Cyber Safety for Students: Seven Ways to Protect their Privacy Online
Our privacy is valuable. And now, more than ever, we need to protect it.
As a society, we are beginning to understand the consequences of sharing our personal information online. We are becoming increasingly concerned with how our data is being used and misused.
Advances in technology present new risks to our privacy and security. Spam, scams, identity theft and fraud are just some of the risks we face when we use our devices.
Privacy Awareness Week runs from the 13th to the 19th of May this year. It provides an opportunity to reflect on how we share and manage our personal data. The aim is to shine a spotlight on the issue of privacy, and to remind us that privacy does matter.
With this awareness has come growing concern for the privacy of children and young people online. So how do we keep them safe?
Protecting the privacy of children and teens online
Whether we like it or not, devices, apps, games and social media are a big part of life for most kids. And despite the age restrictions, more and more children are logging on to platforms before the age of 13.
According to a recent article in The Atlantic, the "kid internet" provides children, parents and educators with so many creative and connective possibilities; however, the major platforms are not doing enough to protect children in this growing online space.
Contrary to popular belief, kids do care about their privacy. But they need support and guidance from trusted adults to help them make good decisions and stay safe.
Below are seven tips to help parents, teachers and caregivers protect the privacy of young people online.
1. Start conversations about privacy
It's important for cyber safety education to start early. By initiating these conversations from a young age, you are sending the message that privacy is important.
Let kids know they have a right to privacy and there are laws in place to protect it. Discuss the reasons for age restrictions, and explain the risks in an age-appropriate way.
Ask them what they are worried about when it comes to their privacy. Identify areas where they need more knowledge or support.
Cyber safety programs in schools can help start a dialogue about privacy in the classroom, the playground and at home.
2. Help them think before they share
Kids may feel pressured to share their thoughts, feelings and images on social media and may be asked to provide personal details in order to access games and apps.
Discuss the idea that personal information has value, just like money. They should be selective about the information they give away, and only provide details that are absolutely necessary. Remind them that posts can be shared without their knowledge, so they should be careful about what they disclose, even to their friends.
Most kids are aware of the concept of a ‘digital footprint’. Remind them that they may feel comfortable sharing something now, but this could change in the future.
Teach them simple skills, like taking three deep breaths or counting to 10, to help build in a pause before sharing their personal details.
If they are unsure about whether to share information, they should always ask an adult.
They also need to be aware of scams. During National Scams Awareness Week (from 21st- 25th May) we are encouraged to take a moment and ask ourselves "is this for real?". With the rise of online scams designed to steal our money, passwords and identities, this is a good tip for kids and adults to keep in mind.
3. Update privacy settings
It is essential that kids know how to change their privacy settings to control who can access their personal information. Privacy settings need to be tailored according to their age, the platform they are using and the type of information they are sharing.
Some apps like Snapchat, for example, have settings that allow users to see the current locations of their friends. This can put children at serious risk, so it is important to be aware of these settings and ensure they know how to turn their location services off.
The Office of the eSafety Commissioner provides current information about privacy settings on specific platforms, including defaults and potential risks.
4. Read privacy policies and collection notices
We all know we should read them, but most of us don’t. However, it is really important to read these notices so you understand how information about your children or students is being collected, and how it will be used and protected.
Involve kids in this process, so they understand what they are giving up when they click 'I agree'.
Although most terms and conditions are lengthy and confusing, they contain important information about your privacy rights. To demonstrate this point, a privacy lawyer in England re-wrote Instagram's terms and conditions in plain language. Some of the points that emerged were simply "don't use anybody else's account without their permission or try to find out their login details" and "don't bully anyone or post anything horrible about people". Good advice, right?
According to this easy-to-understand version, users are also advised by Instagram that "officially you own any original pictures and videos you post, but we are allowed to use them, and we can let others use them as well, anywhere around the world".
5. Manage passwords
Strong, secure passwords are essential for maintaining your privacy. Passwords should be a random combination of numbers, letters and punctuation, and should never include personal information such as birthdates or names. Passwords should be changed regularly and not be used across multiple accounts. Using a password manager is a good way to keep a secure record of all your passwords.
Explain to your students or children that they must not share their passwords with anyone, especially at school or online. However, it may be appropriate for parents to know their childrens' passwords, in order to monitor online behaviour and keep them safe.
6. Encourage respectful online behaviour
Privacy awareness is not just about protecting your own privacy, but also the privacy of others. It is not only a right; it is a responsibility.
We all have access to information about our friends and families and we need to teach kids that sharing personal details can have a negative impact on others. Before posting something about another person we should stop and ask: Is this information private? Is is sensitive? Is it necessary for me to share it?
Encourage them to act with empathy, compassion and respect, just as they would in their face-to-face interactions.
Schools already need to obtain permission before posting students' personal details and images. But parents should also stop and think before sharing information about themselves and their children. Kids will be more likely to take messages about privacy seriously if you model those behaviours yourself.
7. Know how to access information and support
Kids need to know there is always help available if something goes wrong. If they share something they regret or are the target of a scam, there are people they can turn to. The first step should always be to tell a trusted adult, so they can help them decide what to do next.
The Office of the eSafety Commissioner provides cyber safety information for children, adolescents and adults. They have a complaints and reporting service, which not only responds to complaints of cyberbullying and inappropriate content, but also helps people remove content that has been shared without their consent.
Stay Smart Online is another government organisation that provides simple information about how to stay safe on the internet and keep your information secure.
Brainstorm Productions provide high quality internet safety education to schools across Australia, through theatre, storytelling, post-performance discussions and classroom resources. We explore a range of issues relevant to the privacy of students, including sharing passwords, digital footprint and internet scams. Our cyber safety programs encourage students to think about their privacy and take meaningful steps to protect it.
We take our responsibility as cyber safety educators very seriously and we know how important it is to get our information from the right sources. Brainstorm is a supporting partner of Stay Smart Online and one of the eSafety Commissioner's certified providers.
If you or someone you know requires immediate assistance, then please call either Emergency Services (000) or Lifeline (13 11 14).