Using monitoring software to help keep children e-safe.

Our partners at Point2Protect discuss how device monitoring can provide vital intelligence to help improve e-safety education

Some commentators suggest that monitoring software is a bad thing, used only to spy on young people, intruding into their privacy, and that all we really need to do to keep them safe is talk to them about the dangers they face in the online world.

At Point2Protect, we disagree. We believe that technology can play an important part in any e-safety strategy, providing vital intelligence and understanding which can then lead to better informed engagement.

So, what can technology show you and how can it be used to help keep children and young people safer? Let’s take a tour of the Qustodio technology we use at Point2Protect, as an example of the type of monitoring and moderation you could be using.

The Qustodio technology works at a device level, which means that you need to install it on each device you want to monitor, whether it’s a laptop, a tablet or a smartphone. Once you’ve done this, you register each device to your Qustodio account and then specific data is sent to your secure online dashboard, wherever that device is used.

To see a larger version of the sample screenshots, simpy click on each image

Summary Dashboard
When you sign in to the Qustodio dashboard, you’ll arrive at a page that provides a quick summary of how the devices registered to this profile have been used recently. A profile contains a set of rules you want applied to the devices registered to it. So a school might have a profile for all Year 7 devices, while a parent might have a different profile for each of their children. This enables the rule set to be appropriate to the age of the children being monitored.

The example page here is showing activity from a Windows laptop, an iPad and an Android smartphone over a 30 day period. You can see that it reports on categories of use, such as surfing news web sites, as well as specific applications such as Microsoft Outlook.

Summary Dashboard
Scrolling further down this first summary page shows a word cloud and then three columns. The word cloud is really useful, as it shows the search terms used on all the monitored devices over the last 30 days. This provides a simple and immediate insight into areas of interest and will quickly highlight anything that might need to be followed up.

Below the word cloud, the three columns show the most popular apps being used, the web sites being frequently visited and the top contacts (I’ve hidden the third column detail deliberately). By clicking on any content in these columns you can immediately apply a filter. So, for example, if you decide that Facebook isn’t appropriate for the eight year old children using these devices, you can instantly block it in both the app and web site columns. This rule will then apply across all the devices registered to this profile.

The third column shows contact to a smartphone from calls, text messages, Twitter and Facebook. We don’t delve any further into these contacts by, for example, reading their text messages or recording calls, as we feel this would be too intrusive. So it’s possible to see who children are in regular contact with and so judge whether these contacts are appropriate, but the content of these conversations remains private.

Summary Dashboard
Beyond the summary level, for each of the main activity areas (app usage, web browsing, social activity, etc.) there’s a more detailed view of all usage – for example, the timeline of all web activity shown here. This enables you to see minute-by-minute detail on web sites being visited or YouTube videos being viewed.

Another feature that’s particularly popular with parents is geolocation, which can pop up a Google map showing where a smartphone is at any time. This is also helpful for schools to keep tabs on any mobile devices like tablets that the students may use on a 1-2-1 basis.

Summary Dashboard
In an ideal world, schools will be working closely with parents to ensure that children are being protected wherever they are and not just when on the school premises. One Qustodio feature that immediately appeals to parents is the smartphone Panic Button. When pressed, this sends a text or email message to the key account contact informing them that the child feels unsafe and then showing details of their current location.

Summary Dashboard
All the filtering and moderation functions of Qustodio are controlled from the single Rules tab. Here you can manage web sites by category, or select specific web sites to allow or stop. You can also allow or disable specific apps, or set up time limits for each day’s use of certain apps. All the controls in Qustodio, and we’ve only seen a few of these here, are designed to be easy to use for the non-technical.

Summary Dashboard
You can even create a schedule for all the devices registered to this profile in the account. So, for example, you could stop all devices from working after 10pm on a school night, or from working outside school hours. Once you’ve established the rule set for a profile, you can check-in to the dashboard when you wish, or set Qustodio to email a weekly report to you, or to parents.

Clearly Qustodio is a very powerful tool to provide both schools and parents with a clearer understanding of how the children and young people in their care are experiencing the online world. The understanding of it enables better, more targeted conversations to take place, as well as highlighting areas where extra support or teaching may be necessary.

