8 Things You Must Know to Protect Your Kid's Online Privacy

There's a lot of talk about online privacy. But what is it, really? Here, from Common Sense Media is a guide to what you need to know to keep your kids safe.

There are two key components of privacy that affect you and your kids: consumer privacy and personal privacy. Consumer privacy relates to the data that companies can collect about you. Personal privacy refers to your online reputation. In today's world, where sharing is becoming the norm, it's crucial for kids to understand the importance of sharing appropriately. Everything kids say or do online can affect their reputation.

Digital life is very public and often permanent. If kids don't protect their personal information, what they do online will create a digital footprint that wanders and persists. Something that happens on the spur of the moment -- a funny picture, a certain post -- can resurface years later. And if kids aren't careful, their reputation can get away from them, and third parties -- like marketers or potential employers -- can access what kids thought was private information. Privacy settings help – but they aren't failsafe. Plus, companies sometimes change their privacy policies, which may mean you need to update your settings.

Kids can interact safely online if they understand the importance of protecting their own privacy. Here's how to help.

How do I set the privacy settings on my computer?
The place to protect your computer against privacy invasion is your Web browser. When you go online, websites install "cookies" on your computer that track your movements. Some cookies can be beneficial -- like the ones that remember your passwords so you don't have to log into your online accounts every time you visit a site. But some cookies are designed to remember everything you do online, build a profile of your habits, and sell that information to advertisers and other companies.

Most browsers, including Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, and Safari, let you turn on a "Do Not Track" tool to tell sites you don't want cookies installed. (It's not yet clear whether sites and ad networks will respect those Do Not Track signals from users.) Take a look at the privacy settings offered in your browser (usually found in the Tools menu) to see whether you can fine-tune them to keep the good and block the bad.

How can I check my computer to see whether my child has signed up for something online?
The Internet is full of enticements to sign up for something. Sometimes these come-ons make it sound like you've won a prize, and all you need to do is register to receive your winnings. If your kid registered for an account, downloaded a program, or entered a contest, you may not know unless you notice a new program on your computer. Here's how to get to the bottom of things, in order of the least intrusive:

--Ask your kid.
Explain that there are a lot of scams out there that can spread viruses, so it's important to ask permission before signing up for something.
--Check the browser history. Look for telltale words like "registration page" or "thank you for registering."
--Check your kid's email. Companies send a confirmation email to the address used in the sign-up. If your kid is under 13, companies are supposed to get your permission before they collect or use any information from your kid -- although it's easy for kids to dodge that and say that they're older.

What basic privacy steps should all parents discuss with their kids?
Explain that nothing is really private online. It's crucial for kids to guard their own online privacy by not posting and sharing things they don't want to become public. Here's how to do it:
--Ask permission before you go online.
--Never share passwords.
--Keep personal details -- name, address, phone number, how much money your parents make -- to yourself.
--Think before you post -- is this really something you want to share?
--If you want to sign up for a website, ask permission (and, parents, make sure you read the site's privacy policy).
--Only communicate with people you know -- never chat with or send photos to strangers.
--Know how to recognize ads -- and don't click on them.
--Thoroughly examine each site's privacy settings, and use strict ones to start.
--For teens who are part of an online community, online interactions will go beyond basic. They should know what's OK to share and what isn't. It's OK to respectfully share opinions, constructive feedback, appropriate comments, and creativity. It's not OK to share intimate photos, hate speech, or destructive comments.

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