I read a lot of articles and books about privacy and children. Many people, the most famous being CEO Scott McNealy from Sun Microsystems’ believe we have zero privacy so we should get over it. According to some, no one understands this better than our children. Growing up with the internet and reality TV, children love to share and have no interest in privacy.
In New Haven, a principal held an assembly about internet privacy, cyberbullying and digital profiles. He included in his presentation pictures of his high school students downloaded from the internet. The principal did not hack into accounts or computers. He performed a simple internet search. The students were outraged and felt their privacy had been violated. Although they had posted this pictures publicly, they did not realize adults, teachers and parents could access these sites.
The students’ surprise is understandable after reading Harvard Law School’s paper on Youth, Privacy & Reputations. For kids, posting information on a website or writing blog posts can feel more like chatting with friends or writing in a diary rather than like broadcasting live on television or publishing a novel. The Internet is not seen by many kids as a public space. They view sites like MySpace and Facebook as private social spaces. These sites are becoming the place where kids meet to solidify friendships, popularity and reputations.
Kids need to make sure their privacy settings match their perception. Websites update and change privacy settings all the time. The paper noted even kids who exhibited an understanding of social networks and the internet had trouble maneuvering through these settings.
Recently, Facebook has updated their Family Safety Center and include recommendations for teens. My only caution with these recommendations is make sure your kid understands the privacy settings “friend of friends”. This may be a larger group than kids realize. Parents also should periodically sit down with their kids and google their names to find out what information is available online. Their information may be more public than they realize.