We teach our kids how to ride a bike, how to pour milk into their cereal bowl, how to use the toilet, and how not to accidentally back into the garage door for the third time in a row even after we’ve CLEARLY labeled “reverse” and “drive” (still working on this one).
But is “data privacy” a topic of conversation between parents and kids? Most likely…it’s not.
And so we send them off with a smartphone or tablet, into a world where laptops are assigned in every class and you have to use apps to earn bonus points in geometry, and we await the days when they call us “old” because we can’t figure out how to use the new technological gizmo they’ve just brought back from the store.
But it’s cool, right? We live in an ever-changing world. A world of mind-blowing advancements and miraculous discoveries. There is no way to prevent our kids from venturing into unknown places during the span of their lifetime.
Here’s the problem with this, though:
We’re not educating our children on the dangers of data collection and how accessible their personal information can become with a few simple clicks.
What information are they submitting? What links are they clicking on? Who is collecting this information? What databases are tracking their online behavior?
Have you ever had a conversation with your 10-year-old about information privacy and online safety?
When the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enacted the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in 1998, steps were taken in the right direction as many data acquisition tactics were put to a stop and loopholes were sealed. It made a giant difference in the safety that children have as they venture into the world of technology, but it’s nowhere close to an end-all concerning the issue of data privacy in our lives or our children’s lives.
Ours is a world that is integrated into technology. Even as you read this, new systems are being born that can track your online path and anticipate future behavior. There will be new ways for gathering data and tracking web footprints, and if our kids don’t know the basics of data privacy, they won’t be prepared in the instance that things get more complex in the future.
In the words of Joel Reidenberg, the director of the Center on Law and Information Policy at Fordham Law School, we live in an “environment of surveillance.”
What does that mean? It means we can’t escape the collection of private data unless we’re prepared to live like rugged pioneers in the wilderness with zero technology (and yes, that includes the silver flip phone that rocked your world in eleventh grade).
But what we can do is take proactive steps in cultivating a generation that will venture further into our digital world with a solid understanding of data privacy.
Teach them some basic knowledge, and it will lay down a foundation of mindfulness for the generations to come. Start with these six topics to begin educating your children as they delve into the online world.
1. Relational vs. Commercial Dangers
Many parents are painfully aware of the dangers that arise when their kids begin socializing online. It’s now easier than ever to put on a façade when interacting with others, because online accounts provide a barrier between what people see and don’t see. In today’s world, we feel braver than ever to do things that we would never actually do in person. In fact, in 2015 it was reported that one out of every four teens have been the victim of cyberbullying. For parents, this is a terrifying reality. But beyond the relational aspect of online activity, have you ever thought about the commercial aspect of the web? Maybe your child has a healthy online presence with a comfortable (for you) level of interaction, but this might not be taking into account the level of interaction with ads, links, and questionable websites. The Internet used to be a place of anonymity but has since morphed into a tool used by corporations to solicit our personal data.
2. Research Your Research
Starting in middle school, kids are learning how to utilize the Internet for information and reliable sources for projects and papers. This means a sizeable portion of their school responsibilities involve clicking links and using online databases, which sometimes require users to input specific information. Do most kids know how to distinguish between trustworthy sites and traffic-hungry web pages? As reported by the Wall Street Journal, 82% of middle schoolers have trouble distinguishing between an ad labeled “sponsored content” and an actual news article, so probably not. It is important that they know how to identify certain sites if they’re unsure of its legitimacy, and to know beforehand a list of reliable databases designed for students that they can go to without taking a roundabout way.
3. Keep Your Information to Yourself (Or Be Selective)
Websites and databases are licking their chops to get any amount of information from their users. Your kids might not realize the gold mine of information that a zip code alone provides, which means they could be submitting information to websites that they might think is irrelevant but actually isn’t. For younger kids, a good rule-of-thumb is to keep any and all information private. For older kids who need accounts for research databases, certain information will need to be submitted. One thing to keep in mind is how much information is required—maybe you have to put in a first and last name, but your birthdate you can keep to yourself. Be aware of the weight of your information that you are submitting, and know that you can be selective about what you give and what you keep.
4. Computers Are Not Private
One thing that we all need to understand is that “personal computer” does not equate to “personal information.” And for the kids of today who are being assigned their own personal laptops for school use, they need to fully understand what is happening every time they run a Google search, click on a link, upload a picture, or download a file. As adults, it is vital that we explain to them the general idea of how information is acquired, why it is acquired, and what it is used for. They need to understand the scope of the Internet—if they’re not careful, their private information will no longer remain private. If not coupled with awareness, the false sense of security a personal computer brings can prove to be costly.
5. “Delete” Doesn’t Mean DELETE
In a 2016 survey done by Ofcom, researchers learned that 17% of 12-15 year olds are comfortable with giving out personal information in order to get something they want, and 58% believe information they have posted about themselves can be easily deleted if they no longer want people to view it. Business Insider, however, reports that Facebook has the power to save and view content that you typed out to post—even if you never actually hit “share.” The repercussions of giving out personal data are not fully understood in terms of their permanence. Once a piece of information is sent out into the World Wide Web, it is eaten up and digested into the channels of databases and algorithms…never to return again. Online information does not exist as a stationary, virtual thing. You can’t simply put it up and then take it down, like a “Lost Cat” sign taped onto a corkboard and then ripped off. Rather, a piece of information, once given out, is multiplied and acquired into the organic existence of technology.
6. Pop-Up Ads are Powerful
Today’s online marketing is all about the clicks. There are some very effective ways to get online users to subscribe, check out a page, sign up, or discover what they’ve been missing. These pop-up ads and subscription boxes can be colorful and entertaining in so many ways, that it’s hard enough for us adults to stay away from them. For kids? It’s nearly impossible. Many times an ad is clicked by a child simply because the design looks indistinguishable from the original site or because their motor skills are not refined enough to click the tiny “x.” For older kids, a pop-up ad might offer a promise that is too tempting to say no to—it’s only asking for a name and an email, so no big deal, right? But once that information is entered in, there’s no going back. The power of pop-up ads is immense in the commercial world, so helping your children to be aware of what NOT to click will make a significant difference.
Data privacy is a thing that has become a part of our everyday lives, and so educating yourself and your children on these six key topics will prove worthwhile.