Internet Anonymity and Privacy – A Thing of the Past?

As a parent, no doubt you want to keep your children safe – safe from disease, accidents, predators, and any other type of hardship that you can imagine. In an increasingly connected world, some of this safekeeping involves protecting your kids’ identity, location and data.  It may be impossible to accomplish.

In a fascinating article this week, Mashable outlines the extraordinary lengths that advertisers will go to track individuals (in most cases anonymously) and sell that data to advertisers:

A typical American office worker produces 1.8 million megabytes of data each year. That is about 5,000 megabytes a day, including downloaded movies, Word files, email, and the bits generated by computers as that information is moved along mobile networks or across the Internet.

In effect, the more data there is, the less any of it can be said to be private. We are coming to the point that if the commercial incentives to mine the data are in place, anonymity of any kind may be “algorithmically impossible,” says Princeton University computer scientist Arvind Narayanan.

teen-internet-privacyIn terms of keeping kids safe, it is important to note that as soon as Sally has an internet connection or a cell phone, the amount of information about her that is being collected or can be found online grows every day.

If anonymity and privacy are increasingly impossible to preserve, what can parents do to ensure the best outcome for Sally? First, let’s assume that prying advertisers are not your chief concern. You can focus on two things related to Sally’s online activity: keeping her safe from predators and managing her reputation.

Predators – Most predators do not have access to a network of computers or complex algorithms, so while they have been actively seeking our “relationships” online and on social media, avoiding them is pretty simple. Make sure that when Sally is online and in her profiles, she does not display any personal information, her phone number or any location or school information. And “don’t talk to strangers” still applies.

Reputation – As early as possible, begin talking to Sally about what she shares online. If anonymity is impossible, explain the importance of keeping what she shares safe, clean and free from bullying or other forms of negative behavior. Others can find her posts or pictures even if she intended to share only with friends. If that information would harm her reputation, it shouldn’t have been shared in the first place.

While we don’t recommend scare tactics when dealing with your kids, parents need to start early stressing the idea that privacy and anonymity are elusive, must be carefully preserved if possible, and that who you are online can have a permanent impact.


Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.

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