Even though most of us are aware of the potential risks, we continue to journal and archive our daily lives online publically. It’s as if we just can’t help it. Our kids are just so darn cute, right? And, everyone else is doing it, so why not join the fun?
One example of this has become the digital tradition of parents sharing first-day back-to-school photos. The photos feature fresh-faced, excited kids holding signs to commemorate the big day. The signs often include the child’s name, age, grade, and school. Some back-to-school photos go as far as to include the child’s best friend’s name, favorite TV show, favorite food, their height, weight, and what they want to be when they grow up.
Are these kinds of photos adorable and share-worthy? Absolutely. Could they also be putting your child’s safety and your family’s privacy at risk? Absolutely.
1. Posting identifying family photos
Think about it. If you are a hacker combing social profiles to steal personal information, all those extra details hidden in photos can be quite helpful. For instance, a seemingly harmless back-to-school photo can expose a home address or a street sign in the background. Cyber thieves can zoom in on a photo to see the name on a pet collar, which could be a password clue, or grab details from a piece of mail or a post-it on the refrigerator to add to your identity theft file. On the safety side, a school uniform, team jersey, or backpack emblem could give away a child’s daily location to a predator.
Family Safety Tips
- Share selectively. Facebook has a private sharing option that allows you to share a photo with specific friends. Instagram has a similar feature.
- Private groups. Start a private Family & Friends Facebook group, phone text, or start a family chat on an app like GroupMe. This way, grandma and Aunt June feel included in important events, and your family’s personal life remains intact.
- Photo albums. Go old school. Print and store photos in a family photo album at home away from the public spotlight.
- Scrutinize your content. Think before you post. Ask yourself if the likes and comments are worth the privacy risk. Pay attention to what’s in the foreground or background of a photo.
- Use children’s initials. Instead of using your child’s name online, use his or her initials or even a digital nickname when posting. Ask family members to do the same.
2. Using trendy apps, quizzes & challenges
It doesn’t take much to grab our attention or our data these days. A survey recently conducted by the Center for Data Innovation found that 58 percent of Americans are “willing to share their most sensitive personal data” (including medical and location data) in return for using apps and services.
If you love those trendy face-morphing apps, quizzes that reveal what celebrity you look like, and taking part in online challenges, you are likely part of the above statistic. As we learned just recently, people who downloaded the popular FaceApp to age their faces didn’t realize the privacy implications. Online quizzes and challenges (often circulated on Facebook) can open you up to similar risk.
Family Safety Tips
- Max privacy settings. If you download an app, adjust your device settings to control app permissions immediately.
- Delete unused apps. An app you downloaded five years ago and forgot about can still be collecting data from your phone. Clean up and delete apps routinely.
- Protect your devices. Apps, quizzes, and challenges online can be channels for malicious malware. Take the extra step to ensure your devices are protected.
3. Unintentionally posting personal details
Is it wrong to want an interesting Facebook or Instagram profile? Not at all. But be mindful you are painting a picture with each detail you share. For instance: It’s easy to show off your new dog Fergie and add your email address and phone number to your social profile so friends can easily stay in touch. It’s natural to feel pride in your hometown of Muskogee, to celebrate Katie Beth‘s scholarship and Justin‘s home run. It’s natural to want to post your 23rd anniversary to your beloved Michael (who everyone calls Mickey Dee) on December 15. It’s also common to post about a family reunion with the maternal side of your family, the VanDerhoots.
While it may be common to share this kind of information, it’s still unwise since this one paragraph just gave a hacker 10+ personal details to use in figuring out your passwords.
Family Safety Tips
- Use, refresh strong passwords. Change your passwords often and be sure to use a robust and unique password or passphrase (i.e., grannymakesmoonshine or glutenfreeformeplease) and make sure you vary passwords between different logins. Use two-factor authentication whenever possible.
- Become more mysterious. Make your social accounts private, use selective sharing options, and keep your profile information as minimal as possible.
- Reduce your friend lists. Do you know the people who can daily view your information? To boost your security, consider curating your friend lists every few months.
- Fib on security questions. Ethical hacker Stephanie Carruthers advises people who want extra protection online to lie on security questions. So, when asked for your mother’s maiden name, your birthplace, or your childhood friend, answer with Nutella, Disneyland, or Dora the Explorer.
We’ve all unwittingly uploaded content, used apps, or clicked buttons that may have compromised our privacy. That’s okay, don’t beat yourself up. Just take a few hours and clean up, lockdown, and streamline your social content. With new knowledge comes new power to close the security gaps and create new digital habits.