The Internet is empowering people today in ways that were unthinkable only a few short years ago. Web 2.0 technologies such as Facebook and Twitter, instant access to information and intelligent services, and the explosion of connected mobile devices are helping people communicate in dynamic new ways, be more productive and perform everyday tasks like shopping and banking more conveniently.
But for all the benefits of this brave new networked world, the downside is exposure to a variety of online risks – from computer viruses and other malware to misuse or theft of your personal information. Kids face additional threats, such as exposure to inappropriate content and online predators, so parents need to be aware of their children’s online habits and usage patterns, and guide them to be safe online and to act appropriately.
With this in mind, January 28, 2010 has been designated Data Privacy Day with a focus on keeping kids safe. The United States and 27 European countries will participate in an education and awareness-raising effort designed to promote understanding of privacy best practices and rights. Educational events will focus on informing teens about the importance of protecting the privacy of their personal information online, on social networking sites and in other Internet activities.
Here are a few tips to help you and your family stay safe online:
Internet Access: Inventory all the devices that your kids use to access the Internet. That means not just computers and laptops, but also gaming consoles, smart phones and friends’ devices. Establish appropriate rules and boundaries for each environment.
Privacy Controls: Familiarize yourself with the privacy controls for each device and set the appropriate protections. For example, set up your Instant Messenger application so that only your children’s buddies – not strangers – can see and interact with them. Similarly, in Facebook and MySpace, set the privacy controls to ensure that your kids can’t be tagged in photos.
Administrator Control: Who has control of your computer? Take control by making yourself the administrator. Set a unique password so that you, and you alone, can change the computer settings.
Chat Rooms: Make sure your kids understand that they need your permission before joining chat rooms. Take the time to review and observe the chat room before giving the go ahead. Also, have your kids choose user IDs that are age and gender neutral, since the first thing online predators do to identify potential victims is gather user IDs.
Online Friends: Talk to your children about the need to discuss with you before meeting any online friends face-to-face.
Browser History: Check your browser history to find out where your children are spending time online. If the history does not exist or has been selectively deleted, that’s a red flag. You should also review the SMS and browser logs on smart phones from time to time.
Information Sharing: Teach your children not to share any personal information over the Internet without your permission.
E-mail: To avoid phishing scams, teach your family never to reply or click on links within e-mails asking for personal or financial information. If a retailer or vendor asks you to e-mail your credit or debit card details, absolutely do not do it.
Passwords: Use strong passwords that incorporate symbols, numbers and letters – never a word from a dictionary of any language. Do not share your passwords with others and change them often (every 90–120 days or when they are exposed).
Protecting Your Computer: Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software. Keep them automatically updated and do not ignore warnings. Guide your family to alert you when a warning presents itself.
These are just a few basics for online safety. Above all, keep the communication lines open and help your kids understand the potential dangers on the Internet so they feel comfortable reporting unusual activity. In addition, you can turn to technology products such as Linksys by Cisco’s Home Network Defender, which can block preset sites and report Internet activities to network administrators.