Articles

Protect Your Privacy by Protecting Personal Information Online

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Parents love to say when you’re old enough ….

When you’re old enough, you can [play that game], [go to that movie], [drive a car], [stay out all night], [create a digital footprint], [go to that concert].

Wait, create a digital footprint? You mean an online presence, the data points of which search engines and advertisers organize into an Internet commodity — an identity — fleshed out with demographic details and consumer preferences?

Actually, mom and dad, they probably already have that.

Second Lives Are Real

A report last year suggests children begin developing a digital footprint about the time they develop a physical one. That is, from the moment parents post sonograms on their own social media pages for friends and family to fawn over, on through a contemporary infancy and childhood replete with cameras, smart speakers, AI-enabled toys and virtual preschools, today’s children will have two running histories of their young lives — the one we call “memories,” and the unalterable data that accumulates online with a half-life of a whole life.

On average, today’s parents post dozens, even hundreds of images and videos of their child each year so that by the time she becomes a teenager and begins her own social media accounts there’s several “photo albums” of material to fold into it.

Imagine, she may google “How to protect your identity online” because of you!

(And, if she has Kinetic Internet from Windstream, she may get to this “Surveillance Self-Defense” guide from the Electronic Frontier Foundation super fast!)

Stop Raising Their Second Lives

Recently, experts and academics have begun to remind parents about Internet safety and privacy and against what they’re calling “sharenting” — posts of babies’ and children’s images, video and details online (typically, though not exclusively, by the parents themselves). Some authorities have even begun to admonish parents that it’s not just ill-advised, it’s a violation of young humans’ rights. Overseas, France is warning parents that in that country they could face fines up to $50,000 and spend a year in prison for posting sensitive photos of their children online without their permission.

Here in this country, two U.S. senators — a Republican and a Democrat — authored legislation earlier this year to update the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and include an “Eraser Button” so parents (and kids!) can easily delete information, a “Digital Marketing Bill of Rights for Minors,” and a new division of youth privacy inside the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Second Lives in Real Life

There’s two reasons to protect personal information, even that of children too new to know or consent. The first is that children grow into young adults who may become embarrassed by the very images and details parents find endearing, or may simply want to start their digital profiles free of old content. In 2017, the BBC reported that a survey it had conducted showed one in four kids are embarrassed by the information that their parents are sharing. There's another study that says that by age 9, kids have really strong reactions to the digital data that their parents are putting forth on social media.

The second is that even when images are restricted to formal occasions and public places, photos and names can quickly be connected (for example, Facebook now “suggests” tags of people in photos, and Google’s “reverse image search” has made images searchable like terms), and common personal information such as name, location and age markers are screened and bundled by data brokers and sold as digital identities to advertisers.

But “sharenting” without shame and protecting your child’s privacy isn’t like triggering a loading pinwheel after upgrading to Kinetic Internet from Windstream — an impossibility!

Here’s a few things to weigh and implement in order to reap the benefits of sharing your young one’s good news without oversharing, and without leaving such information vulnerable to predation.

How to Protect Your Privacy Online — Settings

Every major social media channel has privacy settings. Most — Facebook and Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and YouTube (and even browsers like Google Chrome) — have privacy toggles that can be set by the account holder. Here’s three examples of sophisticated choices you might not have made yet.

  1. Facebook is the preferred network of parents (and two billion other earthlings, generally). But almost everyone has concentric circles of “friends” that includes some pretty far out ones. Time to limit who can see (and seek) your posts. Go to Settings > Privacy > Who can see my future posts. You can keep it to friends, exclude friends by name, or limit to certain groups, schools or geography. Then go to “Limit the audience for posts you’ve shared with friends of friends or Public?” and make your past posts heel. For a more expansive breakdown of how to protect your privacy online vis-a-vis Facebook, check out this story from “Wired.”
  2. Instagram, the social network of photos and captions, uses location data in order to fill out content you yourself might want others to see, as well as populate the Explore tab (find out what’s cool around you!). But few parents want their kid’s whereabouts public. On your smartphone, go to Settings > Privacy (or Permissions) > Location Services (Your Location) > and touch Never (or “Switch off”). Most phones also have geo-location services that can be turned off — kind of a fuse box master switch for all apps.
  3. Google Chrome and other browsers have automatic “Do Not Track” requests so that websites you visit don’t collect or track your browsing data. Unfortunately, they really do mean request — websites don’t have to honor it. Like who? Google, for one.

Cull Your "Friends"

Speaking of the Facebook account you’ve had since the second Bush Administration (but, really, any social media account you might use to post baby pics), it’s time to cull some of the names on the list. Like [This Man] whom you literally have never met, or [This Woman] you met on Match and had one date with four years before you met your spouse.

That means going through hundreds of names!

This is how to protect your identity online, and by extension, your child’s.

Birthdays

It will be hard not to post pictures of birthday parties, just as its hard for a data miner or predator not to glean a birth date from the image of a cake with candles beneath a post like “Today was the first Big Day for baby Sarah!” But aside from a home address, a birth date is the most meaningful (and it’s the easiest) data point to gather from social media posts. One way to strike a blow for Internet safety and privacy is waiting a day or three before posting.

Begin Asking

Finally, when your child is old enough — and a recent survey put the average age kids today receive a smart phone at a little past 10 years old — begin asking her if it’s OK to post pictures of her. Asking for consent from one’s own child isn’t as silly as it sounds. That consent may come up later when she complains about old pictures. Mostly, it makes protecting personal information a childhood lesson. It wraps them up in the decision-making that concerns them. (For more tips, visit https://onlinesense.org/sharenting/.)

Parents who “sharent” should take a cue from businesses. Corporations are taking Internet safety and privacy more seriously, and throwing money behind it. In the first quarter of this year, 87 percent of web traffic globally was encrypted, up 53 percent from three years ago.

After incorporating best personal practices, parents should consider higher order protection from their Internet service provider. Windstream Shield Security, for example, offers four plans from “lite” to premium that all protect your personal information against malware and personal ID theft. Like corporate America, a little household investment in electronic security goes a long way toward peace of mind!