Archive for April, 2014

Web search gone wrong. It’s happened to the best of us. You type in an innocent string of words, and some random porn pops up faster than you can scream “NSFW!” Of course, that’s right about the time the boss walks by. Oy vey. Find “safe search” and turn it on. Stat.

Opening a window to everything on the Internet today can be frightening even for some adults. And stumbling across inappropriate content remains one of the biggest concerns when we throw a tablet into the mix of our kids’ daily digital lives. Add to that issues of child safety and protection, online bullying, unguarded app spending … suddenly we’re wishing we could just go back to simpler times. As we wrap up our Kids and Tablet series, here are the simple steps every parent can take — no matter how tech-unsavvy you might feel — to help keep kids safe on slates.


There are hundreds of thousands of apps, and many aren’t meant for young eyes. Excessively violent games and adult-only “hookup” apps lurk around every virtual store shelf, and there’s an excellent chance that you don’t want your kids viewing any of it.

Apple’s iPad requires a password before it dings your credit card for an app-buy. This is your safety valve, so you always know what’s being added to your family’s tablet. Not all such gadgets offer the same default protection, but if your tablet doesn’t automatically require a PIN or you want a more specific level of protection, it’s easy to set up.

On Android: Open Google Play — Android’s app marketplace — and click on the Settings tab in the top right. Scroll down to find the “Use PIN for purchases” option and enable it to require all app downloads to require a security code. Alternatively, you can use the “Content filtering” option in this same menu to restrict only certain types of apps from being downloaded.

PART ONE: Kids can’t resist the tablet temptation

Kindle: Tap on the top of screen to show the Quick Settings option and then click “More.” Now tap “Parental Controls” and enter a secure password. From this menu, you can restrict the ability to purchase content from the Kindle’s app store or restrict specific types of content from being downloaded, such as if you want to allow books to be downloaded at will but keep apps under lock and key.

iPad: The iPad locks purchases by default, but you can also force it to lock out content based on age ratings. Head into the Settings menu and click “General.” Now tap “Restrictions” and enter a security code that the kids don’t know. From here, you can adjust the age blocks on apps, music, movies and even websites visited through the default search engine.

There’s another good reason to lock down app activity: your bank account.

Not long ago, the news was filled with disgruntled parents hit with unexpected app charges after their kids went on spending sprees. These days, purchase restrictions are more strict across the board, but if your kids have access to download games — whether it be without a passcode or because they know the passcode — they likely also have the ability to ring up a hefty bill.

As long as you can keep your code a secret, there’s really no easy way to usurp these parental controls once you enable them. It doesn’t matter if you’re not tech-savvy — these tablets were built with parents in mind, so guard your access code like gold.


There are Web browser apps built specifically for younger surfers. Mobicip is one of the best. The company’s Safe Browser — available on both iOS and Android — caters the Web-surfing experience specifically for your child. Any attempts to access unseemly corners of the Web are met with a block screen, telling them they’ve crossed the line.


Aren’t you overlooking something? Sure, little Bobby is watching SpongeBob on YouTube now, but that doesn’t make the Web’s largest video portal universally kid-friendly, right? Right.

Streaming-video apps such as YouTube and Netflix often have app-specific controls and restrictions for more mature content. YouTube, which hosts videos of everything from live births to extremely violent war footage, won’t play anything considered “graphic” if you’re not signed in to a YouTube account. However, it’s relatively easy to fake an “adult” Google account, so this isn’t a fail-safe for all tableters.

And that’s an important point when it comes to kids and their tablets: The older they get, the greater the chances that they’ll be interested in things you object to. Keeping a 9-year-old from accidentally downloading a dating app is easy, but preventing your 16-year-old from watching violent content on YouTube is much more difficult. These are the same battles parents have been fighting for years, they’ve just now turned from R-rated movies and sneaking a sip of beer to the digital equivalent online.

If you’re willing to let your teenager use a tablet, you’ll either have to lock down absolutely everything you find objectionable, including apps such as YouTube, or you need to accept that giving them such a digital responsibility also means that they might run across things you don’t approve of.

The best way to make a tablet safe for a child is to get involved. Talk with them early and often about important digital core values. If you don’t trust your kids to do the right thing after you’ve taught them high-tech rules of the road, they’re not ready for a tablet.

Posted in Connected Kids, Cyber Safety, Digital Parenting, TechNow

Pick a tablet, any tablet, and put it in front of a child. Then, watch the magnetic attraction pull them in and steal all semblance of self-control. Tots, teens and all the screenagers in between can’t resist that tablet temptation.


Of the 120-million tablets sold in 2013, their owners keep getting younger … and younger … and younger. According to a recent study by San Francisco-based Common Sense Media, 38% of babies under 2 use tablets or smartphones, up from 10% in 2011. What’s more, nearly as many children own tablets today as adults did just two years ago. This enormous growth is thanks in part to the plummeting prices of entry-level devices, which are sometimes even less expensive than the parade of kid-specific devices flooding store shelves. And more and more companies are targeting the kids tablet market, too.


While some parents are thrilled with this new wired world, others fear the total tablet takeover will turn their precious children’s brains to media-saturated mush. Most of us modern moms and dads are somewhere in between, glad to share tablet time with kids, but also cautious about those sticky fingers and malleable minds.

It’s true, handing your kids an all-access pass to the land of iPads and Galaxy Tabs is a bit like handing over the keys to your car. Are they ready for it? How much tablet time is the right amount for their budding brains? Will they run up a fortune in apps, or stumble across content they shouldn’t see? What the heck are they actually doing on there?

