Monday, March 10, 2008

10. IM Safety

Instant Messaging (IM) has grown to encompass more than just traditional "chatting" via AOL or Yahoo!. It is built in to many of the social applications (MySpace, Twitter, Gmail, etc.) that we use every day. Because IM is now so common, I wanted to be sure to discuss some of the ways we can keep safe while using this very handy tool!
  • Client - the software program you use to chat via IM
  • Server - the service (AOL, Gmail, Yahoo!, etc.) that provides the IM services
  • Log - record of your chat (transcript) that can be saved, printed and shared

Personal Safety
  • Never give out personal information! If you are uncomfortable with the direction the conversation is going, use the "blocking" tools in each IM client to make sure that person can't contact you again.
  • Never agree to meet someone offline that you only know through IM
  • Set your IM client to automatically set you to "hidden" or "invisible" when you first log on, so you can see who is online, without anyone else being able to see you. Check your contact lists during this time to see if there are any mysterious contacts you don't know and get rid of them if there are.
  • Keep your personal IM screen name private. Many services connect your email address and your IM screen name, so if people have one, they can get the other!
  • Remember your "netiquette" and be nice!

Computer Safety
  • Never accept files or click on links from people you don't know and trust. Most IM clients don't have any sort of virus protection built in - yet.
  • Know how to save copies of your conversations to your computer's hard drive. All clients have this ability!
  • Do not use the automatic login feature that comes with most programs if you share your computer or use a public computer - that just gives others access to your data!
  • For your IM session to be secure, your computer must be secure - don't forget to update your virus protection and keep it current.


Francesca said...

That part about email being linked to your account got me. Had I known this I would have chosen a different email moniker.
You say never meet someone in person that you've met online first. I think you'd want to be REALLY cautious, but people have gotton married to individuals they met over the internet.

Marion said...

I had never considered viruses through IM services, but now that so many businesses are using it for their staff I shouldn't be surprised. If the library did this for staff communications it would add extra safety concerns for our administrator. I thought the tip for asking a friend in person or by email first if you can be added to the IM contact list was a good idea. This way they know it's you when you send the request.

I haven't used IM much. How can you tell if your email and screen name are linked? How would someone appear on your contact list that you didn't know?

Thoughts from the CROA said...

In today's world most of this information sounds like common sense, but a refresher never hurts. Also, those new to IM-ing need to be taught how to be safe when using it. When I used to IM a lot I never did feel very comfortable with who I might meet when chatting. Using some common sense and the tips included in this 2.1 lesson will increase your safety when IM-ing. It's been years since I've IM-ed regularly. This lesson has reminded me about how I used to use it and has got me curious to check out some chat rooms or to get back to IM-ing my friends and family when I have the chance.

sexybeast said...

Like francesca said, you need to be cautious but people have gotten married to people they met over the internet...and I am one of those people and it was the best decision that I have made. I have met many people and have many friends and IM came very handy. However, I do not let my children use the IM because of the safety issue. Is the library ever responsible if a minor contacts someone who is undesirable on the net? I would think not, but it seems personal responsibility no longer applies in many situations.

I never thought about viruses either but I will now.

Parry Aftab said...

Thanks for the mention of our work and our site. I have been a long fan of your blog and the library's online program.
We have a new program on cyberbullying named in honor of the little girl who killed herself after being harassed online by a neighborhood mom posing as a sixteen year old on myspace, Megan Meier. The program is called "The Megan Pledge".

Send me an e-mail at if you want the materials. we want 1 million young people to take the pledge before the end of the year.

could use your help.
thanks again.
Parry Aftab
Exec Director

Robin said...

In reverse order:
Francesca - you are right, there are no absolutes (except for the fact that there are no absolutes?) in life - there will be times when you meet someone online and decide that you can risk meeting them offline, but do remember that it's always a risk. Online personals wouldn't be very helpful if *everyone* was as cautious as I've said they should be, would they?
Marion - Many IM services have a "profile" page. I know AOL and Yahoo! do and the option to remove your email from that page is available, but not necessarily automatic. This means that someone could look you up in Yahoo! or AOL's "people pages" and get your email address if you haven't specifically hidden it. Of course, Gmail chat is intimately tied to your email address, so if you are chatting with someone on Gmail, you are giving them your email address, too.
Sexybeast See my response to Francesca about the risks of meeting folks online, then offline. I'll add, as well, that I have met people at conferences that I only knew online, but that was in a crowd sort of situation - not on a date where we were alone. You have to use common sense, but be aware of the risks - that's all I want to be sure to explain with this lesson.
As for the responsibility of the library if a minor contacts someone online that they shouldn't? That is tough. We aren't their parents, and we do require that very young folks are accompanied by their parents while using the Internet. Older young folks have to have their parents' permission to use the Internet, so their parents have to make the call as to whether or not their kids are mature enough to handle online dangers.
Parry Thanks for the link! I'll add that information to our PCC handouts for

sexybeast said...

Even though meeting people on-line worked for me, I was very cautious, since you never know who is being honest. However, I chatted with a Professor from China and she had a webcam, so I was pretty sure who I was Iming with this time.

absinthekid said...

