To protect your child’s privacy and anonymity online, set privacy restrictions on all their accounts and apps, turn off location and data sharing and refrain from oversharing yourself. A VPN can keep them from being taken advantage of — you can try the best option, ExpressVPN, for free with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
More than ever, protecting children’s privacy online is a concern for parents. How do you raise kids today so that they’re safe and smart on the internet without making them feel like their every move is being monitored?
Childhood should be a time when parents can let kids be kids without worrying about the dangers of their online lives. Unfortunately, children’s safety and security online are at risk. Their privacy is under assault from multiple sources: marketers collecting personal information, hackers looking to steal their identities, and scammers looking to take advantage of them.
- Best VPN for children’s online safety
Fixing all this will require more than just saying, “don’t give out your name or address or other identifying information online.” Keep reading to find out the biggest online privacy risks for your kids and how you can shield them from the dangers online.
Do children have a right to privacy online?According to the UN, every child has a right to privacy and should be protected by the law, both on online and offline mediums.
How can we protect children’s privacy online?Set privacy restrictions on their account, don’t let apps share data, turn off location sharing, use parental controls and antivirus protection.
The Biggest Online Privacy Risks for Children
Did you know that 40% of kids from fourth to eighth grade report connecting online with a stranger? Children are one of the most vulnerable demographics when it comes to online privacy, often posting more of their information online than they should. Here are some of the factors that threaten children’s privacy online.
With TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram becoming an unsaid “must” among kids these days, more and more of the younger crowd feel pressured to project unrealistic images of themselves.
In fact, 43% of teens feel pressured to keep up online appearances to be popular or fit in with the crowd. This can damage their mental health as they get sucked into the vortex of online societal pressure from other teens.
Parents Oversharing Information
Did you know that 77% of parents share their children’s photos online, and 81% use their real names when posting about them online?
This practice is often referred to as “sharenting.” Though it may begin with good intentions, it endangers children’s privacy and identity. It’s important for parents to be aware of how much of their child’s personal information they share online, including photos and whereabouts of their kids.
If you’re posting a photo of your child, consider whether your online behavior could put your child at risk. Are the photos limited to your friends and family, or can the whole world see them? What platforms are you using to share this information?
Online predators and scammers try to contact children and trick them into giving out personal information, such as their full name, address, school name and even social security numbers.
These predators and scammers then use the information to falsely befriend, harass, threaten or scam money from the child or family. These harmful attacks can also sometimes lead to sexual assault.
Advertisers are constantly figuring out ways to track what people do online and bombard them with ads. This is especially bad for children who don’t understand how this process works and may not realize that these advertisements are tailored to take advantage of them.
That’s why the Federal Trade Commission has measures to make sure products and services advertised to kids comply with their truth in advertising standards. This basically means any advertisements put out to kids should not be deceitful but stick to facts. Apart from this, the FTC also encourages companies to be COPPA-compliant.
Most kids play games online, including 93% of boys aged 8 to 11 years old and almost 80% of girls aged 12 to 15 year old. There are thousands of online games for them to choose from. Some of these games require the players to sign up for an account.
It is not uncommon for children to give out their real names and ages when signing up for such accounts. This makes it easy for the game developers and other game users to identify them offline.
Some players may claim to be children when they’re actually adults looking to lure kids into dangerous situations. Criminals often use in-game communication to lure children to another channel, like Facebook or email, where they’ll be more vulnerable.
Identity Theft & Identity Fraud
Identity theft is an issue for all demographics, but it’s particularly dangerous for children because we often don’t find out about it until our child becomes a teenager and starts applying for college loans or credit cards.
Over 1.3 million children’s records are stolen yearly, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center. Scammers target children as their social security numbers represent a “clean slate” for them to get started.
Additionally, children in foster care tend to be more vulnerable, as they don’t have a permanent address associated with their records, and their personal information is also distributed among several agencies. With no parental protection of their records, they are made easier targets.
How to Protect Your Children’s Privacy Online
Protecting your child’s privacy online is not an easy task, but it’s a necessary one. The following are some measures adults can take to protect their children’s privacy online.
With older kids, you may want to give them some privacy and freedom on the web. If that’s the case, check in every so often to make sure they’re staying safe and using good judgment.
With younger kids, you can also find ways to manage their child privacy settings online. Keep in mind that these aren’t foolproof — and on their own, they won’t teach your child how to be a savvy digital citizen.
Talk to Kids About Online Privacy
When kids go online, they should understand the difference between public and private information, and how to exercise caution with the information they choose to make public.
For example, anyone on the internet may be able to see your username on Facebook, but you can still restrict some of your personal information like your address, phone number and email using the privacy settings.
Educating your kids on this difference is important in their journey to cybersafety. They should not be oversharing online, which is a safety practice best cultivated from within. How do you go about that? Simply by talking to them.
A good way to think about this idea is to compare the internet to a global stage. Would you want the whole world to see all the details of your life, including strangers on the other side of the globe, or would you prefer to share photos of you and your best friend to just your circles?
By giving kids the agency to make these decisions, they will feel more empowered, and you will also get peace of mind knowing that they are aware of the limits.
Follow Them on Social Media
If your child is on social media, you should be too.
That can be a scary thought for parents who don’t use social media, but it’s an easy way to stay in touch with your kid and keep track of what they are doing online. Plus, you can find out if your kid is being cyberbullied or posting inappropriate content, and take action before it goes too far.
There is a simple way to determine if your child is oversharing information, being cyberbullied or becoming a cyberbully themselves. Make another account for yourself and follow what your child posts. If they post something you think is inappropriate or too much information, sit them down and talk about it.
