Tag Archives: privacy

Privacy 2.0: what your kids should never ever post online

No matter where they were from, it’s a pretty good bet our grandparents were very careful about what personal details they revealed to anyone. What happened within household walls (not to mention bedroom walls) was sacred, not for anyone else’s ears.

And while our parents may have been slightly less strict about this, the general rule was probably the same: personal information was kept private. Intimate details about our families, our bodies, our relationships, our homes and finances were not for sharing. Television, unauthorized biographies and gossip magazines were starting to change our perception of what should be private, but most people still showed care over what could be aired in public.

In the world in which we are raising our kids, it seems as if everything has changed. The rise of Web 2.0, where everyone has a blog, Facebook account and YouTube channel, means we have come to mine the minutiae of our lives for the interest of others. Everything that happens to us is potential Content, anecdotes that might interest our potential public. As one of my university students observed in class last year, we are always performing to an invisible camera.

It’s a lot of pressure to come up with that much content, particularly when you need to continuously groom and fine tune your digital persona. Suddenly, the argument you had with your friend on the way to school or the strange behavior of that kid in History class can seem like entertaining material. It’s hard to blame our kids for thinking that everything that happens to them is potential fodder for self-publicity when they are surrounded by examples of this all over the Internet, in magazines and on TV.

But if the very notion of privacy has changed, we as parents have to be particularly vigilant in helping our kids maintain some boundaries (and observing them ourselves).

Some material should never be online because it poses potential threats to our safety. That includes identifying information such as your address, home telephone number, daily whereabouts (using Foursquare or Facebook Places). Some of this information may be encoded in the pictures you post from your Smartphone, so educate yourself here about metadata. Aside from the concern of online predators and stalkers, personal information made public makes us vulnerable to personal identity theft, an experience that can take years of frustration to remedy and damage your reputation and credit rating.

Other material should never be put online because it can prove embarrassing and potentially hurtful to you later on. Pictures that show people drunk, unconscious, high, engaged in illegal or immoral activities or doing stuff that most people would find stupid (car surfing, vandalism, etc.) will only haunt you later on when it comes time to apply to college, find a job, start a business, find a spouse or run for public office.

Parents should remember this when posting pictures of their kids on the potty or doing cute but embarrassing little kid stuff. Those toddlers are going to grow up and resent having those pictures committed to the Internet.

Finally, your kids should never, ever post anything online that could be embarrassing or potentially hurtful to others. We take the power of the Internet for granted but it is an awesome responsibility. Teens don’t always realize that irony does not translate well in text; you can’t mitigate the words with the tone of voice that might have made it clear you were “just joking” when you called someone a particular name, referred to their appearance, sexuality, weight, accomplishments, etc. Cyberbullying is a serious issue, and even “good” kids can make poor judgment calls when it comes to posting potentially hurtful material about others.

Contrary to the schoolyard chant, words can really hurt. This past week’s suicide of a high school boy in Ottawa is just one more tragic name added to a list of kids tormented by bullying online and off.

Because privacy is not only about maintaining our own dignity; it is also about respecting the dignity of others.

Kids can overlook this, through lack of sophistication, experience and tech savvy. It is our duty as parents and educators to make sure they never forget it. That means:

  • frequently talking about these issues and responsibilities;
  • making regular reviews of their email and Facebook pages a condition of access to these tools, until they have proven consistent responsible behavior;
  • establishing a clear, consistent and appropriate set of consequences for breaches, such as temporarily “grounding” their access to these accounts.

How posting pictures online threatens your kids’ privacy (and what to do about it)

How posting pictures online threatens your kids’ privacy (and what to do about it)

Did you know your exact location can be pinpointed from pictures you post online? That with a simple, free, downloadable software, anyone can determine your address, your kids’ daycare, their favourite ice cream spot, even where their bedrooms are in your house or apartment?

If that sounds like the rumblings of paranoia, think again. Watch this news segment to see exactly how experts were able to simply and effectively plot all this information based on the pictures parents took on their smartphone cameras and posted online.

It’s pretty scary stuff. Although I would normally assume this kind of thing was another Internet hoax, the link was forwarded to me by a trusted source at Ometz, an organization in which I have enormous trust and respect. I know they checked this out very carefully.

