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Your Family’s Privacy

Protecting Your Family’s Privacy
by Lawrence J. Magid

Privacy and safety go hand in hand and many of the same rules that help keep kids safe in cyberspace can also help to protect their privacy.

Privacy doesn’t just mean keeping your kids names, addresses and phone numbers out of the hands of criminals. As a parent (or as a child or teen) you also have the right to protect your child’s privacy from anyone including companies that might want to sell them something.

It’s real problem. A study by the Federal Trade Commission revealed that “only 14 percent of the sample (674) reflecting all U.S. commercial web sites provide any notice of their information collection practices. Only two percent — provide a comprehensive privacy policy.

The survey found that “Eighty-nine percent of the 212 children’s sites surveyed collect personally identifiable information directly from children; only 54 percent of the children’s sites disclose their information collection practices.” Finally, the FTC found that “fewer than 10 percent of the sites directed to children provide for some form of parental control over the collection of information from their kids.”

The good news is that many of the major players in the industry do have privacy policies and a growing number of web sites have responded to the FTC’s report by adopting privacy policies of their own.

When you or your children visit a site look for the privacy policy and do not provide any personally identifiable information until you read it.

The FTC makes the following recommendations:

  • Don’t give out your account password to anyone, even someone claiming to be from your online service. Your account can be hijacked, and you can find unexpected charges on your bill.
  • People aren’t always who they seem to be in Cyberspace. Be careful about giving out your credit card number. The same applies to your Social Security number, phone number and home address.
  • Be aware that when you enter a chat room, others can know you are there and can even e-mail you once you start chatting. To remain anonymous, you may want to use a nickname for your screen name.
  • E-mail is relatively private — but not completely. Don’t put anything into an electronic message that you wouldn’t want to see posted on a neighborhood bulletin board.
  • Check your online service for ways to reduce unsolicited commercial e-mail. Learn to recognize junk e-mail, and delete it. Don’t even read it first. Never download an e-mail attachment from an unknown source. Opening a file could expose your system to a virus.
  • You can be defrauded online. If an offer is too hard to believe, don’t believe it.
  • Credit rights and other consumer protection laws apply to Internet transactions. If you have a problem, tell a law enforcement agency.
  • Teach your children to check with you before giving out personal — or family — information and to look for privacy policies when they enter a web site that asks for information about them. Many kids’ sites now insist on a parent’s approval before they gather information from a child. Still, some openly admit they will use the information any way they please.
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