What Social Network Privacy?
Every social network is run by a for-profit business that makes money by convincing lots of people to sign up. Small social networks can’t compete with large social networks, so there’s a strong incentive to grow quickly.
But we know from the dotcom era and the bubble that followed it that companies quickly sacrifice ethical business practices in pursuit of quick growth.
Social network privacy is usually the first thing to go. Most social networks know that the number one reason people join is because they know someone else already on that social network. So social networks really want to advertise who uses them.
That leads to problems when minors use social networks, because the social network publishes your child’s name and photos in order to attract his or her friends—but any random stranger on the Internet can also got this information. This not only leaves the child open to identity theft with facial recognition software but also too many other hidden aspects we often overlook.
A further breach of social network privacy may occur when your child’s location is published. Sure, the social network doesn’t release your child’s full address, but a first name, last name, city, and list of friends make it easy for any skilled Internet researcher to find your child’s home address.
(Don’t believe me? Run a search for your child’s name on the Internet, then use the information available to try and locate him or her. I doubt it will even take you half-an-hour to find all sorts of “private” information.)
The Greatest Danger Of Social Network Privacy
Even if your kids choose strong privacy settings on their social networking accounts, they could place themselves in harm’s way by disregarding social networking policy.
Facebook and many other sites forbid kids below a certain age. (The age varies by site and country.) But kids ignore this rule and, to get on the site, they lie about their age. Even good kids do this not realizing the risk that comes with lying about their age.
Many people use social networking sites to look for dating partners. They assume people don’t lie about their age (or that they lie about being younger, not older), which may cause them to send romantic or sexual posts to your young daughter or son.
But that’s not the worst part. A Kidsafe.com study says 11 percent of kids respond to unsolicited advances on the Internet. There are few things scarier than a 12-year-old girl leading on a 18-year-old man who thinks she’s a consenting adult.
Changing your privacy settings on social networks such as Facebook is something people do not often think twice about.
How To Take Control Of Social Network Privacy
Always start by talking to your kids. Tell them about the dangers inherent in the Internet and tell them what you expect from them. Even if your kids don’t often listen to you, there’s always a chance that this time they will—or, at least, that they’ll come to you sooner if there is a problem.
The other important step you can take is to share a social media account with your child. How do you share an account? Easy—share a password. If your kids know you can log on at anytime and see what they’re doing, they’re a lot more likely to follow the rules you set down.
In addition to sharing a social media account, you can also share an email account with your kid. This is even easier: just setup IMAP access to your kid’s Google Mail (GMail) account so you can read their email without disturbing them.
Of course, you should keep an eye out to see if your child is using a social media account or email account other than the one you share, but if you keep a mostly hands-off approach, your kids probably won’t wander far.
The Danger Of Blocking Social Media
Of course, some parents read about the dangers of social media privacy and decide to forbid their children from using social media in order to keep them safe.
This will certainly protect them in the short term, but it raises long-term problems. Consider that most computer-using American adults ages 18–40 have Facebook accounts and you’ll realize that you probably can’t keep your son or daughter off of social media forever.
Eventually your children will grow up and start using social media. If they start using it at age 18 in college they will lack any instruction from you in social network privacy.
Kids get kicked out of college these days for posting inappropriate information on their social media accounts. A kid who first starts using a social network account as an adult may make these kind of mistakes.
But if you share an account with your son or daughter when they’re still teens, you’ll have the ability to guide them—to teach them good habits and put a stop to bad habits before they become ingrained.
Another Social Network Privacy Consideration
But a greater risk of forbidding teens from using social networking accounts is that they won’t listen to you—that they’ll create an account behind your back.
Not only might they use these illicit accounts in ways you don’t approve of, but they also might not come to you when something goes wrong—like a sexual predator starts messaging them.
If you do place limits on what social network accounts your kids can use, be extra vigilant about enforcing the requirements. I’ve found one trick especially useful for discovering when kids are sneaking behind the backs of their guardians:
If the kid stops complaining, they’re probably breaking the rules. Any kid forbidden from using social network accounts but who hasn’t complained in a week should have his or her school and home computer examined. (Adults are usually years behind the latest technology trends, but other kids [especially siblings] know all the dirty tricks, so enlist your local young computer nerds.)
That said, I still think the best way to provide social network privacy is to talk to your children and share accounts with them.