How to create a monthly allowance on iTunes

If you bought your child an iPad, iPhone or iPod touch for the holidays, then I am sure you have one very happy camper on your hands. But as most parents will quickly find out, buying the device is just the start of the financial commitment. All these devices require a constant stream of new content. Whether it’s TV shows, movies, music, games or apps, your child will be making frequent visits to the iTunes store, and most of those visits will cost money.

Of course, if you gave your child one of these devices, then you probably also gave him or her an iTunes gift card. But gift cards quickly run out, to be replaced more often than not by a parent’s credit card. Unfortunately, that’s where a lot of the problems begin. In the last few years, there have been numerous stories about how kids have racked up hundreds of dollars on their parents’ credit cards, mostly through in-game purchases.

However, there is another way to manage your child’s iTunes account – one which can help teach a little fiscal responsibility along the way. iTunes allows you to set-up a fixed monthly spending allowance for anyone you choose, which can then be used for songs, movies, games, and any in-app purchases. Once the spending limit is reached, there can be no more purchases until the next month’s allowance kicks in.

Here’s how it works:

  • Log in to your iTunes account.
  • Go to the iTunes Store and click on Buy iTunes Gifts, which is located under Quick Links on the upper right of the page.
  • Scroll down to the Allowances section and click on Set up an allowance now.
  • Enter the name of the person you wish to receive the allowance and choose the monthly amount, which can be anything from $10 to $50. You can also choose when the allowance starts – either immediately or on the first day of the following month. You then need to enter the Apple ID for the recipient. If the recipient of the allowance doesn’t have an Apple ID, you can create one. When you have finished, click Continue.
  • You will then be asked to sign in with your Apple ID to set up the allowance. Once you have input your Apple ID, click Setup to confirm and set up the allowance.

Unused portions of the allowance will be carried over to the following month. You can cancel or make changes to the allowance by logging in to your Account, which can also be accessed under Quick Links on the iTunes Store home page.


Like books and movies, games come in genres: just as a reader might like mysteries, so a gamer might prefer “role playing” games. On this page, we offer a quick overview of today’s most popular videogame genres. Understanding what genres your kids like can help you choose which games to get them. Along with the ESRB ratings system we discuss elsewhere, it can also help you supervise your kids’ game play. (And it’s not only about your kids: knowing the available genres can also help you pick the gamesyou’re most likely to enjoy.)

First Person Shooter (FPS). In these fast-paced games, you act as a combatant in a war or other battle, aiming and shooting your adversaries, either human or alien. These games demand speedy reflexes, not to mention powerful hardware; they’re also among the most popular. If you widen the category just a bit, you’ll include other “action” games, such asTom Clancy’s Splinter Cell, in which the player acts as an agent infiltrating a camp of terrorists to prevent a planned attack. Examples: Call of Duty,HaloHalf-LifeTom Clancy’s Splinter Cell.

Role Playing Games (RPG). In these games, participants act as fictional characters in running stories within worlds that contain their own consistent rules and guidelines. These games can continue indefinitely, and allow for extensive improvisation, collaboration, and socialization amongst players. Some of them incorporate more action elements; for example, in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, the participants act as Marvel superheroes fighting to prevent Dr. Doom and his evil crew from conquering the Earth. The RPG genre includes many of today’s most popular massively multiplayer online games, such as World of Warcraft and EverquestExamples: Final Fantasy,Star Wars: The Old RepublicWorld of Warcraft.

Sports Games. In these games, you either pretend to play a sport, or pretend to lead a team in playing a sport. There are games for virtually every major sport, from baseball and football to basketball and soccer, as well as many less prominent sports, such as table tennis and bowling. One subgenre of sports games is racing simulations, such as Need for Speed. With the advent of the Nintendo Wii, game play can even involve physical movements resembling those you’d be using if you were playing the “actual” sport. Examples: Madden NFLNintendo Wii Sports.

Simulation Games. These games attempt to simulate an environment, a process (such as city building or flying an airplane), or even life and social interactions among people. For example, in The Sims, you simulate the daily life of a suburban family – doing everything from eating and sleeping to paying bills and building careers. Examples: The Sims, Train Simulator.

Strategy Games. In these games, the player’s careful planning and decision-making make the difference between victory and defeat. For example, you might be placed in charge of an army involved in a war; or you might be an Emperor seeking to build your empire. Examples:Command and ConquerCivilizationAge of Empires.

Fighting Games. These are the games that look like TV wrestling on steroids. (Or is that redundant?) You battle other characters, often in hand-to-hand combat. You won’t be surprised to hear that some of these games are incredibly violent. Examples: TekkenWWE Smackdown.

