Teens & The Trouble With Online Privacy

Posted by on Aug 27, 2013

These days almost everyone is plugged into social media. Even with age restrictions, children and teens find ways of working around barriers to set up their own social media accounts, often without parental permission or knowledge. Teenagers can unwittingly give away sensitive information like home addresses, schools, and more through status updates, photos, and geotags. One way to keep sensitive data safe is through secure clouds services that offer full privacy and user anonymity. Through the private cloud, teens can safely use the web, provided that parents have access to passwords and encryption keys.

Teens & Online Privacy

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The recent kidnapping of 16-year-old Hannah Anderson alarmed parents all around the world. After being rescued, the teen wrote about her murdered family on her now disabled ask.fm account, “I wish I could go back in time and risk my life to try and save theirs. I will never forgive myself for not trying harder to save them.” Close friends of Hannah urged her to take down some of her postings and reported that the account was real and that the postings did come from the teen. Hannah even posted a photo of herself when asked to by a questioner on ask.fm. Turning to social media so quickly after such a traumatizing experience may seem strange to some, but we shouldn’t be so quick to judge according to trauma expert and psychologist Nora Baladerian. According to Baladerian, “I think what’s she’s doing is connecting, and that’s a good thing.” But Lawrence Calhoun, psychology professor at University of North Carolina at Charlotte, worries that seeking support from strangers is misguided. Calhoun said, “As a parent, I would want her to be more careful.”

How Advice Seeking Correlates to Stronger Privacy

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And just how careful is the average American teenager when it comes to online privacy? According to a study conducted by Harvard’s Berkman Center and the Pew Research Center, Where Teens Seek Online Privacy Advice, some of our fears are unwarranted. The study shows that 70% of teens reach out for advice on securing their online privacy. 42% have asked a peer for advice, while 41% have asked a parent. It also showed that most teen social media accounts are already utilizing strong privacy settings. Senior researcher and director of teens and technology at Pew, Amanda Lenhart, said, “At first, the finding that 41% of online teens have asked for advice about online privacy from a parent seems surprising — particularly given that many teens are motivated to protect their privacy specifically from their parents.

But for a subset of teens, often younger ones, their parents were heavily involved in helping them set up their social media accounts (often as a precondition to use) and so it’s not so surprising that those teens would be seeking advice from their parents.” But the fact that most teens turn to someone they know for advice on online privacy still doesn’t protect teens from potential predators. Parents and guardians should proactively guard their teens’ social media accounts and online presence through secure cloud storage and syncing. That way, strangers won’t be able to find sensitive information or steal photos from unprotected accounts.

What Teens Share Online

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Peers can be a good place to turn to when considering online privacy advice, but the primary point of contact should always be parents or guardians. Unfortunately, that’s not how most teens see it. The majority of survey respondents from the study indicated that they would not seek online privacy advice from adults. One respondent replied, “I think parents don’t understand that we can apply life skills onto the Internet, whereas it’s a little more confusing, maybe, for them, that switch [from life to Internet]. But because we’ve grown up with it, we can easily see, OK, stranger in real life, stranger on the computer, same thing.” But it’s not the same thing. Online privacy requires an entirely different set of skills and resources that simple street smarts don’t cover. With threats ranging from hackers to predators, online privacy should rest in the hands of the people paying for the web in the first place, parents and guardians. With a secure cloud service, parents can control access to passwords and encryption keys so that they can talk teens through what things are appropriate to upload.

Protecting Teens in the Cloud

For many parents and guardians, finding a truly protected third party cloud service can be a challenge as many “secure” services on the market have security gaps that leave their children’s data and photos wide open to theft, leaks, or hacking. One cloud storage and sync service that sets itself apart from the rest of the market is SpiderOak. This service provides users with fully private cloud storage and syncing, featuring all of the benefits of the cloud along with 100% data privacy.

SpiderOak protects sensitive data with 256-bit AES encryption so that files and passwords stay private. Authorized accounts and network devices can store and sync sensitive data with complete privacy, because this cloud service has absolutely “zero-knowledge” of user passwords or data. And all plaintext encryption keys are exclusively stored on approved devices because SpiderOak never hosts any plaintext data. SpiderOak’s cross-platform private cloud services are available for users on Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms, along with Android and iOS mobile devices, allowing for full flexibility and mobile security.


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