Data Privacy: What Families Need to Know

Data Privacy: What Families Need to Know

 There was a time when keeping kids safe meant teaching them about crossing the street and stranger danger. While those haven’t gone anywhere, there’s no denying that safety has become much more complicated in the digital world. And unfortunately, that’s not changing any time soon.

Parenting in the digital age is getting harder, and everyone seems to agree. In a 2020 Pew Research study, over two-thirds of parents said parenting today is harder than it was 20 years ago, with many noting technology as the key difference.

One of the things that makes safety on the web so hard today is the issue of data privacy. Every time we all - kids and adults alike - venture online, we leave a trail of data in the form of clicks, likes, visits, and views. In many cases, this data trail may be harmless enough, at least as harmless as profiling and ad targeting can be. But it also creates opportunities for hacking, cyber crime, stalking, and mass data mining like never before.


What is National Data Privacy Day?

National Data Privacy Day came into existence in 2008, following on Europe’s Data Protection Day. It’s no coincidence that this day was formalized not long after the iPhone was released by Apple and Facebook hit 100 million users. Now, 14 years later (what??) millions of kids live the better part of their lives on smartphones and Facebook has reached 2.89 billion users.

So on this National Data Privacy Day, let’s take a moment to pause and consider what data privacy means for each of us, and for our families. 

  • What kind of data footprint are your kids leaving? 
  • How can you keep kids safe online?

These are tough, complex issues, so let’s unpack together the most important data privacy elements for families. Ready?


Why does data privacy matter?

You likely won’t need any convincing, but the statistics on data privacy are concerning. You’ve probably heard of high profile corporate hacking cases like the ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline in May of last year. But the threats go far beyond corporations. According to cyber security company PurpleSec, cyber crime is up 600% since the start of COVID 19.

As most of our lives shifted online due to the pandemic, so did crime. What’s concerning is that the most vulnerable members of our society, and our homes, also shifted more of their learning and lives online.

In an interview with EdSurge, Elizabeth Laird, senior fellow of student privacy for the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) said “I think where there have been increased privacy risks is with new tools not designed for education purposes. In the rush to transition to online learning, in the midst of a global crisis, in some cases privacy was not top of mind.”

A survey conducted by CDT found that parents feel largely responsible for children’s online privacy yet are ill-equipped to do anything about it.

Why is data privacy important for kids?

Children are interacting with technology and the world wide web at earlier ages every year. In fact, according to Pew Research, over 33% of parents with kids under 12 year old noted that their child was engaging with a smartphone before the age of 5.

More than that, Common Sense Media found last year that 53% of kids under the age of 11 have a cell phone.

Whether we like it or not, kids today are often leaving data trails across websites, apps, and social media at very young ages, sometimes before they can even read. With this in mind, it’s critical for parents and guardians to have a plan when it comes to data privacy for their children.

One note of good news: Federal regulations in the U.S. are increasingly aimed at helping to protect kids online. The Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is a federal statute enforced by the Federal Trade Commission that deals with this issue directly. According to NuEDUSec, COPPA includes clear guidelines, such as:

  • Websites must seek parental consent before collecting personal information from under-13 website users.
  • What a privacy policy should contain, including the requirement that the privacy policy itself be posted where data is collected.
  • How and when to seek verifiable parental consent.
  • Responsibilities of operators regarding minors’ safety and privacy online, including restrictions on marketing techniques.

However, families shouldn’t be overly confident. Every year, companies from large to small are found in violation of COPPA and third party online sellers of electronic devices are frequently at fault for peddling non-compliant connected devices on sites like Amazon.

Taking a look at important data privacy statistics

Given the importance of data in our digital age, it’s no surprise that keeping it secure is a challenge. From hackers to ecommerce companies, data drives the way we move, shop, communicate, and even think. Here are a few surprising facts that show you’re probably not the only one struggling to keep up in this new data-driven world.

5 ways to keep your family’s data safe

The good news is that protecting your family’s data doesn’t have to be as hard or complicated as you might think. When it comes to data security, doing the basics well is 90% of the work. There are a number of simple yet effective ways you can help to protect the data and privacy of yourself and your kids online.

1) Get creative with passwords

Many of us are guilty of using the same password for everything. Who has time to remember 100 different passwords, right? But having stronger passwords important and one of the simplest things you can do to better protect yourself and your family online. Consider using a free password manager to store your access info securely and easily across desktop and mobile.

2) Use a VPN

Computer acronyms... Ah!! But don't write this one off as computer-geek jargon. When using public wi-fi, a VPN or virtual private network is your best friend. These important tools are easy to find/buy and establish a secure, encrypted connection between your computer and the internet to ensure your data stays yours.

3) Be cautious on socials

We all love to post about our most recent vacation and our adorable kids, but be wary of sharing too much information online. Malicious meddlers can learn a lot about you and your kids, especially when combing details you've shared across multiple of your social channels. Be sure to review your family's privacy settings on yours and your kids’ social profiles and set guidelines for what kinds of into should and shouldn't be shared online.


4) Don’t delay the updates

Install now? Install later? Don't delay that update for too long. Cybersecurity can often be a race between those building the security and those trying to crack it. Make sure you're always one step ahead by keeping your phone and apps up to date.

5) Make the most of age-appropriate devices

Knowing when to hand kids a free portal to the world wide web is never an easy decision. However too many families end up making the move before kids are ready, simply because they don’t know about better options. This is where the growing trend toward safe kids smartwatches and kids phones come in! These devices are designed differently, to be a better option for families in order to use the right tools at the right age. The right device will help keep you and your kids connected without any data privacy concerns along the way.