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Having a Data Privacy Week ‘family tech talk’

Data Privacy Week is as good a time as any to sit down and have “the talk” with your kids – the Family Tech Talk, that is, about how they can protect themselves when they’re spending time online.

Data Privacy Week, which starts today and runs through January 28th, celebrates the signing of the first international treaty protecting personal information in 1981.

It’s also an opportunity for everyone to have a serious discussion about online privacy.

The digital environment offers a world of opportunity – especially during the pandemic, when virtually everything kids do, from school, to socializing, to games has some sort of online component. And while it can all seem like child’s play, cyberspace is also home to threats ranging from data-hungry corporations to cyberbullies.

So, while we can’t protect kids from every online threat, you can help them better protect themselves. Here are a few tips:

  1. Change the privacy settings – Privacy settings control what people can see about you. Some sites automatically set them to the strictest settings, while others let anyone see all of your information unless you restrict the settings. When you’re signing up for a new site, it is a good idea to allow only your friends to see your page, your posts, your photos and your applications. It’s best to choose the strictest privacy settings because you can’t take back information from people once they’ve seen it.
  2. What you post on the Internet is not private – The people who are allowed to see your friends’ profiles may be able to see your profile as well. Everything in your profile – comments, photos and information you post – can potentially be seen by thousands of people and may never be completely erased. Once you post something online it’s out of your control. Think before posting, and seek permission before sharing pictures or tagging others.
  3. Choose passwords carefully – You should choose a password that you will remember, but won’t be easy to guess. You may want to use a phrase for your password, or the acronyms method, where you use the first letter of each word in a sentence. For example, “I always play tennis with 2 friends on Thursdays at 4.” could become this password, “Iaptw2foTa4.”
  4. When online, think very carefully about the personal information you disclose – There is no need to post your home address, telephone number, date of birth or where you go to school. In fact, it’s not a good idea to do this at all. Your friends already know all that information, or can ask you in the school hallway. Why do you need to share this information with strangers? Individuals and companies might use the information you post in ways that you may or may not be comfortable with. Also, be careful about the seemingly innocent information you post, like attractive photos of yourself, or details about where you’re going to be at specific times – it may not be information you’d want strangers to have. Protect yourself online the same way you would out in the real world.
  5. Log off – Remember to log off and delete your web browsing history when you’re done if you’re using a shared device or computer. This simple step will ensure you don’t inadvertently give access to your social media accounts to someone else.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada website has a number of resources to help you help your family be more aware of the dangers of giving too much information away online, including two graphic novels. Social Smarts: Nothing Personal!, which is being released in time for Data Privacy Week 2022, is aimed at kids aged 8-10, telling the story of Olive, who has inherited her older brother’s smartphone and needs to learn the basics of online privacy protection. An earlier graphic novel, Social Smarts: privacy, the internet and you, follows a pair of teenagers on their first day at a new school where the other students already seem to know all about them. It has become the OPC’s most-requested product.

Parents can also make use of the OPC’s House Rules Tool for kids to build a plan that keeps everyone safe and sound.


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