Keep in mind that depending on the social media platform and your child’s own privacy settings, you may not be able to see all their content. For example, on Facebook, you might have to get them to accept your friend request in order to see everything on their profile if they’ve restricted to just friends. But with Twitter, anyone can see their tweets if your child has a public profile.
It may be awkward at first to make an account for yourself, but it will give you peace of mind knowing that your child is not oversharing information about themselves or others.
Change Their Privacy Settings on All Social Media Sites
One of the best things you can do for your kid’s social media accounts is to make the privacy settings more restrictive to just friends. Here’s how to do it.
- Go to your child’s privacy settings by navigating to the settings menu on the top right corner of the screen and clicking “privacy.”
- Click on “check a few important settings.”
- Click on “who can see what I share?”
- Change to “Friends only for future posts and stories.”
- Scroll down to where you can see “limit past posts” to just “friends.” This means that anything you have posted before will be visible to friends.
- Go to your child’s Instagram profile, then click the gear icon.
- Select “privacy and security.”
- Click “account privacy.”
- Click “private Account.”
- Go to your child’s TikTok profile.
- Click on the three dots in the upper-right corner.
- Go to “privacy.”
- Turn on the “private account” toggle.
- Open Discord and click on the gear icon that indicates user settings.
- Click on “privacy and safety.”
- Turn off “allow access to age-restricted servers on iOS.”
- Toggle the “who can add you as a friend” features to your liking.
Most sites have similar options listed under Settings > Privacy.
Don’t Let Kids Use Single Sign-on
The ability to use a single log-in to access many different platforms and apps has become commonplace over the past decade or so. Facebook, Google and Apple, among others, offer single sign-on (SSO) portals that let you quickly access all the other technology you use through your other account.
But the convenience of single sign-on has a dark side — it can expose your kids to data gathering algorithms, which allows it to collect an enormous amount of data about your kids.
When you sign into a game using your Facebook or Google account, Google gets access to your information from those accounts. That’s not necessarily a problem.
The gaming platform itself will only work with the information that comes through your account and whatever else is provided to personalize your experience.
But the more games you play and sign onto through Google, the more information the tech giant will gather on your data usage and patterns. Each new game piles onto the information that Google gathers about your child.
The problem is not just that SSO services transfer your personal information from one place to another. Because these services are so deeply integrated into so many apps and services, they create a detailed log of all your child’s online activity.
Don’t Be Part of the Problem
Your kid’s online privacy is tricky to navigate these days, and that goes double when you’re the parent and the one posting the photos. Your photos of your kid are probably adorable, but they could also put your child at risk in ways you hadn’t considered.
First things first, here’s what not to do: Don’t make your kids the stars of your own social media profiles or blogs.
If you have a private blog or an Instagram account where you’re sharing pictures of your children and it’s open to the public, it’s like unwittingly inviting strangers or potential predators to see everything there is to know about your kids.
Parents who post photos and videos of their kids online may be putting them at risk of identity theft or cyberbullying in the future. We call this phenomenon “digital shadow.”
If you really need to share that cute photo of your kid in the bathtub or playing with the dog, use a privacy option on social media sites that restricts access to select groups of people such as friends and family (and maybe even not all of them).
Use a VPN
Virtual private networks (VPNs) are an online service that can protect your privacy. You can also use them to get around geo-restrictions, so you can access content from overseas. But can they help you keep children safe online?
A VPN will route your online traffic through a different server, giving you different IP addresses for when you access other sites. They are essential security tools; for example, they can hide your child’s details from advertisers who might target them directly.
Some VPNs can also help you avoid malware by preventing adverts that look like they’re selling toys or games but are hosting malicious software, often called malverts.
If you set up a VPN on your router, all of the computers and devices connected to it will be automatically protected. You can also set up a VPN on individual devices, sharing a subscription with your family members (though most VPNs come with a device limit).
Most VPN services provide apps for phones and tablets to protect all your internet traffic across devices.
Keep in mind that a VPN can help bypass parental controls. If you have set parental controls on kids’ devices, read the guide VPN vs parental controls to find out how to use the two tools to enhance kids’ privacy.
Why COPPA Isn’t Enough
In 1998, Congress passed the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which puts strict limits on how personal information can be collected from kids under the age of 13. The law was updated in 2013 with a wider definition of children’s personal information to include elements like cookies, geolocation information, photos, videos and audio recordings.
But COPPA still has loopholes. For example, even if you turn off location services for every app on your kid’s phone, apps can still ask for device identifiers that can be used to track them across all internet-connected devices. COPPA helps, but only so much.
COPPA requires websites collecting data from kids younger than 13 to make certain promises about handling that information in their privacy policies. But most of the companies targeting kids violate COPPA every day. Powerhouse companies like Meta faced accusations, but nothing more. There’s no real penalty given for a company violating COPPA.
There are other loopholes. Although COPPA applies to websites directed at children, it only applies to apps directed at children if they collect personal information, and some websites may not be doing so directly.
For example, Facebook collects data about children from their parents and their friends — and from everyone else who uses the internet — and is therefore free to collect as much data as it likes about children of any age.
While COPPA exists to protect your kids, it won’t do 100% of the job. As a parent, it’s still your responsibility to see their online safety through.
Conclusion: Children’s Online Privacy Protection
It’s important not to forget that these are kids we’re talking about. It’s up to the adults in their lives to ensure they are protected and nurtured.
I encourage you to talk openly with your kids about sharing their photos and personal information online. You should also know the tools available on the social media sites your kids use to be confident your children are using them safely.
What do you do to keep your children’s privacy safe online? Are there tools you use to protect your child’s information online? How do you feel about information collected on children? Let me know in the comments.