Immediately after watching the segment, I checked out the site they recommend (www.Icanstalku.com) to learn more. This explained how this cyberstalking is even possible. The answer is metadata, which means the extra information typically embedded in a data file, but hidden from casual viewing. Turns out when we take pictures on our smartphones, we are generally also recording information about the photographer, camera settings (like ISO, aperture or processing software). Since many of today’s smartphones are also GPS-enabled, and since the default setting is to allow location recording, it also embeds information about where the picture was taken. This is also called Geotagging.

Take a deep breath. You can easily change this. The same website offers a useful series of steps for changing this default setting on most smartphones.  Click here and find your smartphone (and your kids’ smartphones) on the list. Follow the steps and make the changes.

Be aware that changing the default will affect your abilities to use GPS and mapping apps on your phone. When you want to use those, you can change the settings back temporarily.

Of course, making these changes affects all future pictures taken and posted. I can’t offer you too much in the way of reassurance about the pictures you’ve already snapped and uploaded to the Internet. You can try and retrace your steps and remove them, but there’s no guarantee they haven’t been copied and reposted in other places.

Like many things online, we learn as we go. It’s an admittedly uncomfortable feeling for parents.


How much privacy does your kid give up in 1 hour?

This fabulous article from Common Sense Media (one of my favourite non-profit sites for frank reviews of movies, TV shows, books and music for kids and teens) tracks one woman’s efforts to figure out what information is given away when her 12-year-old daughter plays and does homework online.

Christina Tynan-Wood writes about her decision to allow her pre-teen to have an account on Facebook, despite that site’s policy of only allowing those 13 and over to legally open an account. She isn’t alone – it’s an issue I’ve struggled with as well. Like Tynan-Wood, I felt that saying no to Facebook had a social impact for my twin daughters. And as I discuss in this article, allowing them on the social media website with strict rules and supervision meant I could help them make sense of it while they were young enough to still listen to their mom.  According to Consumer Reports, 7.5 million Facebook users are under 13.

One practical impact of the parental decision to allow our kids on Facebook is the massive amount of information these (and other) sites are able to collect about their activities online.

It’s the social networking sites, though, that give me the most pause. It might not seem like a big deal: She installs a silly app, plays a game, “LOLs” on photos, posts a picture, announces what she’s doing, creates a fake job, and “marries” her classroom crush. She’s having a blast.

But the apps aren’t really free. She often “pays” for them by allowing access to her — and sometimes her friends’ — profiles. Add this to the information that she and her friends willingly provide, even the fact that they’re friends, and collect it all into a dossier, and you’d have quite a portrait of my little girl and her crew. The companies that collect this data claim that they never connect this information to individuals, and Facebook prohibits app makers from transmitting data to outside companies — but large breaches have happened.

And what happens when my baby isn’t a baby anymore? Will “the machine” have created a detailed analysis by then of what sort of employee, insurance risk, or student she’ll be? Will it understand that she was playing around when she claimed to work at IHOP? Will it know that the girls didn’t understand what it meant when they called each other prostitutes? Will it strip these games of context, feed it to a database as fact, and sell it to credit companies, insurance agencies, employers, colleges, marketing firms, or the highest bidder? That sounds paranoid. But there have been so many mistakes, break-ins, breaches, and accidents in the world of data collection that the CEO of Sony recently announced publicly that he can’t guarantee the security of Sony’s video game network or any other Web system in the “bad new world” of cybercrime.

These are really important questions. We tend to be kind of laid-back about it because we can’t really see it happening on the surface, but the sheer amount of information collected about our kids is staggering. How will this affect them when they are 25? 40? The answer is we don’t really know. But clearly crossing our fingers and hoping for the best isn’t the best reaction.

The first response is awareness, among both parents and their kids. The second is education. How can we fine tune our security settings and firewalls? What kinds of information should never be given out online? How can we stay on top of the information about us and our children that is out there on the web? These are important questions to have with your kids from the time they are old enough to open their first Club Penguin or Moshi Monsters account. These are some of the questions I’ll be looking at in depth in future posts, and I welcome any comments or suggestions from readers.