Online ‘walled garden’ aimed at tween girls

Here’s an innovative idea for parents (of girls 8-12) who are concerned about predators: My Secret Circle. It gives new meaning to the safe playground or walled garden idea, because – with this hardware product, the My Secret Circle Access Key (pictured here), which plugs into a computer USB port – groups of real-life friends can socialize online while being completely closed off from the Internet and vice versa. As the site explains it, “My Secret Circle Friend Code Generator generates a unique 12 digit number” that can only be exchanged through an “invitation system,” which allows the user to trade her code with a friend in person. “In order to become ‘friends,’ each girl must own an Access Key” and go through the code-exchange process herself. John Biggs at the CrunchGear blog seems to like it. The only problem is, the whole concept is based on the premise that the most common risk to online kids is adult predators. Research shows, however, that the most salient risk is cyberbullying and harassment – mean things peers say to each other; friends becoming ex-friends and violating trust; sharing passwords and impersonating peers; etc. Keeping adults out of girls’ “secret circles” could actually have the opposite effect to what its creators intended: completely safe socializing. Here’s the report of the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, which contains the cyberbullying finding among others in a full review of online-safety research thru 2008.

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