I cannot claim this to be an in-depth review, because it is not. My comments are merely based on some conversations with a couple of zealots from Websafety.com.

I guess a good place to start would be a description of what this service supposedly offers. In this wonderfully connected society we live in every parent has worries about what their children are doing with technology. Predators are everywhere, could little Suzie be being wooed by some sicko on an instant messaging system on the family computer? Is little Suzie sending or receiving inappropriate text messages on her phone?

These are some serious concerns for any parent.

You can prevent little Suzie from much of the danger by purchasing a product such as NetNanny for the family computer. I believe it retails for $50 and has a minimal annual subscription fee. It is by no means 100% accurate in what it does, but mostly it will keep little Suzie from the clutches of the wolves that prowl the darker side of the internet.

Of course the concerned parent also needs to worry about little Suzie’s cell phone, is there inappropriate activity going on? Most of the major carriers have some kind of parental control feature that again is not 100% but will likely offer a modicum of peace of mind.

So what is the story with Websafety? Thats a great question. I had never heard of the operation until a friend of mine mentioned that he had become involved with them. My take on it was “Great, have fun”. He went on to explain what a wonderful product it is, and that not only was it going to save a lot of children from predators, it was going to make him some money. Again, I said “Great, have fun”.

Alas he could not stop, he was convinced that ‘I should have fun as well’. I did look at the web site, and all I smelled was scam. If you have this great product you do expect something more than a cookie cutter web site. Although he gave me a unique URL, it merely translated into the main URL with a parameter passed to ensure that any sales were credited to the correct person. There is nothing wrong with this practice, but the method used seemed pretty crude. Something like the Amazon Affiliates program, or Google Adsense shows a much more elegant approach.
Scams come in many flavors, some are blatent, some are subtle, and some are just misplaced enthusiasm.  This one has all of the makings, lots of sizzle but little steak. Sizzle about why you need this product, but little in the ‘steak’ of what it does or how effective it is. Maybe scam is to harsh a word to use when looking at Websafety, but I do see some warning signs.

My sole concern was that my friend was not putting himself in harms way by getting involved with these people. It looked harmless enough, and he is a big boy, big enough to make his own life choices. Who am I to tell him what is, or is not a good thing?

The whole thing would have gone away forgotten, but, as is so often the case, an unfortunate concatenation of events occurred. I happened to be talking to my friend when he said that he had another call coming in, and it was someone I should meet. I am used to this tactic, I have talked to his mother, his girlfriend, his partners, and probably his dog walker as well!

This call though was different, this was Russ (last name missed). Russ was also involved with Websafety. My friend made a fatal error in judgment, he had to take another call and left me talking to this man. The only thing we had in common was Websafety, so I put on my journalist hat and went for the story.

After some serious ‘water boarding’ I discovered two serious facts. Firstly it is an MLM (Multi Level Marketing), the more people you recruit, the more money you make. Russ claims that it runs a maximum of four levels. This sounds a lot like Amway to me.

I was still in ‘nice mode’ so I went fishing.

It transpires that this ‘wazzoo’ product can track your kid’s cell phone use, text messages, and where little Suzie is at any given time. Even at the steep price of $150 per year this sounds like a great insurance policy, right? Not quite, It only works with 15 phone models! Oh, and the really interesting one that it does not work with is the iPhone.

The computer side of Websafety seems just as unlikely, they boast a vocabulary of 4,000 words and phrases that san save little Suzie from disaster.

Russ just does not know when to shut up. In fact the only way to interrupt the one way flow of verbal diarrhea to keep saying “SHUT UP” in ever increasing volume till he did. But the respite did not last long.

I politely explained to Russ that he was a dough head, and extricated myself from the phone conversation.

It was not ten minutes later when Russ’s ‘uplink’ (MLM term for boss) called me. This in my mind was poking an already hostile critter. But, the silly lady wanted to give me the full sales pitch. Unfortunately she seemed to believe that this should be a one-way flow of diatribe. I finally gave up try to break in, and just hung up.

By this time I was hotter than a pepper sprout (line from June Carter Cash). The knuckle head called back!

Oh, knuckle head does have a name, Jaemi Levine, she runs a ‘non profit’ Mothers Against Predators (MAP). Like so many ‘Non profits’ there is little evidence of what these folks really do. Websites ‘under construction’, the regular nonsense. Of course one might ask what is the head of a ‘Non Profit’ doing in an MLM scheme?

I am sure that the goals of Websafety are honorable, and I am sure that most of the people involved are well meaning. But I am not sure that Websafety is ready for prime time. Essentially they are offering a promise that they cannot fulfill.

In one of her diatribes Jaemi Levine, offered the following scenario, that to say the least is ridiculous.

With this product on your child’s phone we can spot inappropriate behavior. We would send an alert if the text message said something like ‘take off your shirt’

OK little Suzie has just got back from shopping with her mom, mom has bought Suzie two new tops, Suzie is excited and chatting with her friend Jane. Jane tells Suzie to ‘take her shirt off and put the other one on’. Websafety would step in, block the message and alert Suzie’s mom. How stupid and time wasting would this be?

Websafety sounds like a great idea, but at this stage it seems little more than an idea. The cell phone component only works on a very limited number of devices. The tracking feature is dependent on GPS being installed in the phone. GPS is not a feature that you find on many low cost phones. And if you do have a phone with GPS there are other solutions that can be employed to see where the person/phone is.

Websafety also crosses another boundary that I find problematic. The ‘scant’ documentation available leads me to believe that once installed, the user has no knowledge of its existence. The quote from the web site is:

On many phones, potential hackers can’t even find it.

This sounds like spy-ware to me. The settings seem to allow for some leeway in so far as you can merely ‘observe’ rather than intervene. What a convenient tool for snooping on someone.

Never mind what little Suzie is doing, lets put it on mom or dad’s cell phone.

Ms. Motor Mouth told me yesterday that it did not matter what I said, inside a year everyone would know about Websafety. Well, I am trying to help out, I am pretty sure that after this article everyone will know about it. As opposed to Motor Mouth, I am doing this for free, it did not cost me $150.00.

Pyramid schemes, are pyramid schemes, you can dress them up, but they all work the same way and they all fail the same way. At least Amway does actually have products that work as advertised. A bar of soap is a bar of soap, it is just a little more expensive from Amway than your local store.

Also the key with Pyramid schemes is the ‘Up Front’ money. This equates to ‘If you give me x number of dollars, we will let you sell our bars of overpriced soap.’ My poking around in Websafety does seem to indicate that there is a BUY IN. How much, I don’t know.

My advice to parents is, keep a close eye on little Suzie, you don’t need Websafety, you just need common sense.

UPDATE: New Article

Simon Barrett

Links left intentionally non-clickable. 

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