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Protecting your child's online privacy

To coincide with Data Protection Day, Matt Powell from Broadband Genie, an independent broadband comparison site, shares some tips on keeping your children's online data private

 

Online privacy is an increasingly complex topic, and as we place more of our information in the hands of social media and other services it’s only going to become more important in the future.

Today (28 January) is Data Protection Day (or Data Privacy Day outside Europe), an event which is aimed at raising awareness of the dangers and how you can go about taking control of your online privacy. 

Living in the digital age, it’s important for parents and carers to consider the implications of online privacy for their children. For kids now, the internet is just part of life and they may not fully understand the need to control personal information they share on it. It’s not just important for their general safety and wellbeing day to day, but for the rest of their lives too. We are living in a world where childish mistakes can follow into adulthood and have long lasting effects.

Education begins at home

While you may be able to control how and when the children in your care go online at home and try to set boundaries for their online behaviour, it is impossible to monitor their activities round the clock. Between friends, free Wi-Fi hotspots, school computers and internet on every smartphone, tablet and games console, kids can get unsupervised access if they want it, so the best thing you can do is help them understand the risks. Talk to them about their internet use – where they go and who they communicate with when they are there. Explain the risks, so they are armed with the knowledge to help them protect themselves.

Their online ID

There’s a vast amount that can be learnt by gathering data about where we go and what we look at online, something that many online companies have built a business around. We also voluntarily give up a great deal of information through social media services like Facebook and Twitter. If you use social media and are concerned about private data it’s essential to consider this, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you, or your children, need to give up using social media completely.

For starters, there’s rarely any good reason for them to have your real details. Enter a random date of birth and sign up with an email address or alias which you don’t use for anything really important. You could even provide a fake name.

If your child does this, though, they must sign up as the age they really are, even if they change the day of the year they were born, as some social media providers, apps and websites restrict the content to the age of the user if they are under 18. Signing up as older than they are could leave them open to inapppropriate and adult content.

In fact, unless it’s absolutely necessary, try to avoid providing any genuine info when you sign up for a website or service. Not only does this help to maintain some separation between the internet and real life, it also makes it harder for hackers who might obtain private data and use it to access more important things, like personal email or online bank accounts.

Privacy settings

All social media platforms have privacy settings which allow you to control what’s visible, so make use of them. On Facebook, for instance, you can, among other things, restrict posts to friends only, prevent friend requests from strangers and hide personal details like email addresses and phone numbers. These settings are even more important for your children, especially to prevent people outside their circle of friends from seeing posts. Bear in mind that there is also an age limit to use social media. For many services this is 13, though some have higher limits and may require parental permission under 18. You can read more on this here.

Sharing photos and video can be especially risky. Unfortunately, there’s little you can do about other people posting images, but there are a growing number of privacy-conscious parents who have taken the decision to refrain from publishing images of their children on social media, and asked family and friends to do the same.

 

* To read more about privacy in 2016, check out Geraldine Bedell's blog here.