There are other genres. For example, there are PC-based videogame translations of old-fashioned board games like Scrabble and puzzle games like Tetris; music and dancing games like Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero; and old-fashioned “platformers” like the old Donkey Kong and Sonic the Hedgehog games, in which gameplay is based on jumping, swinging, bouncing, or climbing between platforms. And, of course, quite a few games straddle genres, borrowing elements from two or more of them.

Tips for Safe Social Networking

Social networking sites like Facebook have become all the rage: by one estimate, some 75% of American teenagers have joined at least one. How can you make sure your kids are using these sites safely, and under your supervision? Start with these tips:

  • Make sure your kids know what they can and can’t post online. For instance (as we’ve said elsewhere), kids should never post their full names, street or email addresses, phone numbers, Social Security numbers, or anything about their parents’ personal financial status. For their safety, they shouldn’t talk about sex or other provocative issues, either.
  • Make sure your kids use screen names that can’t be personally identified and aren’t sexually provocative.
  • Use the strongest privacy settings your site provides: restrict who can view your child’s pages to people he or she knows in “real life.”
  • Younger children should reject all requests by strangers to become a “friend.” (You can set MySpace to automatically refuse “add” requests from people who can’t spell your child’s last name.)
  • Know your child’s online friends. Don’t recognize a name? Ask your child who that person is, and how they became acquainted.
  • Remind your child that other people – such as employers and college admission people – may read their pages and look at the pictures they’ve posted. Once it’s been posted in public, it’s out of their control – forever. Even if they delete their pages, copies might still be accessible through search engines, and other people might have saved copies on their own computers.
  • Use Google and other search engines to find information your child may have posted ‘online’ as well as information and comments others may have posted on your child. Also consider joining your child’s social networking site so you can easily visit his or her site and track any changes made to it. (If you do, let your child know you’ll be visiting on occasion.)
  • Understand your site’s privacy policies, and check out the safety tools they make available to parents, if any.
  • Many sites prohibit children under 13. Don’t give your children permission to use these sites: those restrictions are there for a reason. (By the way, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which requires sites to get your permission before they collect, use, or share any information about your child. If a site lets your child register without notifying you, they’re violating a federal law.)
  • Don’t just worry about child predators. Warn your kids about garden-variety scammers, too: people out to steal their money, and yours.

How To Beat Spam with Disposable E-Mail Addresses

You’re registering online for the local 5K or you’re downloading that app your friend has been raving about and you get to the inevitable ‘required’ field on the Web form: “Please enter your e-mail address.” Suddenly that fun-run might not be quite so appealing. The cost of entry could include more spam, more privacy concerns, and more threats to a jealously guarded online identity.

Giving out your e-mail address is a very personal act, requiring a level of trust that is rarely reciprocated by the other party. Even if the organization your dealing with has strict privacy policies (and you can find them on the web site), you are completely at the mercy of their unknown – and often untested – security procedures.

Luckily there is alternative to giving out your online contact information (or turning into a digital recluse): the disposable e-mail address.

Disposable e-mail addresses are exactly what the name implies. They are e-mail addresses you use on a one-time only basis, discarding them when they have done their job and never worrying about who gets their hands on them or which databases they might end up in. If the company you’re dealing with sells one of these disposable addresses or their servers get hacked, you give an unconcerned shrug or, more likely, you’ve moved on and are completely unaware there was ever a problem.

Several companies are now offering various versions of this throwaway service. They include SpamexMailinator, and relative newcomer MailDrop. In keeping with the principle behind the service, MailDrop doesn’t ask for an e-mail log-in or, in fact, any kind of sign up. All you do is type in your chosen e-mail address and check the Inbox for activity.

Each MailDrop e-mail address uses the format, and the site recommends that you connect the e-mail address with whatever product or service you are registering for, so each address is unique and easy to remember. For example, I could use my pet’s name for all my disposable MailDrop addresses and then add the name of the service, so my fun-run e-mail address would be and my app e-mail would be

MailDrop stresses that its service does not guarantee privacy or security. In theory, another MailDrop user could choose exactly the same e-mail address and have access to your e-mail, but if you make your e-mail addresses complicated enough and you only use the service for non-sensitive material, there is little chance that a privacy breach would have any consequences.

Incoming MailDrop messages must be less than 100K in size and all attachments are discarded whatever the size. Each Inbox can only hold 10 messages and Inboxes that haven’t received a message in the last 24 hours are automatically cleared. MailDrop also employs its own spam filters to make sure that incoming mail is legitimate.

