Risks and Fixes: Maintaining Online Privacy for Families and Kids

If you’re a child of the Internet era, you would want to believe that you've explored, or at least are aware of, what's available online. But over time, the Internet has changed. While there are still plenty of things that you can take away from it as a formative environment, there are also a number of ways that it can take from new or unaware users. The gap between young netizens and older users may require a bridge of awareness when it comes to privacy and security.

The Internet is inherently public, but that doesn’t mean you should give up your rights to privacy and security. Kids as young as five already know how to download and play games and these days, you can find just about everyone from your elderly aunt to your cousin's two-year-old toddler (and maybe even your neighbor's uncle's dog) on social networking sites. A majority of them still think that the Internet is still a playground where information, entertainment, and other types of content could be accessed without consequences. The truth is, while we all somehow enjoy living in the bubble of the Internet, cybercriminals are constantly on the lookout for new victims, especially those who can be easily tricked and baited with cleverly disguised schemes.

Whether we like it or not, everyone who uses the Internet will constantly be exposed to online dangers. While staying safe online isn't a very difficult thing to do when you're aware of these threats, young kids, new users, and unaware adults need to be educated about them. Here's a short list:

Malicious and inappropriate content – while the Internet offers a world of fun and learning for kids, it’s also rife with sites with sexual, violent and inappropriate content. One accidental click could lead to thousands of similar sites.

The fix: To avoid accidentally being exposed to these sites, parents should establish rules regarding computer and Internet use. Parents can also block access to mature and inappropriate sites by using a browser's built-in content filters, as well as installing security software that offers parental controls and monitoring features.

Spies and information stealers – social media makes it very easy for kids and other family members to share just about anything from photos, location, and other types of information to their network. Unfortunately, oversharing poses a risk of exposing sensitive details not only to social network contacts, but to cybercriminals who could use them for identity theft and other malicious purposes.

While posting a status like "our entire family is going to Europe for the weekend!" might seem like a common thing people do on social networks, it also says that the house is potentially unprotected. A stranger could then dig into your previous posts and find a status that shows a map of you "checking in" at home. A determined criminal can simply put two and two together and break into your house.

Oversharing can also make identity theft easier for a cybercriminal to pull off. If you post your full name, birth date, address and other personal details on public sites or on social media accounts that are set to public, you should be aware that cybercriminals can use these details to crack into online accounts or use them to verify credit card purchases.  

The fix: The hard and fast rule here is to simply watch what you post online and keeping personal information private. Thinking before posting will cut down the chances of posting something that you may regret later. For parents, educate the kids about the possible implications of posting to a network. A status that says "I hate my math teacher" might seem clever to a child, but not when they realize that the said math teacher is connected to their network.  Social network accounts can also be secured by going over the privacy settings to limit who can see what is being shared.

Exploitative and abusive people – the Internet could be the perfect place to meet new people and foster new friendships. However, some kids don’t scrutinize new connections and end up being victims of cyberbullying or exploitation. As seen in the news, many kids resort to self-harm when the online abuse gets out of hand. Additionally, online predators are also out to exploit minors who are just too young to know any better.

The fix: Privacy and Internet safety is not just about what you share, but more importantly, who your audience is as well. Parents are advised to monitor who their kids add to their social networks, and confirming that they personally know everyone in contact with their children to minimize the risk of exploitation and cyberbullying.

Parents and guardians should take the initiative to educate and train their kids about the many risks they may face online. Awareness and education is a good first step. When applied with proper safety guidelines, it can strengthen the security of a family’s online environment.


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