If you haven't read it, this Media Bistro article described how a daughter's post on Facebook breached the family's $80,000 settlement of an age discrimination lawsuit. That was an expensive and relevant lesson for the teenage daughter. I can only imagine the feelings and comments said during dinner in that family.
After reading this article, it occurred to me that there are several skills parents can teach their children to safely use mobile devices and social networking sites. Otherwise, the children are likely to breach the family's privacy and their own, by disclosing sensitive personal and financial information.
Many parents allow their children to use mobile devices, despite warnings by pediatric doctors to limit or ban mobile-device usage for children 12 years and younger. The minimum age for social networking sites is 13, but children under the age of ten are online. My children are all grown. If they were younger, below is the list of skills I would teach them to safely use mobile devices and social networking sites:
- Create strong passwords. "Password" and "12345" are terrible passwords that hackers and criminals can easily guess. Don't use your birth date, pet's name, street address, nickname, or similar personal details that hackers can easily find on your profile pages at social networking website. Don't use the same password at all online sites. If one site experiences a data breach, this makes it easy for thieves to hack your other accounts.
- Recognize phishing scams in all their forms: Web sites, e-mail messages, text messages, posts on social sites (e.g., the $1,000 free gift card, free airline tickets, etc.), and phone calls. Just because an online message says its your bank, school, store, local police, or a relative doesn't mean it's true. Thieves are smart, persistent, and want you to reveal your sensitive financial payment information. Read these tips for teens about how to avoid identity theft. Never open e-mail attachments from strangers.
- Know the data elements that comprise your sensitive personal and financial information. If you wouldn't share it with a stranger on the street, don't share it with a stranger online. And, don't share it online with a "friend" without first verifying their identity. It is difficult to fix the damage from a compromised Social Security number. Understand the eleven threats to your sensitive personal information.
- Don't share your passwords with friends and classmates. Too many teens and youth share passwords based on a warped sense of friendship or romantic relationship. Relationships end; sometimes painfully. And they may not remember which password they shared with whom.
- Don't practice risky behaviors online, that include porn, using mobile devices to cheat on tests in school, cyber bullying, sexting, and hiding activity (e.g., deleting browser history) from parents. One study found that 30 percent of teen girls met in person strangers they'd met online. Another study found that mistreated girls are more likely to engage in risky online behaviors. Parents who monitored online behavior and encouraged open communication reduced this risk.
- Don't use parents' credit cards for online purchases. Teens may or may not know where their parents' credit cards are stored at home. Even if they do, using those payment cards online is not acceptable. Never. See this money guide by the FDIC for teens and young adults.
- Turn off the geo-location feature on mobile devices. Just because devices have this feature, doesn't mean you have to use it, or use it with all apps. Some apps collect and report your movements even when the app isn't running. Your mobile devices automatically embed GPS coordinates in the photographs and videos you take. Social networking sites love to collect this geo-location data, and use it to both track your movements in the real world and predict your patterns.
- Install and update anti-virus software on all devices. I am amazed at consumers who believe that their Apple devices are immune from computer viruses, and don't use anti-virus software. The device may have been clean when you purchased it, but your online habits matter. If you visit risky sites, your device could get infected. Most software companies provide packages to easily cover all of your devices (e.g., smart phone, tablet, laptop, desktop).
- If you use it, keep it updated. This applies to operating system software, anti-virus software and apps on your devices. Developers frequently issue security patches. Update your devices regularly.
- If you don't use it, delete it. If you have installed apps on your devices that you no longer use, delete them. Keeping them is an unnecessary security risk, since many apps perform risky behaviors. This applies to apps on social networking sites that exhibit risky behaviors.
- Read online policies. Learn what to look for in policies. This includes both privacy and terms-of-use policies for products, services, and apps. Read the policies before signing up, or before installing the app. Read all updates. If you don't, then you are likely to do something that violates the policies. Learning how to read policies is a habit and skill you will need and use the rest of your life.
- Use privacy controls with online profiles. I am amazed at the number of people who don't lock down and make private their profiles on social networking websites. Their personal data is out there and accessible by the general public, making it easy for thieves to impersonate you. If you are concerned about your privacy, tell your friends not to tag you in photographs and follow the seven things you should stop doing on Facebook.
- Learn how to use search engines. Be an informed searcher. On search results pages, learn how to distinguish paid advertisements from natural search results, since some search engines co-mingle them. Know what the search bubble is and how search engines collect data about you.
- Know the cost of mobile. This includes fees, data plans, and cloud services. Today, many cloud services are free, but they won't always remain free. When our children were teens, the rule in our home was they could drive the family car if they met four conditions: a) paid their auto insurance; b) paid us the deductible so if they crashed the family car everything was covered; c) we parents saw their driving skills; and d) if they drank or drugged and drove, they lost the privilege. This approach can apply to mobile and social networking site usage in your home. If your children violate your family's privacy rules and disclose sensitive personal financial information, then they lose the privileges.
- Read data breach notices. Most states require companies to notify you of a data breach involving your personal information. Read these notices. If passwords have been stolen, update your passwords for the affected sites.
- Learn what metadata is and why it is important. It's valuable. Many companies and governments want to collect metadata to track you and your habits both online and in the physical world. Some politicians will claim that collecting metadata is harmless. Don't be fooled.
- Know the data elements that comprise your sensitive personal health information, and guard them closely. It is very difficult and time consuming to undo the damage from medical identity theft and fraud. Learn seven ways to protect your medical records. The HIPAA Privacy Rule exists for several reasons to ensure that health care providers keep patients' personal health information secure. A lot of non-healthcare companies (e.g., fitness apps) would love access to this sensitive personal information. You can learn more about the HIPAA Privacy Rule here.
- Learn about the options to avoid online tracking. Many companies and advertisers want to track your movements online. There are a variety of tools top stop the tracking, including Web browser add-ons.
- Know the difference between credit, debit, and prepaid cards. There are several types of prepaid cards. Some social networking sites ask for payment. Your rights and responsibilities differ with each type of plastic. The decisions teens make today could have impacts over the coming years. The FDIC produced this money guide for teens and young adults.
- Learn how to communicate with elected officials and government agencies. This means knowing who your elected officials are, and government agencies at both the federal and state levels (e.g., consumer protection, complaints about products or services, attorney generals), the CFPB) than can provide assistance on product purchases and identity theft.
If your child going to learn all of this at once? Of course, not. It takes time and years to master the above skills. That means several conversations with your children. To learn more, read about social media parenting.