By Karen Barney, communications coordinator, Identity Theft Resource Center
To me, the greatest danger of social networking is “parental complacency” – thinking that just because kids are technically savvy enough to navigate through social networking sites, they know how to navigate through them safely. Just because a teenager can start a car doesn’t mean they can take it out on the freeway. Time needs to be spent with the inexperienced driver before they are given the keys to go out on their own.
My own activities on social networking sites are usually limited to commenting on someone else’s posting or an occasional update of what’s on my mind. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not up to speed on how to find my way through all the various sites, such as Facebook. On the other hand, I am relatively attuned to the number of dangers which are lurking out there in the world of social networking sites. As a parent, I believe it is our responsibility to heighten our awareness of what our kids are posting online.
Kids, and often young adults, are unable – or maybe just unwilling – to look at the big picture when it comes to the inherent dangers of posting too much personal information in their personal profiles. “Only my friends can see it” was my daughter’s response recently when I challenged her on posting too much information. Birthdays, any phone numbers (home, work, cell, etc), addresses and school information should never be used as part of a profile. “Friends” would already have that personal knowledge – no need to post it.
Posting photos are another way that kids let out too much information. School logos and background settings and are just a couple of ways that strangers can pick up clues without anything else being said. Also, photos which might seem innocent at the time may not be perceived as such by college admission offices or employers. Even though privacy settings may be set appropriately for only viewing by friends, once a picture is out there, you can’t pull it back (even if you delete it). Any information posted on-line can be copied and saved by anyone who has seen it. The importance of having strict privacy settings cannot be stressed enough. Guidelines need to be set regarding what kinds of photos are appropriate for posting in a personal profile or album.
Games, applications (apps) and those ever-present surveys also provide other areas of concern. While not all of these are created with malicious intent, often times the information a user gives up to complete the quiz or allow access to the app is all someone would need to cause harm. In addition, there are many apps that require you to allow access to not only your profile but those of your “friends” just by using the application. So, even if you are careful, one of your friends can allow access to an app that in turn will access your profile. Some of these games and apps have been known to contain viruses, malware and spyware intended to hack and destroy an individual’s computer and obtain personal information about the user and anyone else that accesses that computer. Be aware that any information provided through these activities can be dangerous and leave the user vulnerable to identity theft and malicious attacks.
Just as it is a parent’s responsibility to teach their children to safely navigate a car, so too is it their responsibility to educate their children about the dangers of social networking. The growing number of social networking sites affords us all with a tremendous amount of positive opportunities and benefits. We just all need to “navigate” through them safely.