Disposable e-mail options are no substitute for the more established e-mail platforms but that’s not their purpose. If you are looking for a solution to the ever-expanding problem of intrusive Web forms, then disposable e-mail is a great way to move around online without opening the door to spam or putting your identity at risk.

Threats & Challenges

Lions and tigers and bears, oh, my! Sometimes, lately, that’s how it feels when you’re using your computer. Viruses and worms and phishing attacks:oh, my, indeed. But, as movie directors know, the scariest thing is the unknown. So let’s get all this bad stuff into the light, so we can start dealing with it…

Viruses. Like the viruses that sicken human beings, viruses insert themselves into other programs (or completely replace those programs). Once they’ve done so, they can cause all sorts of symptoms – from ‘mild’ (displaying annoying messages) to ‘fatal’ (damaging your data or crashing your computer). Like ‘human’ viruses, computer viruses know how to spread from one computer to another. This typically occurs when the software or document they’re attached to is shared between computers.

Worms. These are much like viruses, but they operate on their own: they can spread even if nobody deliberately shares the files they’re in. Some worms exploit security flaws in the software you’re running; others simply trick users into letting them run.

Trojans. Like the giant horse ‘gift’ the Greeks gave the people of Troy, computer ‘Trojans’ are filled with trouble. But they look harmless: in fact, they look like software you’d want to run. Once you do, though, you’re in their grasp (or as some hackers like to put it, “pwned” powerfully owned.) Trojans might mess with your Web home page – or they might steal your social security number and give bad guys a ‘back door’ they can use to explore your computer whenever they feel like it.

Bots. Malicious bots infect your computer, and thousands (or sometimes even millions of other computers). Every infected computer is connected to a central connect to a central computer, and waits for instructions. What kind? Bots might be instructed to flood a Web site with more traffic than it can handle, and knock it out of service. Or they might be used to send thousands of Spam email messages that can’t easily be traced to their origin. Or they might capture and send your passwords and personal information.

How do you avoid being attacked by viruses, worms, Trojans, and bots? Get good anti-virus software which can scan not only your files but also incoming emails. Then, keep it up to date. And use common sense: never download and run software unless you’re sure it’s coming from a legitimate source.

We’re almost done, but there’s one more threat you need to pay especially close attention to:

Phishing. Phishing is fraud. It’s someone trying to convince you to hand over sensitive information (such as your credit card number or online banking password) by masquerading as the financial institution or some other ‘official’ entity. You might, for example, receive an email or an instant message that tells you your account’s been suspended, but they’ve provided an easy link to follow to reinstate your account. When you follow the link, you don’t go to the financial institution’s official site: you go to a cleverly designed fake site that captures your personal information. ‘Phishing’ attacks often pretend to come from banks, eBay, or PayPal, though they can come from anyone large numbers of people do business with. They’re getting smarter and more sophisticated, too, with fewer typos and better grammar.

Here’s how to avoid phishing attacks: #1. Never follow a link in an email that claims to come from your financial institution. If you think it might be real, close your email software, open your web browser, browse to your financial institution’s site, and log in the way you normally would. If by some unlikely chance there really is a problem with your account, you’ll find a message there telling you. #2: Get anti-phishing software or new web browsers that display a warning if you visit a site that appears not to be who it claims to be. Most recent browsers contain at least some anti-phishing capabilities.

Facebook Scams: A Growing Problem

The problem of imposters taking over accounts or posing as friends on social networking sites has become so bad that the FBI issued a warninglast week alerting consumers to the growing problem. “Fraudsters continue to hijack accounts on social networking sites and spread malicious software by using various techniques,” the warning said. The agency says it has logged over 3,200 complaints about such incidents since it began keeping track less than two years ago.

Meanwhile, Facebook, the most popular social networking site in the world with over 300 million members, posted its own warning. “Recently we have noticed an increase in scams where people’s login information is collected through phishing sites and then their accounts are accessed without permission to ask friends for money. While the total number of people who have been impacted is small, we take any threat to security seriously and are redoubling our efforts to combat the scam.”




The post then goes on to describe the most commonly experienced attack, also known as a 419 scam, where fraudulent individuals hack into Facebook accounts, pose as the owner and claim to be stranded in a foreign country without access to money. Once they are logged in, the scammers send messages and even post status updates to the person’s profile asking friends to wire money. Facebook even posted a transcript of a real chat conversation between a Facebook user and a scammer to its security page, so members would know what to look for if they ever found themselves in a similar situation.

