Online safety, MySpace and Elgg

Ken Yarmosh is talking about safety and MySpace. Recently there’s been a bit of a media furore over the social networking site, and some parents and teachers are correspondingly worried about web technologies their children might be using at school. This, in part, means Elgg, so I thought I’d try and address some of these concerns, both generally and specifically to our software.

To my mind, the thing that goes furthest to solving the security concerns is access controls – not just on each individual data element (weblog post, user profile items etc), but on the system itself. There’s nothing to say, particularly in a school environment, that Elgg has to be world-readable; it can be part of the intranet, with access only granted to students and staff. Alternatively, if it’s being hosted somewhere else in conjunction with other schools, the ‘public’ setting on the access dropdown could be removed. It’s four lines of code, which could become an easily changable site stting if it became a pressing feature, and it would suddenly mean that nobody outside authorised users could see it.

Thereafter, the only security concerns are social and those in the minds of the parents. Myspace does have a problem with kids setting up inappropriate profiles and getting stalked by sick people, and that’s going to do e-learning systems a lot of harm in the K12 arena if we don’t differentiate ourselves. The above will go a long way to make things secure, but it’s also the responsibility of the school to provide instruction on how to safely use the Internet. This last bit is so important, not just for a system like Elgg, but for any children going on the ‘net. It’s kind of like sex or drug education – you can be as vigilant as you like, but the only real protection comes from arming the child with information to make the right decision. Materials for this kind of class are readily available online; we’re starting a discussion on the Elgg Info wiki to see what materials we can make easily accessible to assist in this process. Responsibility for online safety falls with educators, but we’d like to be as helpful as we can – and as ever, we’d love to hear your thoughts.






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