After Google agreed to pay a record $170 million fine for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), parents need to be vigilant in surveilling online activity as children become increasingly connected to the Internet. Better Business Bureau (BBB) encourages parents to lead the way in teaching their kids the language of online privacy and protect them from being easy targets for online scammers.
In the United States, by age 12, about half of kids are on some form of social media, according to the Common Sense Media Census Report released in 2016. The report found that, overall, 56 percent of the children had their own social media accounts, based on parent survey responses. The reported data showed the average age when initially signing up for social media was 12.6 years old.
“We all know that, in life, children are uniquely impressionable and vulnerable. That may be even more true in an online environment. The FTC’s recent settlement agreement with Google has put the entire ecosystem of engaging with children on notice. But what does this mean for parents? They now have the opportunity to educate themselves about what’s really happening with the collection and sharing of their child’s data. If a child knows that they shouldn’t take candy from a stranger on the street, they should also know that the same stranger is sitting behind a computer or mobile device offering something equally dangerous and not to accept it.” said Dona J Fraser, Vice President of Children’s Advertising Review Unit.
BBB warns about the most commonly reported scams:
Creating accounts on websites: Social media sites are no exception. Many will sell unauthorized user details to advertisers looking to engage in targeted marketing.
Contests and giveaways: Contests and giveaways require a hefty amount of personal information to enter. Many are merely scams created for that purpose.
Phishing: Adults are not the only ones who receive spam and junk mail. Kids often get junk mail and without as much experience online, are more likely to be susceptible. While some emails may be legitimate, a vast majority are not and the last thing parents want, or need, is a $500 bill from a fraudulent website where a purchase may have been made.
Understand apps. Short for “applications,” apps are downloaded software that can run on various devices. However, there are some things you should know. Apps might collect and share personal information about your child. They may include ads that aren’t labeled as such. Even free apps may include paid features, and children may not understand that some apps or game features cost money, since they were labeled as free to download.
File sharing sites: Many websites allow children to download free media. What they may not know is…these sites often come with the risk of downloading a virus that allows identity thieves to access their computer and personal information.
BBB shares tips on how parents can manage their children’s online privacy:
Know about CARU. CARU’s self-regulatory program provides detailed guidance to children’s advertisers on how to deal sensitively and honestly with children’s issues. These guidelines include, but go beyond, the issues of truthfulness and accuracy to take into account the uniquely impressionable and vulnerable child audience. In 1996, CARU added a section to its guidelines that highlights issues, such as children’s privacy, that are unique to the Internet and online sites directed at children age 12 and under. CARU’s guidelines were updated in 2014 to reflect changes in COPPA. In 2001, CARU was approved by the FTC as the first Safe Harbor Program under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Participants who adhere to CARU’s Guidelines are deemed in compliance with COPPA and essentially insulated from FTC enforcement action as long as they comply with program requirements.
Know about COPPA. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act protects personal information of children under the age of 13 on websites and online services—including apps. COPPA requires those sites and services to notify parents and get their approval before they collect, use or disclose a child’s personal information. However, if your nine-year old tells Instagram they are 13 (the age requirement to use the app), he or she won’t be protected by this law.
Know about FOSI. The Family Online Safety Institute brings a unique international perspective to the potential risks, and harms as well as the rewards of our online lives. The Good Digital Parenting web portal (fosi.org/good-digital-parenting) is a great resource for families looking to educate online safety measures in the Internet age.
Teach your kids the language of online privacy. Discover, together, the meaning of the most common terms found in privacy policies and terms of agreement: personal information, cookies, third party, license, user content, location information, log file information, monetization. Do a Google search if you don’t know what they mean.
Get to know about settings. Nearly every social media application offers a suite of privacy settings. For example, on Instagram simply navigate to “Settings” and then scroll down to “Privacy and Security.” From there, select “Account Privacy” and elect to make your account private. On Snapchat, simply select the cog wheel icon and scroll down to the “Who Can…” section. Set “Contact Me” and “View My Story” to “My Friends”. Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) offers useful digital parenting resources including videos and toolkits.
Don’t share your location. These days nearly every app automatically tracks a user’s location. It’s a good idea for children to disable this feature on the apps they use. Plus, advise them not to geo-tag their posts with their location either. Tell them: You don’t want to announce the fact your family is vacationing out of state while your house sits empty.
Use parental controls if necessary. Although the best way to keep a child’s online privacy safe is to teach them to manage it themselves, it doesn’t hurt to have their backs by using parental controls, especially when they are young. Today Android, iOS, and most web browsers offer built-in features that allow parents to monitor their children’s online activities, but third-party apps are available as well.
Share with care. What is posted online can last a lifetime: parents can teach their children that any information they share online can easily be copied and is almost impossible to take back. Talk to them about who might see a post and how it might be perceived in the future and share with them anything they do online can positively, or negatively, impact other people.
Personal information is like money. It is vital to value and protect personal information. Information about kids, such as games they like to play and what they search for online, has value – just like money. Parents should inform their kids about the value of their information and how to be selective with which apps and websites they visit and utilize.
Stay current. Keep pace with new ways to be safe online, stay up-to-date with new technology and ways to manage privacy. Visit staysafeonline.org or other trusted websites for the latest information about browsing the Internet safely.
Tune up your search engine. One’s search engine can be pressed into service for free. Once parents set restrictions, Google will block sites with explicit material (Preferences/SafeSearch Filtering).
Set up online gaming privacy. Online gaming is the norm these days. Gaming often allows people to chat with one another while playing the game, through either text or voice. This can often be used to find information out from children.
If parents, family members or guardians think a site has collected information from their kids or marketed to them in a way that violates the law, it is important to report it to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint and report the scam to BBB scam tracker.