Maintain Privacy for Your Kids - Take Control of Your Online Privacy (1.1) (2014)

Take Control of Your Online Privacy (1.1) (2014)

Maintain Privacy for Your Kids

Everything else in this book has been about managing your own privacy. But if you’re a parent of a young child, you have an additional challenge: maintaining your child’s privacy. Speaking as the father of both a preschooler and an adult child, this isn’t as easy as you might think.

At a certain age, your child will begin making his own decisions about what to share online. I can’t tell you what that age is or should be; I can only say it will be too young and you will likely be horrified at some of your child’s choices. You’ll have to sit down with your child and have the online privacy talk, which could be even more stressful than the sex talk. You’ll try to lay down the law, but your child will push back and find ways around whatever controls you exert. Regardless of when and how this plays out, you should brace for the certainty that your child’s online privacy will eventually be out of your control, and remember that kids always make poor decisions on their way to learning how to make good ones.

Note: In the United States, 13 is a “magic” age when it comes to online privacy. COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) prohibits Web sites or online services aimed at children from collecting personally identifiable information from children under 13 without parental consent, a requirement that many sites meet by refusing to let younger kids have accounts at all.

What I want to talk about is what comes before then—the time between your child’s birth and the moment you hand over the keys to the digital world. This is the period when your child’s online privacy depends mainly on you, and the choices you make now can affect your child forever.

My mother has snapshots of me as a young child that were great for embarrassing me in front of college girlfriends, but the photos were kept in boxes or albums and dragged out only on special occasions. At worst, a girl might tell a story about a picture she’d seen, but she couldn’t show anyone else.

But pictures don’t work like that anymore. If you snap a cute shot of your young daughter in some comically brilliant situation, it’s much more likely to go on Facebook or Twitter than on paper in an album. A few years from now, her classmates will be able to see it. All her future friends, love interests, employers, and children will be able to see it—so will unsavory characters you’d like to protect her from. And anyone who sees it will be able to share it with anyone else in the world. Is there any possibility your daughter might live to regret your choice?

Everything you say about your child online—every picture and video, every story told or fact revealed—becomes part of your child’s permanent Internet record. You can’t ever take it back, and you can’t ever control how it might be used. And things that seem innocent now might cause all sorts of problems for your child in 10 or 15 years.

None of this means you should never talk about your child online or post photos or videos. It only means you should do so circumspectly and sparingly. You’ll have to determine your own rules, but here are my tips:

· Never post anything online that could be used to predict your child’s location (including a route to or from school), at least when a parent isn’t around. This includes images with signs or landmarks in the background.

· No matter how cute your kid is in the bathtub, seriously, don’t post any nude photos online. (You did Take the Pledge, right?)

· Blog posts and other stories about your child’s behavior problems might have far-reaching consequences. Keep it positive.

· Kids say and do the darnedest things, but even though your children’s antics may entertain other adults, they could result in untold cruelty in the hands of a class bully a few years from now. Be super careful about sharing anything that has the potential to embarrass your child in the future.

As your child starts using online services without your supervision, you will undoubtedly want to teach him good privacy habits, and I hope the information in this book (especially in Take the Pledge) provides a useful starting point for discussion. If you instill a healthy sense of wariness from a young age, your child will be better equipped to fully take over the management of his own online privacy when the time comes.