The increased emphasis on social networking security is timely. There have been some very real and well-publicized losses. In January of this year, MSNBC reported on the case of Bryan Rutberg, a Seattle resident, who found out that his Facebook account had been hacked after concerned friends started calling his cell phone non-stop to offer help. Many had received an e-mail with the story that Rutberg had been robbed at gunpoint while traveling in the UK and needed money to get home.  Because the hackers had changed his log-in credentials, he was locked out of his own account and couldn’t alert friends to the scam. It took him 24-hours to deactivate the account but not before a friend had wired $1,200 to a Western Union branch in London.

Facebook offers some useful tips on how to be smart and aware when using its site. They are well worth reading. MySpace and the other major social networks do the same. The golden rule: never part with money based on an IM, e-mail or any other kind of Internet message. If you haven’t received a phone call, then you can be almost certain that the request is bogus!

Facebook introduces ‘Graph Search’

You’re interested in checking out a new restaurant in your neighborhood but you’d like to know what other people think of it first. You can always visit Yelp or OpenTable to get a review but wouldn’t it be better to get an opinion from a friend? Or maybe you’re visiting Paris for the first time and are looking for somewhere to stay. Again, there are plenty of guide books to choose from but a more personal recommendation could make all the difference.

If we think about where we might be able to find personal recommendations on where to eat, where to stay, and a thousand other things we might want to do, there is one obvious answer: Facebook. That’s the inspiration behind graph search, a new search engine tool for Facebook that was unveiled yesterday by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Most of us first heard the term ‘social graph’ just over a year ago when Facebook started rolling out Timeline. Think of it as the graphical depiction of the personal relationships between various Facebook users. If you have 300 friends and each of those friends has 300 friends, that’s an enormous network of people who may have similar interests to you, including the arts, books, food, travel, or any number of professional or leisure activities. Graph search is the ability to tap into that social graph and find information that’s relevant to you.

Some more examples: Say you’re a single guy arriving in New York City for a new job and want to contact some other singles. Just type ‘single Friends living in New York City’ into the search bar and you’ll have a list of friends to contact. Or you could type ‘photos my Friends took in New York City’ and you’ll have a gallery of places to visit. Where information isn’t available within your Facebook graph, it will be supplemented by Microsoft’s Bing web search tool, but the idea is to clearly make graph search Facebook-centric.

At the unveiling of graph search, Facebook executives went to great lengths to stress that the tool was ‘privacy aware’, which means that users’ data will only be found if they want it to be found. However, there is no built-in ability to make all your information unsearchable the way there is for third-party search engines. They also stressed that graph search will only look at Likes, check-ins, and pictures and not status updates, although it’s easy to see graph search widening its net once it becomes an accepted Facebook feature.

Of course, any tool that taps into more specific Facebook data is also going to be of interest to advertisers, so expect some of those Google-style ‘sponsored results’ as graph search matures. However, Facebook gave some assurances that the graph search tool would not be available to brand pages, so, for example, Starbucks would not be able to mine the data of the 33 million plus Facebook users that have Liked the Starbucks page.

Graph search will be available in beta form to a few thousand users before it rolls out to the full Facebook membership later this year. Facebook users eager to sample the tool as soon as possible can join a graph search wait list.

Getting ready for Graph Search

What you can do to prepare for Facebook’s new search tool

Facebook has almost completed the roll-out of Graph Search, its new search tool which allows users to dig deep into the treasure trove of information that makes up the world’s largest social network. Graph Search is essentially an internal search engine, tapping into all the personal data, photos, and interests that have been posted by Facebook users.

But while Facebook executives have assured us that Graph Search will respect existing privacy settings and only show information that can already be viewed elsewhere on Facebook, there have been concerns that the new tool could surprise or embarrass Facebook users by dragging up information that they thought was buried in the past.

“What people once thought was shared only with their Facebook audience – whether that’s their friends, networks, or the whole public – but figured was too hard to find is now readily available,” said Adi Kamdar, an activist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Imagine you’re a young woman who liked to party at college but is now rapidly climbing the ranks of a highly respected law firm. Some less-than-discrete photos of you were posted on Facebook many years ago but you take comfort from the fact that you deleted them from your own page, and the few remaining images are gathering digital dust at the bottom of your ex-roommate’s Timeline.

With Graph Search, those old pictures are suddenly much more accessible. Depending on how they’re tagged and captioned, a simple search query by a Facebook friend or colleague could bring them abruptly back to life. Suddenly, everything is discoverable, and it all depends on long-forgotten privacy selections just how public those old pictures and posts might be.

So what can a Facebook user do to make sure that old information doesn’t come to light? The simple answer is quite a lot, but it’s not as easy as it sounds.

