations in sight and do not plug too many devices into one electric socket. Many modern electronic devices and toys require additional electricity to charge and can overload circuits. Overloaded electrical outlets can short out and cause fires. Use power strips with output overvoltage protection and short circuit protection to account for the new electricity demands of today’s devices.
- Detectors. Working carbon monoxide and smoke detectors are still top of the list for home safety. Change batteries twice a year – during the Spring and Fall time changes! Make sure you have detectors in each of your sleeping areas and in the kitchen. If you have multiple floors in your home, make sure there is at least one of each on every floor. Detectors are now sold with ten-year batteries. If you do not like changing batteries, now might be a good time to switch.
- Fire Planning. Plan two exits out of any room in your home. Be sure everyone knows the plan. Keep a working flashlight by each exit and clutter out of the way.
- Fun Activity. Create a family fire escape plan and test it with a home fire drill.
The New York State Division of Consumer Protection serves to educate, assist and empower the State’s consumers. For more consumer protection information, call the DCP Helpline at 800-697-1220, Monday through Friday, 8:30am-4:30pm or visit the DCP website at www.dos.ny.gov/consumerprotection. The Division can also be reached via Twitter at @NYSConsumer or Facebook at www.facebook.com/nysconsumer.