Jan 172011
 
 January 17, 2011  Online, Youth & Schools

Amazing what a little bad press can do.  Following a press release from SchoolSafetyPartners.org about MouseMail, a social networking sites for kids with parental controls, the company has changed its privacy policy.  Here’s an updated press release from SchoolSafetyPartners.org:

MouseMail.com, the social network for kids that parents can monitor, has rewritten its terms of service to assure families their privacy is protected, according to a School Safety Partners bulletin released today.

MouseMail.com, or Mouse Mail, is a family social network brand created by Arizona-based Safe Communications, Inc. and is based on its patent pending anti-bullying and anti-sexting digital environment for children.

However, a boilerplate clause in the MouseMail registration form seemed to require parents to grant MouseMail the right to publish all private messages and photos their families transmit through the system.

Following the release of a School Safety Partners report last week on the privacy and liability issuesrelated to online email and text monitoring services, Safe Communications president, John Venners, informed School Safety Partners that revising the privacy language in their terms of service was pushed “to the top of the list” of action items as MouseMail prepares for its beta launch.

“Safe Communications is totally committed to protecting the privacy of our users and will do everything possible to be socially responsible,” Venners wrote. “For that very reason we are providing, free of charge, numerous educational resources and related products to the public.”

Venners stated, “In taking a leadership role with nationally recognized experts/leaders we have also assumed the responsibilty of doing things right — including the fine print.”

“It’s not good enough to say that all of the other providers have similar terms regarding privacy. As leaders we are hoping others will follow our lead and make similar adjustments,” Venners wrote.

The original MouseMail terms of service used language similar to that found on other social networking sites granting them broad rights of publication. Specifically, section 17 stated, “With respect to any Content or User Content that You upload to the Service or transmit through the Service, You hereby grant Safe Communications, Inc. a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publically perform, publicly display, and distribute that Content and User Content, the subject of the Content and other data.”

MouseMail has changed this language to dispel any notion that parents are asked to give up family privacy in this context.

The new language, now in section 16, says, “For the sole purpose of providing services to you, You hereby grant Safe Communications, Inc. a worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to use any Content and User Content that You upload to the Service or transmit through this Service. This license allows our systems to process and filter messages; monitor keyword usage to support continuous improvement of our proprietary filtering algorithms; assess and understand the ever evolving ways digital communications tools are being used so we can develop products for you that keep up with the trends; provide advertising targeted to adults subscribers of our free services; and use the information for other purposes that may support the continuous improvement of our service offerings.”

The section further states, “The use of Content or User Content for these purposes is done by computer systems in a manner that maintains the anonymity of the individuals associated with the Content or User Content, other than for enabling message delivery in the normal course of providing the service. In this context, the Content and User Content will only be viewed by humans, when necessary, in the aggregate and in a manner that does not link back to any individual subscriber.”

The new privacy language has been posted on the MouseMail Terms of Service web page and is effective immediately.

Venners concluded his statement inviting the public to know that “Safe Communications rose to the occasion and took the necessary steps to assure parents, and their kids, that their private communications will never be exposed or exploited by our company.”

At least one parent is not convinced. Over on p2pnet.net, Jon Newton comments on the new and improved language:

Which humans? And what qualifies them to have access to this kind of very personal information, especially bearing in mind MouseMail will “provide advertising targeted to adults subscribers of our free services; and use the information for other purposes that may support the continuous improvement of our service offerings”?

That’s so full of likely privacy invasion holes you could drive a fleet of Mac trucks through it.

Not only but also, “This license allows our systems to process and filter messages; monitor keyword usage to support continuous improvement of our proprietary filtering algorithms; assess and understand the ever evolving ways digital communications tools are being used so we can develop products for you that keep up with the trends”.

In other words, MailMouse will be lurking in the computers of users, spying on everything that goes on and with access to everything on the hard drive.

Says School Safety Partners’ John Venners in the statement, “It’s not good enough to say that all of the other providers have similar terms regarding privacy. As leaders we are hoping others will follow our lead and make similar adjustments.”

Stay tuned.

If MouseMail would like to respond to Jon’s concerns, I’d be happy to post their statement on this blog.

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