We’ve all told our kids not to share personal information, like their name, school, or where they live, in chat rooms or with strangers online. But have we told them they need to turn off the geotags on their smartphones? Did you know that if they don’t, then every time they take a picture, the phone embeds location information in the photo, so that feasibly someone who knows how to do these kinds of things can find out where the photo was taken?
If your children are on Facebook, they may have carefully adjusted their privacy settings so that only their friends can see their photos, but did you know that if one of their friends “likes” a photo, then all of that person’s friends can see it too?
Does your child have an Instagram account? Did you know that kids are supposed to be 13 years old to have one? Does your child know — I mean has he or she actually met face-to-face — every one of his or her Instagram followers? (Unless your child’s account is private, I guarantee the answer to that question is no.) Kids routinely keep their accounts public so that they can amass followers, which is something of a status symbol. They put their school in their profile and load up all their geo-tagged photos, and pretty much all the basic online safety rules are shot.
I do believe —and hope — that the majority of people using or lurking on these social media platforms are not predators. But do you want even one ill-intentioned person looking at pictures of your child?
Did you know all these things? I didn’t, and I’m daunted by all the other online safety issues that I don’t even know that I don’t know. Each social media platform has its own rules and processes, and they’re being updated and revised constantly. Do you know how to keep your child safe on Pinterest 2.0, on Myspace 3.14, on YouTube 4.5?
Of course you don’t. “Things are changing daily, and parents are overwhelmed,” said McAfee senior manager of online safety for kids Brenda Hendricksen.
Hendricksen advises getting together with other parents and agreeing on what you will and will not allow your child to do online. Forming a group of like-minded parents will make it easier for both you and your child to stick to the rules. “Parents need to band together on this stuff. It’s serious,” says Hendricksen. “You can be diligent with your child’s privacy settings, but if her best friend is posting to the world, your family may be at risk.”
Hendricksen says kids need to know their “friends” or “followers” and to recognize the threat associated with allowing strangers into their social networks. They should also know online friends well enough to make agreements with them — such as on Instagram perhaps they can “like” or comment on each other’s pictures but not re-post them, but on Facebook they can only comment and not “like” each other’s photos.
McAfee offers online safety presentations in schools and for parent groups as a free community service. To request a presentation, email firstname.lastname@example.org. The National Cyber Security Alliance and others also have information and resources to keep kids, parents and business safe online.