The internet brings more than global connectivity into our homes. The diverse tool also presents challenges of safety like we’ve never faced before. Instead of living in a culture of fear, adopt these best online safety tips and protect you and your family’s use of the internet.
1. Be Private When You Share
Every picture you take with your GPS enabled device has a digital fingerprint that includes where the photo was taken. You want to share the emotion conveyed by your picture with the general public, not necessarily the location of the action. Share your photos and events enthusiastically while still maintaining your best online safety by turning off the location setting on your device. Find this option under “Settings” and choose “Location Access.” Turn it off before you take pictures in private places like your home or your child’s school. Online applications and social media, such as Facebook, reveal your location when you post with your “Location Access” turned on. Crop out or blur identifying characteristics in your pictures like your house number, licence or signage (road sign, school name) before posting photos.
2. Search For Your Family Online
If you want a better idea of your digital safety, put your name into a search engine. Open your preferred search engine and enter your name or the name of one of your family members. If you have a very unique name, you won’t be hard to find. You may have tracing cookies on your computer that bring your name to the top of your search list. Have a friend try it out on a different computer and see if it makes a difference. Add specific information like your job title or where you graduated from school. Then pretend you’re a detective. Look at images, web sites, professional listings, and so on. How much information can someone put together about you from your public profiles and photos? Can they find out where you work or where your children go to school? If your online activity reflects your real life actions, you need to decide how much to share to the general public. If we limit our searchable information, it helps maintain our privacy.
3. Passwords, Parental Control and Malware
One of the best online safety tips is keeping your passwords private and secure. Change them often. Use unrelated combinations of letters and numbers, or symbols if the site allows. You and your children should never share personal information online like phone numbers, your address or passwords unless the person on the receiving end is well known to you. It sounds like a simple suggestion, but I’ve seen responsible adults type out their phone numbers in a public Facebook post responding to a friend in need. If you have children or youths using the computer, know their passwords too. If your child is too young to vote, get married or drink alcohol, chances are, they’re too young to use the internet wholly unsupervised. Chris Vollum, social media expert, recommends that parents sit with their children and review the responsible content being shared until the child reaches late teen years. Although programs help keep young people safe, you are the best parental control. Similarly, a number of online games feature internet chat. Predators often pretend to be young users of the game. Know your child’s online friends and supervise any real life meet-ups. Finally, the information on your phone, your tablet or your computer is at risk if it’s not protected by the most up to date anti-viral program. These programs are inexpensive compared to the amount of personal information that someone can glean from your computer once you’ve been hacked. Malware may be included in any downloadable program, with or without the consent of the user.
4. Once You Put ANYTHING Online, It’s No Longer Private
Before you share a photo a post, consider where it could end up. Even if you keep your privacy settings in your social media at their highest levels, other people may be able to share and/or download your photo. Most people aren’t trying to be malicious, but it’s important to remember that nothing on the internet is truly private. Other people might take your pictures and modify them without your permission. If the altered picture turns viral, you have no hope of reversing the effect. Keep in mind that holiday pictures shared online whilst you are away on holiday indicate that your home is unoccupied. Either find a house sitter to keep your house secure, or share your photos when you get back. If you’re sharing a personal story in a public venue, there is no law which prevents someone else from using your name and story elsewhere.
5. Create a Culture of Responsibility
This may seem like a weird online safety tip, but it’s one that’s worth it in the long run. Our daily lives are inundated with potential hazards and risks. Knee-jerk reactions drive legislative decision making like banning tobaganning. Instead, removing yourself from the internet completely, work towards a more permanent solution. We should engage our children in discussions about what’s appropriate for internet sharing, when we should stand up to harmful pictures and posts, and why we should think twice before “auto-liking” a comment or photo which could hurt another person’s feelings or invade their privacy. We look twice before we cross the street, why not think twice before we crash our online lives?