Protecting Your Family’s Online Privacy

A guide from our 'Tech Talk' columnist
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Images courtesy of IdeaGU/

Our role as responsible parents dictates that we put parameters around screen time, research the websites and apps our children frequent, and regularly monitor their social media usage. But even when we check as many of these boxes as possible, there can still be threats to your family’s privacy. 

A June 2019 poll conducted by Common Sense Media and SurveyMonkey concluded that privacy is a key concern for parents and teens, with 9 in 10 parents saying they “think it’s important that sites clearly label what data they collect and how it will be used.” Additionally, a majority of parents (82%) and teens (68%) are concerned about ad targeting by social media sites.

While websites and app providers list research purposes and improved end-user experiences as their rationale for data collection, your privacy is threatened any time your information gets passed between one website or app and a third-party. A question I get often is, “Why do hackers care about collecting information about kids?” Simply put, accessing information about children makes identity theft easier. Their social security numbers can be used without setting off red flags, and their credit history is clean, making opening bank and credit accounts in their name much easier. 

Let’s review a few specific measures to take that will help ensure your family’s privacy.


Check Your Browser Settings Frequently

The browser you use (Chrome, Safari, Explorer, etc.) to access the internet is the first line of defense for your privacy, because it serves as the gateway through which all of your online interactions flow. Go to the browser’s settings tab to select options like “Private Browsing” or “Do Not Track.” Also try switching up the browser you use every so often. 


Exercise Due Diligence on Smart Toys

Not to be confused with toys designed to develop your child’s cognitive abilities, smart toys learn and grow based on interactions with your child by utilizing embedded software and/or by being connected to the internet. Unfortunately, there are more than a few examples, such as Cloudpets, of these toys being hacked by third parties or the manufacturer using the data in an unethical manner. Only provide necessary data and make sure these toys come with clear privacy guidelines that you understand.


Be Wary of Personalized Ads/Ad Targeting and Retargeting

Many websites collect your data so third parties can target ads based on certain behaviors you have exhibited during your experience across the internet. Ads targeting children and young adults create a slippery slope because these age groups may lack the experience and maturity to filter such advertising messages. 

To limit ad targeting and retargeting in general, clear your browser history often, which deletes “cookies” that track your online usage. Many browsers also allow you to disable cookies from your internet sessions. For more specific ways to stop ad targeting and retargeting, look to the major players in the ad retargeting space, such as Google and the social media platforms you use. If you have a Google account, go to “Ad Settings” and turn off “Ad personalization.” Each social media network is different, but for Facebook, go to the settings page and select the “Ads” tab in the bottom-left column to control what kind of access advertisers have to you. 


Prioritize App Privacy

Before you or your child downloads an app, always review the information about it on the intro screen first. Periodically check the privacy settings within the app, as they change often, and make sure your child is not submitting any data he or she shouldn’t. Avoid gaming apps that ask for a social media profile to log into or to identify their location (except for an app that tracks your child for safety purposes).


Additional Privacy Rules to Keep in Mind

• Check your privacy settings frequently, as the terms change often.

• Don’t share personal information such as birthdays, phone numbers or emails. 

• Be mindful of the information you share on public networks.

• Review the permissions you give to apps.

Data is quickly becoming the most precious commodity in the world, so take some basic precautions in guarding your family’s privacy by frequently checking and updating your settings, providing only necessary information, and reviewing permissions you give to websites and apps. The best defense is a good offense, so make your family’s online use a central theme in discussions with your children.


Harold Henn is a senior digital marketing strategist at Walk West, a full-service marketing agency in Raleigh. He also teaches a “Social Media Strategy and Management” class at Wake Technical Community College on the RTP campus.


Categories: Lifestyle, Technology