Except for rare situations where children are taking extreme risks, I'm not an advocate of spying on your kids. But there is a difference between snooping and accessing publicly available information by or about your child. If you can find it online without hacking into their private accounts, so can other people. And if your child is posting inappropriate publicly available content, or if people are saying things about your child in public, you have a right to know about it.
It's easy to search for your kid on Google and other search engines, though you might get a lot of irrelevant hits if your child has a common name. You can also search for your child's phone number, e-mail address or home address to see if anything has been posted that contains those strings. But even the most thorough search can't find everything.
SafetyWeb.com, a new service that launched a couple of weeks ago, might be able to help. For $10 a month, or $100 for a year, the service will monitor your child's publicly available online content.
Looks for Public Posts & Photos
The service, based in Menlo Park, California and Denver, scours social networking, photo sharing and other sites to find out what is being said by and about your kids. While it can't promise to find everything, it's remarkably thorough. My kids are now young adults, so rather than track them, I entered by own name and e-mail address and found more than I ever wanted to know about what I've posted onTwitter, Facebook and other services. I also found things that others posted about me and discovered accounts that I frankly forgot I had with content that I entered years ago.
For example, several years ago I established a Vox blogging account that I abandoned. Still, there was content there from 2007. I also found the Hi5 account I started when the service first launched and a MySpace account I hadn't logged into for more than a year. Of course I also found my active Facebook and Twitter accounts with all of the publicly available content.
For each of these accounts, I saw what I had publicly posted and, in some cases, what others had written about me. I also found photos that I had posted on a variety of services, including Flickr and PhotoBucket.
Because the service tracks what your kids are saying and what's being said about them, it can help alert parents to possible cyberbullying. It also helps parents advise their kids on how to protect their privacy by alerting parents to accounts that are public. If on Facebook, for example, your child is using maximum privacy settings, you might not see any content. That's mostly a good thing because it shows that your child is protecting his or her privacy.
The site provides resources and advice on sexting, cyberbullying and other potential threats, and advice on how parents can contact services to attempt to have inappropriate postings remove.
Even without signing up for service, you can enter your child's (or anyone's) e-mail address to get a tease of what they posted online. You won't see actual content but you will see the services they subscribe to under that e-mail address and whether they have public or private profiles.
This post originally appeared in the San Jose Mercury News