Protecting Your Family’s Privacy

When it comes to privacy there is personal privacy — information we share with others whether family members, social media friends or the public, and there is data privacy — information that is collected by websites, apps, and institutions.  We have a great deal of control over our personal privacy 

Data Privacy

Data privacy is often regulated by law, depending on where you live with many jurisdictions requiring disclosures about what data is collected and how it is used or shared. Nearly every interactive website and app has a privacy policy which is sometimes easy to understand and sometimes written in “legalese.” Either way, you should look at those policies to make sure you’re comfortable with the information they collect and how it is used.

Also, when you install smartphone apps, there you are asked to give them permissions as to what information they can collect. Pay careful attention and make sure the information they’re asking for makes sense. A video app likely won’t work without access to your microphone and camera but if you don’t think it’s necessary for the app to work, then don’t grant permission. The same may be true with location — a navigation app needs it but a flashlight app doesn’t. Also, pay attention to when the app can access your information — all the time (which usually isn’t necessary) or only when they are running. 

If at any time you become uncomfortable with the information collected by an app or a service, you can change your permissions or stop using the app. In many cases, they will delete your information if you cancel your account but check with each service to see what — if anything — you need to do to get your information deleted.

Personal Privacy

What you say to others — whether in a public place like a social networking app or in-private via email or text — can reveal things about you that you might not want to share widely. 

In any public forum, try to avoid posting information like your address, phone number or anything that could lead to financial fraud or identity theft including a birthdate with your year of birth or information such as social security numbers, credit card numbers or even specifics such as where you bank.  

There are exceptions such as when accessing your bank site, applying for credit, checking your credit report or accessing websites operated by Medicare or Social Security. But before you give any information to a site, make sure you’re on the legitimate site — not an imposter, And be very careful before clicking on links that could lead you to imposter sites (it’s called phishing). The safe bet is to type in the site’s web address and by very careful to type it correctly to avoid scam sites that deliberately use web addresses that are similar to legitimate ones.

Be careful about what you post in public or even share with friends

You have a right to control what others know about you so think before you post anything — even if you think it will only be seen by friends — that could embarrass you or reveal something that you might not want to be known widely. Remember, anything that is digital can be copied and pasted or someone can take a screenshot or you or someone else could accidentally forward it or send it to the wrong person or group of people. So if you think it could get you in trouble, embarrass you or have a negative effect on a relationship now or in the future, the safest bet is to not post it online or even send it by email or text.

Children’s privacy

In most countries, children have additional privacy protections such as those covered by the U.S. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) or Europe’s General Data Privacy Protection Regulation (GDPR). COPPA prohibits services from collecting personally identifiable information from children under 13 and is a major reason why many social networking sites don’t permit children under 13 to use their services. Europe’s GDPR applies to children of different ages, depending in the country. There may also be state or local laws designed to protect children and — in the U.S. there are laws to protect student data privacy, from grade school through college. ConnectSafely has both a Parents Guide and an Educator’s Guide to student data privacy.

Laws aside, the same advice we give to adults applies to children. Talk with your kids about they can protect their personal information, including passwords and other information that could jeopardize their security or allow others to impersonate them, and get them into trouble. Make sure your children understand that what they post can affect them now and in the future, such as when applying for college or a job later on. How you present yourself can even impact whether someone wants to be your friend later on.

Parents should also be thoughtful about what they post about their children — including very young children and be very careful about posting anything about teens or preteens (including commenting on their social media accounts) that could embarrass them with their friends.


A Parents’ Guide to Student Data Privacy

Educator’s Guide to Student Data Privacy

Abuse reporting and privacy pages for major social networking sites

Internet of Things taking off amidst privacy concerns

Europe’s New Privacy Law Shakes Up Entire Tech Industry and Impacts European Teens

More privacy resources