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McAfee launches software that monitors Facebook

Ontario's privacy commissioner gave a thumbs up to McAfee yesterday as the company unveiled Internet security software for families.

McAfee Inc. (Nasdaq: MFE) is taking online identity, relationship and privacy protection to the next level by focusing on youth, according Ross Allen, Canadian general manager for McAfee.

Allen was on site at the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario in Toronto yesterday for the unveiling of McAfee’s new Internet security software for families.

“Many threats now come through our children visiting legitimate Internet sites which cyercriminals have hacked into,” he said.

The company also plans to direct more attention to whitelists. “We are used to trying to blacklist and keep the bad guys out. We are going to change that and say, ‘Here’s the good guys,” said Allen.

McAfee Family Protection allows parents to specify time parameters for Internet use, including the amount of time their children spend online as well as what time of day they are allowed to access the Internet.

“The single most important factor in determining how at risk kids are is the amount of time they are online … too much time means too much time to get into trouble,” said Parry Aftab, family Internet safety advisor to McAfee and chairman of the McAfee Consumer Advisory Board.

The software also records IM conversations and compiles usage reports that indicate how many hours children spend online, how many instant messages they send and where the messages are going.

Inappropriate or personal information posted to social networking accounts are also logged and recorded.

While Family Protection doesn’t prevent children from posting private information online, what it does do is facilitate dialogue by allowing parents to see what children are posting, said Aftab.

Other features include the ability to block individually specified URLs, up to 35 predetermined Web site categories, installed programs such as peer-to-peer software and activity with unknown e-mail address as well as Web-based email accounts.

On average, 12- to 15-year olds have six different e-mail accounts, according to a poll Aftab conducted with 400 children in Canada.

When children attempt to visit an unapproved site, parents receive an immediate text message alert. The software also filters viewing of YouTube clips.

The features are customizable and applied on a user-by-user basis, so parents can determine one set of controls for their five-year-old, for example, and other for their teenager.

When users log on, the McAfee Family Protection is apparent so children know what is happening as far as moderation and monitoring is concerned, according to Aftab.

“When you’re going to use monitoring software, you have to talk to your kids about it … it’s about trust both ways,” she said.

While the software is geared towards monitoring the Internet activities of children, McAfee doesn’t specify an age range for users. “A lot of seniors like it for themselves,” said Aftab.

Monitoring software not only helps parents protect their children from online sexual predators and cyberbullying attempts – it also serves to protect parents from their kids.

Children pose their own set of threats to parents, Aftab pointed out.

Kids are falling for the Nigerian scams and phishing attempts, giving out parents banking and credit card numbers and exposing sensitive information by sharing hard drive folders on peer-to-peer networks.

“Go to Limewire and search for ‘tax return’ and see what comes up,” said Aftab.

A new partnership between the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario and McAfee was also announced at the unveiling.

“We look forward to a new partnership which will elevate the level of privacy and protection locally by adding privacy to the security protections presently offered by McAfee,” said Dr. Ann Cavoukian, Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner.

The partnership will compliment Cavoukian’s “Privacy by Design” approach.

“This announcement in my office signifies, I think, the first time that the achievements of a world leader in IT security, McAfee, are converging with those of a privacy regulatory,” she said.

Raising awareness and educating the public about the privacy implications of new technologies is one of the most important roles as commissioner, according to Cavoukian, and “doubly so” when it comes to children.

But spreading education and awareness to youth is also more difficult, she pointed out. “We have a hard time doing this, especially reaching out to kids … when you are really young, you think you are invincible,” she said.

McAfee Family Protection is currently available as a download purchase from McAfee for $39.99. Boxed copies will arrive in Canadian stores this September.

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