As a business owner, you regularly deal with clients who unknowingly make dangerous mistakes with their data or technology. As a parent or adult, you also interact with kids and young people who face similar risks online.

There are some conversations you are having with your clients, colleagues and family members.

And there are some conversations you are NOT having with them…either because you don’t know how to raise the topic with them, or because you don’t feel it’s your place to talk about social media, online dating, or just plain human-stupidity that pervades our lives.

My new book, “UNPLUGGED Luddite's Guide To CyberSecurity: What to Teach Your Kids & Grandparents Before They Access the Internet“ was written to help you have those conversations and educate the people in your life.

Here's an adapted excerpt from the book:

Technology and Loose Age Restrictions

On July 4, 2015, the New York Times published an article titled “Teenager’s Jailing Brings a Call to Fix Sex Offender Registries.” It tells the story of Zachary Anderson – a nineteen-year-old college student, now branded a “sex offender” by the Michigan penal code.

What was his crime? He used an app called “Hot or Not” to meet a girl. Both of them used Hot or Not to meet each other, both of them consented to have sex in a nearby park. According to both families, the girl lied about her age (she was fourteen, not the seventeen-year-old she claimed to be) and both families asked for leniency in Zachary’s case.

The law, and the presiding judge, however, did not take either the circumstances or pleas from both families into account.

The girl testified in court:

“I don’t want him to be a sex offender, because he really is not,” the mother said, according to court transcripts. Her daughter told the judge that she felt “nothing should happen to Zach,” adding “If you feel like something should, I feel like the lowest thing possible.”

The judge on the case however, was not swayed, and he remarked:

“You went online, to use a fisherman’s expression, trolling for women, to meet and have sex with,” he said. “That seems to be part of our culture now. Meet, hook up, have sex, sayonara. Totally inappropriate behavior. There is no excuse for this whatsoever.” – Judge Wiley

Did Zach break the law by having sex with a fourteen-year-old? Yes.

Did he knowingly break the law? Not according to the transcripts.

And yet, his career as a promising Computer Science student has been destroyed. The terms of his probation require him to “stop using the Internet for five years.”

Imagine that.

No email. No Google. No Smartphones. No Skype. No Facebook. No Netflix. No Wikipedia.

Could you, your family or your business survive that?

Most of us couldn’t. But that did NOT stop the State Senator from Michigan, Mr. Rick Jones from commenting:

“There are lots of jobs that don’t involve computers,” he said. “There are all sorts of trades. Truck drivers, welding. There are other opportunities.” – Rick Jones, State Senator

From Lawn Darts to Hot or Not

There used to be a game called “Lawn Darts” and as its name implies, it was a family game where you threw large metal darts at a target on the lawn.

Sounds harmless…and for the most part, it was. As long as it was used by responsible, sober adults.

In the hands of children however, it posed a safety hazard.

In the 1970s, the US banned the sale of lawn darts. Toy manufacturers sued and got the ban modified. Lawn darts could be sold, as long as they weren’t marketed as toys.

(hmm…tell me if you see a slippery, legal fudge here…)

In 1987, seven-year-old Michelle Snow was killed in Riverside, CA when she was hit by a lawn dart thrown by her brother’s friend.

Between 1980 & 1988, 100 people were injured by lawn darts. 81% were fifteen or younger. 50% were ten or younger.

Michelle Snow’s dad, David Snow channeled his loss into leading a lobbying campaign that led to the full ban of Lawn Darts in 1988.

The question for you, dear reader, is how many teen lives will we see destroyed before we declare that dating and hookup apps that do not properly age-verify users are no different than digital lawn darts?

How many years will we sit by the sidelines while a generation gets locked up for using tools meant for adults, but built with ZERO safety, NO age verification and HIDDEN behind weaselly EULAs and “Terms Of Service”?

Action Items

  • Watch our video: What to Teach Your Kids, Employees and Interns about Social Media.
  • Share it with your PTA, Boy/Girl Scout troop, teachers, school principals, etc.
  • Think of computers as cars. Would you let your child drive without training or a license?
  • Treat ALL email as postcards – assume that everything you have written can be read by others.
  • Talk to your kids about what they are doing online.
  • Be their parent, not just their friend.
  • Don’t adopt new technology until you or they understand the social and legal consequences.
  • Remember that just because an app or website is new or cool does NOT make it necessary, or safe.
  • Use EFF’s DEMOCRACY.IO site to contact your congressional representatives, and demand that app makers be held to the same standards as lawn dart manufacturers.

For additional resources and lessons in safety for the digital world, check out my book, UNPLUGGED Luddite's Guide To CyberSecurity: What to Teach Your Kids & Grandparents Before They Access the Internet!“ For anyone concerned for the security and well-being of themselves and their loved ones, it's a must-read.

Are you educating your clients about cybersecurity?