These are just a few of the questions researchers have been working hard to answer, and a topic we’ll tackle over the next few installments of Tech Now. We’ll take a look at the rules of the road when it comes to giving your kids a tablet, see which specific tablets might be the best fit for your particular brood, and walk you through the tips and tricks to keep kids of all ages safe on their slates.


Researchers find that kids today play more with touch-screens than traditional toys. As a mom myself, I want to know what that shift means for our future generation, and for those of us doing our best to raise healthy, well-rounded kids. We’ve heard debates over the effects of TV, video games and even certain types of music, and — surprise! — that same battle has now turned to tablets.

There’s no question that screens and technology can open the door to intellectually stimulating content, but they could also close doors to physical activity. They help kids keep in touch with Grandma and Grandpa across the miles and let them check in with Mom or Dad after school, yet they set up barriers when kids don’t interact with the people and situations around them. What’s a modern mom or dad to do?

That’s where we pick back up tomorrow, with part two of this series, when we look at how much screen time is the “right” amount, what impact slates are having on kids, and what you need to consider before giving your child a tablet. I call this rules of the road, because I’ve so often craved an easy to follow “map” of sorts that covers the basics — the how-to’s and what-for’s — when it comes to dealing with this somewhat hot-button parenting issue.

Be sure to weigh in with your own questions, comments, concerns, and check back here tomorrow for part two of this series; kids and tablets, rules of the road.

Posted in Connected Kids, Cyber Safety, Great Gadgets, TechNow

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been a bit of a BlackBerry basher. The struggling smartphone, once at the epicenter of our nation’s gadget addiction, feels like it’s all but gone the way of the 8-track in recent years. While far from extinct, I can’t remember the last time I saw someone walking down the street talking, texting, or taking a selfie on one. My few friends who still carry a BlackBerry primarily use them for work, while opting for an iPhone or Android as their personal phone.

So why are we still talking about it?

And yet … just when you think it’s time to say goodbye to the good ole’ CrackBerry for good, it seems by many cautiously optimistic accounts that the embattled company could be on a path to making a comeback.

On Friday, CEO John Chen, a noted turnaround artist, reported good news, by way of an earnings showing a fourth-quarter net loss of $423 million. While most of us have a hard time wrapping our heads around how Chen could be “pleased” with that result, industry and financial analysts expected it to be a lot worse. Chen said that BlackBerry’s most recent financials are “on track and slightly ahead” of expectations, and re-asserted that BlackBerry will return to profitability and growth within little more than a year.

So what does all this mean for BlackBerry loyalists who swear by the devices flagship security and productivity features? While the company pivots back to its core strengths — securing mobile devices on the internal networks of corporate and government clients such as MasterCard, Daimler AG and Airbus Group — there’s a new line of handsets on its way for die-hard keyboard lovers. While smartphones won’t be the main focus, Chen said that BlackBerry plans to introduce high-end smartphones that cater to keyboard aficionados in the coming 18 months.

Is BlackBerry worth considering?

Recently, I gave BlackBerry’s all-new Z30 smartphone a spin. I used it for three weeks, and it was a lot better than I expected it to be. Here are three things it did better than my iPhone 5s:

– It lasts a lot longer on a single charge: My iPhone usually poops out after about 8 hours, but the BlackBerry stays awake for some 25 hours.

– It’s easier to type on: The built-in predictive text feature doesn’t just finish the word you’re typing, but it can predict the next word based on your past writing patterns. It saves time and tapping.

– It’s a better organizer: The notification hub puts all your messages, notifications, and calls in one place. Its clean layout is easy on the eyes and perfect to glance at when you have just a few seconds.

But those bonuses also come with a few drawbacks that will keep me from switching to BlackBerry for the long haul:

– The lack of apps: I want Netflix, and I want it on my phone — and I don’t want to take extra steps to get it. To say the marketplace just isn’t as robust as the competition, is a major understatement, and app lovers will suffer. Sure, you can switch some apps over (using the Device Switch App) or download Android apps from a handful of places like the Amazon Appstore, but these extra steps are a pain when you’re used to having everything you want right at your fingertips. If you’ve grown accustomed to the iOS, or even Android ecosystem, this feels like you’re just going too far back.

– It’s out-of-sync: iOS’s ability to automatically populate photos, notifications, and messages across all my — and my family’s — devices is something I just can’t give up. Sure, there are apps that will do it for you, but taking that extra step is just too much of a pain.

– The “cool” factor: I want my main gadget to be an extension of my personality. BlackBerry says “business,” when the phone I want to carry around also needs to denote “pleasure.”

That feeling — that the Z30 is great, but simply can’t replace my current smartphone — is just one part of BlackBerry’s current predicament. For the past few years, the company has been a bit like a lost man in the desert, unsure of exactly what they need to do to improve its situation. But the BlackBerry platform still has value to millions of people. BBM, the built-in messaging service on all of the company’s smartphones, is still a ridiculously popular application, and you can even download and use BBM on Android and iPhone.

For the moment, it seems like BlackBerry is making a positive step toward reinventing itself.

Using the Z30 has actually made me consider carrying two devices — one for work and one for play — and I think I finally understand what CrackBerry addicts have been praising all these years. I’m anxious to take the next model — reportedly called the Q20 and expected to hit store shelves around the holidays — out for a spin. For the first time in many years, I’m cheering for this underdog. We all like a good comeback story.

Posted in Great Gadgets, In The Press, TechNow