The practice of data mining involves analytics companies harvesting large sets of data from large internet providers like Google, or social media giants like Facebook, and using it to track user behavior in order to benefit their company or clients. Data mining has been in the headlines recently because of the role it played when Cambridge Analytica examined Facebook’s user data to sway elections in many countries, including the United States. This revelation came as an alarm to many that we all ought to be more protective of the personal data we share online.
As adults we can appreciate the need to protect our online profiles, but what about children? In the world of oversharing and social media is may be harder for children to understand why protecting their personal profiles and the data they share is so important. To them social media and the web are mostly for fun and homework, and they might be naïve to just how much data on them is collected on a daily basis.
As parents it is our responsibility to help our children understand the repercussions of sharing information online and how it could be used in unexpected ways. To that end, here are four things you can do with your children to protect them from data mining in the future:
1) Check Privacy Settings: While privacy settings don’t block everything from data miners, it can definitely restrict what is seen by companies and fellow users. Encourage children to keep their profiles as private as possible and only “friend” people they know well.
2) Reconsider Sharing Photographs: While sharing a photograph may seems entirely innocent, Consumer Reports wants you to remember that often photographs live on forever. In fact, there is evidence of large data mining sites that swipe photographs off social media and the internet and use them for other purposes. This guideline also applies to parents who like to share photographs of their children, as well.
3) Consider the Platform: Facebook has responded to the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal by saying they will now more carefully restrict user data. But the fact remains that Facebook is still often used in education, which requires every student to have a Facebook user profile. Perhaps more secure platforms that are specific to education would be more prudent instead of repurposing a social media platform. With social media sites that offer geo-tagging, be sure to turn that feature “off” so that data won’t be collected on your movements and locations you visit.
4) Disable Third Party Apps: Disabling third party apps on social media platforms such as Facebook is key since that is how many companies collect data on you. Be sure to delete any app (including games) that you don’t need or no longer use. You can also go one step further and ask the app developer to delete any data that it has collected on you.
There is always the option of telling our children to abandon social media and the internet altogether, but that would be extremely hard to do given our internet-dependent society. Instead, help them understand the practice of data mining and why it is important that they be careful what they share online.