Keeping kids safe today goes far beyond looking both ways before you cross the street and keeping sharp objects out of reach. Parents also worry about keeping their kids safe online.

The explosion of apps, games and entertainment for children through computers and hand-held devices is mind-boggling. Some of them are educational or harmless — at least on the surface. Parents need to be aware of what their children are viewing and whether the app is collecting information that can be used to market to their children or harm them.

Monitoring your children’s use of devices can seem overwhelming to busy parents struggling to balance work and home responsibilities. But it’s a necessity if you want to keep kids safe.

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act gives parents tools that can help them control what companies can collect from children younger than 13 years old. Sites that collect information must notify parents directly and get their approval before they collect, use or disclose a children’s personal information.

It’s a parent’s responsibility to read and understand these notices as well as the privacy policy on sites that your child uses. Notices from companies should have directions on how to give your consent — sometimes with a permission slip and sometimes by calling a toll-free number. If you consent to having your child’s information collected, the company must keep it secure.

The trouble is, children don’t always stay on “safe” websites, and some companies flout the law. That’s all the more reason to look over your child’s shoulder from time to time so you know what sites she's using.

A federal government website, OnGuardOnline.gov, has lots of information on how to keep your children safe online.

The Better Business Bureau offers these tips on keeping your child safe online:

• Read the privacy policy. Apps that target children must provide a description of the service’s information collection practices before you download the app to a device.

• Understand what constitutes personally identifiable information. Under COPPA, online services may not collect, maintain or share a photograph, video or voice recording from children without first obtaining parents’ or guardians’ permission.

• Review the app before downloading. Many free apps include advertising. If it is an app that both children and parents can use, not all of those ads may be appropriate for youngsters, such as games or films targeting older audiences.

• Set permission requirements. Free apps often have clickable ads or an option to download paid versions of the application. Disable your device’s ability to download apps without a password.

• Check out the company at bbb.org before entering any financial information, especially if there is a cost involved.

• BBB Scam Tracker is a great place to research and report scams.

Stephanie Garland is the region director for the Better Business Bureau in Springfield. The Better Business Bureau office in Springfield is at 2754 S. Campbell Ave. Among those counties served by BBB Springfield are Jasper, Newton, McDonald, Lawrence and Barton counties. Emails may be sent to sgarland@springfieldbbb.org. You can find a retailer’s BBB rating or read a BBB Business Profile by going online to www.bbb.org or by calling 888-996-3887.

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