We would emphasise that technology like Qustodio should be seen as a piece in the jigsaw of effective e-safety and not a solution in itself. At Point2Protect we believe that it’s absolutely critical to follow up understanding with engagement and education, and we provide content and resources to support that approach, including the excellent E-Safety Support service on this web site.

However, one thing is certain. If monitoring technology such as Qustodio is being used as part of an effective, wide-ranging, community-wide e-safety strategy, we will all be less likely to hear either schools or parents saying, in the wake of a serious incident, that they had no way of knowing what the children and young people in their care had been doing online in recent months. That surely has to be a good thing.

We are delighted to announce that Point2Protect will be offering a prize as part of the E-safety Support, Safer Internet Day Competition. Each of the UK category winners will receive a 100 device licence for their school for a year. Click here for competition details.

Written by Ian Skeels - Point2Protect on November 19, 2015 12:55

What you don't know can hurt them

There is more to e-safety than simply talking to children - by Ian Skeels of Point2Protect

The current standard advice from experts in the field of e-safety is that talking to children and young people is the best protection against the risks they might encounter online. Whether in school or at home, the argument goes, open conversation helps build confidence and resilience.

At Point2Protect, we agree that good communication between adults and children is an essential part of the process, but there are other pieces of the e-safety jigsaw that schools and parents should be considering.

Schools and parents? Yes, to begin with we start from the premise that e-safety isn't solely the responsibility of schools, or parents, or government, or any other group for that matter. E-safety is a societal issue. We should all care about and seek to mitigate the effects that easy access to violent and extreme content could be having on a generation of children. We believe that schools and parents, working together, can start to create community-wide e-safety strategies.

In the aftermath of any terrible safeguarding event, it's not unusual to hear schools say that they had no way of knowing in advance that a child was at risk. Similarly, parents often blame themselves (or the school) for not knowing what their child had been doing for months in that online world where they had been increasingly spending their time. Schools and parents give children these powerful communication devices - laptops, tablets and smartphones, where anyone can access almost any type of content in moments - yet have little idea how they really use them.

So the first part of Point2Protect's process is simple - Understand. In most other areas of a child's life it's accepted that supervision is essential (they are children, after all), but they're frequently let off into the online playground without even basic supervision. At the very least, a responsible adult should know what search terms those children are using, what web sites they're visiting and what apps they use regularly - and this should be across any network, wherever and whenever the child connects a device. Perhaps there should also be some view of who they are communicating with on a regular basis?

Something as simple as being able to see what search terms they've used, on a laptop in school, on the bus with a smartphone, in their bedroom using a tablet, can give a safeguarding officer or parent a powerful insight into the content they're consuming. Many situations that lead to problems will have started with a search for more information. For the school or parent, this insight can guide the conversation and inform the discussion in a way that wouldn't otherwise be possible.

Of course, this approach also enables moderation of the content that's available to younger children. It's essential to stop young children accessing pornography, gambling, violence and other unsuitable types of web content. And again, these rules must be consistently applied across all their devices, wherever they are used. This is the first part of the Point2Protect service.

Once there's a good understanding of this online world that children inhabit, then it's possible to have far more effective conversations and lessons can be planned to tackle the issues that emerge. So the second part of the Point2Protect process is Engage. We're pleased to have partnered with E-Safety Support to support schools and parents in developing the best possible communication strategies.

The third part of our e-safety process is perhaps the most important - Educate. You can't wrap children in cotton wool all their lives. At some point they'll have full access to everything good and bad that the online world has to offer. How they deal with this - the confidence, awareness and resilience that they have developed - will be based on the quality of the education they've received.

At Point2Protect, we offer interactive educational resources that can be used in school or at home, teaching young people about the risks they may encounter and how to deal with them when they do. These resources complement the assembly and lesson plans which are available from E-safety Support that help teachers delve into the various e-safety issues in the classroom.

This simple three step process - Understand, Engage and Educate - is at the heart of Point2Protect's e-safety service. There's a lot more to it than this, of course, but the fundamental aim is to protect the youngest children using device-based filtering, while helping young people develop mature strategies to deal with the risks they may face.

Written by Ian Skeels - Point2Protect on February 25, 2016 09:44

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