Staying safe on the World Wide Web

Students learning to make decisions about online privacy

Rory Payment said kids need experience online to figure out to protect their privacy.

Rory Payment said kids need experience online to figure out to protect their privacy.

Think before you click.

Better yet, think before you comment, e-mail or send a private message.

Tuesday was Data Privacy Day, with the provincial government reminding people to be careful to guard their privacy anytime they’re staring at a screen.

Check your privacy settings on your cellphone, web browser and social media sites, the Ministry of Technology advises.

Don’t click on strange links, don’t put your phone number online and be careful about that photo that you’re sending to a friend or loved one.

As Maple Ridge information technology teacher Rory Payment shows his students and their teachers, that photo has a way of getting around.

Even if you’re e-mailing a photo to a friend in Ontario, that image could be routed through a couple of servers in California, somewhere in the midwest U.S. or New York, before it’s sent up to eastern Canada.

“Potentially, there’s a copy of that photo anywhere along that patch,” Payment said Tuesday.

He is with Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district’s cyber school and spends his days helping students and teachers navigate the ever-changing minefield of technology.

While the latter has become more intrusive, users are also adapting, in light of the revelations of the scope of government snooping from U.S. National Security Agency defector Edward Snowden.

“I think we’re becoming more aware,” said Payment. “Now, privacy is something people are taking a lot more seriously. They’re [students] more thoughtful about what they’re doing.”

Payment’s job is to make sure students and teachers known how to get around the iPads and laptops and the online world.

Kids can be told all the rules and regulations about how to behave online, but many may not think those rules apply to them.

“Unless the kids are learning to make decisions about privacy, they’re not actually learning privacy.”

It’s only by encountering situations first-hand, hopefully with a teacher nearby, that students can learn how to respond safely.

One situation they’re better able at dealing with is requesting photos in which they’ve been “tagged” to be taken down. Adults often just hope any embarrassing photos go away.

There’s no particular age for when kids should have their own cellphone. That’s up to each child and their parents. Kids under 12 years old, though, should share their passwords with parents, and they shouldn’t have the device in their bedroom. That way the older folks have at least some familiarity with what kids are doing online.

“If they’re going to do it anyways, you try to help them make some good decisions,” Payment said.

“It’s really difficult to stay ahead of the kids.”

Venturing on to social media should have the same approach.

“If you don’t let them get on to Facebook or you don’t let them get a cellphone until they’re 15, good luck knowing what they’re doing.”

Maple Ridge school district has provided at least 400 iPads for Grade 6 and 7 students in addition to hundreds of other laptops, as well the devices the kids bring from home.

He agrees the smart phone computers that fit into pockets pose the greatest danger because they’re are so quick and easy to use. Smartphones are great tools for documenting events, but, “They just allow that impulsive behaviour.”

Maple Ridge resident and dad Alex Pope is a software engineer, though he doesn’t consider himself a security expert.

His daughter in elementary school has a Facebook account, but he’s a friend on his daughter’s page. And there are no private passwords.

“They know I can check anytime to see what they’re up to.”

His kids don’t have cellphones, but that’s as much a matter of expense, he adds.

A few other tips can keep everyone safer.

Don’t log into a website from your Facebook or Twitter account, Pope advises. That makes it too easy for a hacker who breaks in. Instead, just go directly to the website.

Some radio stations have traffic apps now that have tracking software so they can locate the user in order to spot traffic volumes.

Pope says he also turns off his GPS locator on his cellphone and doesn’t do any financial transactions on public Wifi networks.

“I personally don’t assume anything I put online is private.”


Privacy tips

Ministry of Technology, Innovations and Citizen Services privacy protection tips:

• think before clicking – hackers can create websites that look like banking websites;

• minimize information provided on social media;

• only open attachments from known sources;

• don’t answer e-mails asking for personal information.

• use a variety of strong passwords, using mix of numbers and caps;

• secure your Wifi connection at home with a password;

• put a password on your cellphone;

• upgrade software security.