Family Online Safety Institute tackles ID theft and the ‘Internet of things’

Washington, DC: Every fall around this time, people from the tech industry, government, non-profit groups and academia gather in Washington for the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) annual conference. Over the last few years, the conference has dealt with a wide variety of issues including cyberbullying, reputation management, security and keeping kids away from inappropriate content. Although “family online safety” can apply to just about anyone, many of the sessions focus on young people’s use of connected technology.

This year’s theme is Connect, Share, Empower.  And, as the theme implies, the conference organizers are bullish on the positive aspects of the Internet and mobile technology.  FOSI is a membership organization made up and funded by tech companies including Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft and others. As co-director of, I am on FOSI’s advisory board and will be moderating a panel on creating trust in social networks and virtual worlds at this year’s conference. ConnectSafely also receives support from some of these companies.

ID theft, fraud and how kids are protecting themselves

One of the first sessions at this year’s conference will be a research report on teen identity theft, fraud, security and steps teens are taking to protect themselves. One thing many people may not realize is that young people – including preteens – are subject to identity theft because most have perfect credit records. Some teens only find out their ID was stolen when they apply for their first student loans or credit cards. Teens are subject to the same security issues as adults but there are some special situations that affect teens and kids like bogus fan sites that plant malware on their device. I recently co-authored a free booklet on this issue called A Parents’ Guide to Cybersecurity, that you can download  at

Likely good news about teens

And – though I’m writing this ahead of the conference – I’m pretty sure that the researchers will have some positive things to say about what teens are doing to protect themselves. A study conducted earlier this year by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society found that “few teens embrace a fully public approach to social media,” and many teens “take an array of steps to restrict and prune their profiles.” Sixty percent of teen Facebook users keep their profiles private, and most report high levels of confidence in their ability to manage their settings. The study also found that teens take other steps to shape their reputation, manage their networks, and mask information they don’t want others to know; 74 percent of teen social media users have deleted people from their network or friends list.

Internet of things

One session will focus on “the Internet of things.” That refers to the fact that there are now millions of devices online that are exchanging information between themselves. It could be a soda machine phoning home to report that it needs to be refilled or a connected car interacting with the dealer’s computer over a possible malfunction. Eventually we will have devices implanted in our bodies that send diagnostic data to medical facilities and receive remote commands.

Even though humans may not be in the loop when it comes to thing-to-thing communications, we are often affected by them so there are plenty of privacy, security and safety implications. Former Vice President Dick Chaney was reportedly concerned about terrorist hacking his pacemaker – as occurred to a fictional VP in an episode of the TV show Homeland.  It’s not such a preposterous idea. In June, the Federal Drug Administration put out a warning that “there is an increased risk of cybersecurity breaches, which could affect how a medical device operates.”

The conference runs Wednesday and Thursday at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington DC.