The current version of Graph Search focuses on four main areas: people, photos, places and interests. The ‘people’ category is the easiest one to review. Just go to the About section on your Timeline and review your personal information. If you don’t want anyone to search for you based on a relationship status of ‘It’s Complicated,’ then you can change the status, leave it blank, or restrict who can see it.

As you review your personal information, make sure that you are comfortable with all your interests, religious and political views, and anything else that might be searchable. Remember, if the public can view it, they can search for it, so make sure your audience selections are part of your review.

The other way Graph Search can capture your interests is through your ‘Likes.’ You can review these by clicking on Likes on your Timeline and then scrolling to the bottom of the page. Here you will find your Likes grouped by year. If you want to remove a Like, just mouse over the relevant icon and a new window will open. Move your mouse to Liked and you will have an option to Unlike.

With places and photos, it becomes harder. There is no magic button or universal privacy setting that will prevent all past check-ins or photos from being discoverable. Instead, it’s a case of going back over every single item you don’t want to be searchable and either deleting it, changing the tags and captions, or varying who can view it. Even if you have hidden something on your Timeline, it will still be discoverable under Graph Search. Use the Activity Log to review all your posts, including the ones you have hidden.

Even if you delete a photo, there is no guarantee that it won’t be discoverable elsewhere on Facebook. If the photo was originally posted by someone else and you don’t want it to be searchable, then you will have to send that person a request to remove it.

Although this early version of Graph Search is limited, it’s clear that everything on Facebook will eventually be searchable. That will include posts, actions under Open Graph apps (e.g. listening to a song), and maybe even comments. It’s also possible that Graph Search will include Instagram, the popular photo social network which is owned by Facebook.

Graph Search is yet another reminder that everything we post on Facebook – and elsewhere on the Internet – is far more accessible than we think, and we need to be very careful about what we do or say on social networks. Although mistakes may eventually fade from memory, they can come back to haunt you at any time.

Good sleep and bad golf – the UP wristband is tracking you!

By Paul O’Reilly

I love my gadgets but very few recent devices have caught my imagination like the UP wristband from Jawbone. Yes, those are the same folks that produce those cool Bluetooth headsets and the amazing JAMBOX wireless speakers, only this time they have come up with something that could change your life!

The Jawbone UP is a rubberized twist-on bracelet that sits comfortably on your wrist and literally tracks your activity every minute of the day. It tells you how many steps you take, how many calories you burn, how many minutes per day you are active, and, most importantly, how well you are sleeping.

The UP wristband is compatible with the iPhone, iPad and a growing number of Android devices. I synced mine with the new Samsung Galaxy S4 and the set up couldn’t be easier. You just download the UP app, pull off a cap at one end of the wristband, and plug it into the headphone jack on your phone. The first time you connect you will be asked to set up your account, but after that, it automatically syncs and refreshes your data in about 15 seconds flat.

As part of the set up process, the UP app will ask you to set both movement and sleep goals. The default movement goal is 10,000 steps per day, which works out around 5 miles for the average person. Similarly, the default sleep setting is 8 hours, but you can set it to anything you want. After that, the UP band tracks your progress, giving you a detailed breakdown of how you are doing against each goal.

Even though 10,000 steps a day might sound like a lot, you will be surprised at how quickly those steps mount up. Remember, the UP wristband is tracking every step you take, so even if you just get up to answer the door, that’s another 40 steps in the bank. Of course, the real goal is to get you to exercise and it’s amazingly effective at doing just that. My dog is now getting a lot of late evening walks, as I make sure I hit my goal each day!

Just as fascinating are the nighttime readouts. Not only will the UP wristband record how long you slept but it will also tell you how long it took you to fall asleep, the amount of light sleep versus deep sleep, and how often you woke up during the night. After just a few days of use, you start forming habits that promote better quality sleep, which may ultimately be the biggest benefit of using the device.

In addition to its automatic movement and sleep tracking capabilities, the UP wristband also allows you to manually input and track various other activities, including your food and drink intake, your workouts, and even your moods! You can also share your data with friends for added motivation.

Of course, the UP wristband can also serve up some information that might not be so welcome, which is where my golf game comes in. I am reliably informed that a normal golfer walks approximately 4 miles while playing a round of golf, so when I recorded over 6 miles during a recent round, I knew I wasn’t spending too much time in the fairway! (A fact that was also evident from my scorecard.)

But golf aside, the UP wristband is one of those breakthrough devices that uses state-of-the-art technology to completely transform an everyday activity. Try it and I guarantee you’ll be hooked!

I received my Jawbone UP wristband from Verizon Wireless. The Online Mom LLC receives a fee for participating in certain promotional programs for Verizon. All opinions are my own.

Follow Paul on Twitter.