I see IM as yet another great way for people to interact, opening up commuication in a way that has large sociological and even psychological ramifications.

At this point, safety is such a huge concern that a lot of people are still a little nervous about IM (or at least so it seems to me). The tragedy of young Megan Meier took place here in Missouri, for example--a little close to home. Still, these are great lessons on the precautions we all need to take.

Just my two cents.

eyeoh said...

Sometimes I wonder if parents realize just how huge chatting is. Online games, from WOW to Runescape to Gaia Online, are simply graphical chat clients to teens like my daughters. They may be helping level each other up, but the vast majority of time is spent chatting rather than bashing or crafting. One Saturday, on Endless Online, both daughters gathered with eight other online friends, and simply chatted for two hours as their online characters sat in a circle by a tree. Since then, this particular tree has become the digital version of the local hang-out.

I also wish luck to those attempting to decode a teen chat log. Reading more than six lines gives me a headache.

Nikki said...

IM is not really my thing. The only time I use IM is through gmail with my contacts and obviously with people I already know. I feel like you can't trust anybody your talking to on the net to be truly that person.

Tab said...

I use the Gmail chat client, but pretty rarely. [I prefer twittering instead] I met someone I knew only from chatting years ago and it turned out okay, but I knew I was taking a huge risk and it was probably not the best idea. We just have to remember that they are real people outside the computer, so obviously they're not all honest and kind- just as in "real" life.

I do think that IMing is a wonderful tool within a workplace and especially for networking with professionals across the country. I mean, that's just super-efficient!

Marion said...

Isn't it interesting that the kids "meet" at a hangout space online rather than in person at a concrete location? I'm not really surprised though, as teens and kids do more and more via the internet and even just with their cell phones rather than traditional forms of communication.
In the online sim Second Life, not only do people buy their homes but they decorate them and re-arrange the furniture. More surprising to me, was the article discussing the problem of theft in second life. People's characters steal things from other people's online houses. Second Life's response? They created a police force in the game. I thought an insurance office would be much easier. File a claim and poof your stolen item reappears in your house.

skoone said...

I know this may be hard to believe in this day and age, but I have never used IM. Never. I think it has a great variety of uses both professionally and socially. I remember Bobbi telling me that she helped train an employee in another state by using instant messaging. I thought it was nifty enough that I still remember it and I forgot what I did yesterday! I wonder if we could use it with Linn when Jan and her staff has questions for us?

Robin said...

When Tammy was working at Linn, she would log into her Gmail account and would occasionally ask me questions via the Gchat that is built into that service. I haven't checked to see who else at Linn has a Gmail account (that would be easiest for us here, at least), but I'm almost always logged into Gmail and I know others here at the library are frequently online as well, so that is an excellent idea!

moonbeam said...

Thanks for the tips. I don't IM anyone but my daughter. This helps if I ever decide to chat with anyone else out there.

justme said...

I don't IM, family and friends don't either so this I'm lost on. Though it's common sense for most people, we usually like to think there's more good than bad and don't always stop to think, so it's always good to have reminders like this.

Age is only a # said...

I appreciate you putting this information up. The only problem is that the people who need it the most will probably never see it (and if they do, they may not think it pertains to them.)It's scary how many people, especially teens, put up personal information because they don't believe that the "person" that they are chatting with would ever hurt them. Maybe if enough people that they trust present information like this to them, they will start to believe that it could affect them.

dukeblue1212 said...

I'm not really into im anymore, but these are great tips for those that are. I also found the part about email being linked to your account particulary interesting. When I used to im, my screen names were usually the same as my email address. Good to know for the future should I ever get back into im'ing.

betterlate said...

All of this is a real eye opener. I am going to make my kids read this!

leslie said...

All of the safety issues are always good to review with your kids, if you have any. The only time I IM is if my daughter is home from college and leaves it open. It never fails to go off, usually her friends or my nieces, wanting to talk with her but ending up with me. Oh, and when Nancy would leave hers open here and her friends would try to talk to her. I can never figure out whether I should answer or ignore, but to be polite I usually tell them the person they want is not on and then I get off after a little chit chat.

heather said...

I think it's interesting to see how far IM saftey awareness has come. I remeber when I first started out, there were no guidelines or rules no saftey precautions taken by my parents because it was all new at the time.
Thankfully people are more aware nowadays, at least some of them are.

courtney said...

Suddenly I'm glad that I rarely, if ever, use an IM service. Occasionally on Facebook, but that's it. I recall the early days of IMing on AOL (like in the early '90s) and even then, I would get messages from complete strangers. I didn't know anything about Internet safety at the time, because it hadn't become the issue it is today, but I was creeped out enough to avoid such people. Perhaps it's those early experiences that have turned me off of the whole IMing thing. I will, however, only IM with people I already know. I'll probably leave it at that.

newbie said...

I use IM to "chat" with my brother in Iraq. It is easier than phone calls and he can send me pictures and attachments in real time. Your lesson really illustrates both the incredible potentials and the dangers of the internet.

madmusing said...

I rarely use IM, but I'm glad to know about these potential risks. I'll forward some of the info to my IM-ing friends.

Melody said...

I don't IM but people I already know and I only use it in my gmail acount, so I think I am safe.