Online and mobile privacy

What should parents know about online privacy?

Our kids live in a culture of sharing that has forever changed the concept of privacy. In a world where everyone is connected and anything created can get copied, pasted, and sent to thousands of people in a heartbeat, privacy starts to mean something different than simply guarding personal or private information. Each time your child fills out a profile without privacy controls, comments on something, posts a video, or texts a picture of themselves to friends, they potentially reveal themselves to the world. New technologies make controlling privacy even more challenging. With GPS-enabled cell phones and location-sharing programs, kids can post their whereabouts. This information can go out to friends, strangers, and companies who will show them ads targeted to their location. 

Why does online privacy matter?

Digital life is very public and often permanent. If kids don't protect their privacy, what they do online will create digital footprints that wander and persist. Something that happens on the spur of the moment – a funny picture, a certain post – can resurface years later. And if kids aren't careful, their reputations can get away from them and third parties – like marketers or potential employers – can access what kids thought was private information.

What can parents and kids do to protect their privacy?

  • Explain that nothing is really private. No matter what kids think. Even privacy settings aren’t infallible. It’s up to kids to protect themselves by thinking twice before they post something that could damage their reputation or that someone else could use to embarrass or hurt them.
  • Teach kids to keep personal information to themselves. Help kids define what information is important for them to keep private when they're online. We recommend that kids not share their addresses, phone numbers, or birth dates.
  • Remind kids to protect their friends' privacy. Passing along a rumor or identifying someone in a picture (called "tagging") affects their privacy. If your kids are tagged in friends’ photos, they can ask to have the photos or the tags removed. But there’s not too much they can do beyond that.
  • Make sure your kidsuse privacy settings on their social network pages. Encourage kids to really think about the nature of their relationships (close friends, family, acquaintances, strangers) and adjust their privacy settings accordingly.
  • Don’t let teens use location sharing. Programs like Facebook’s Places, Loopt, and Foursquare let kids tell people exactly where they are. This makes them vulnerable to unwelcome personal contact, and it gives marketers personal information.
  • No filling out questionnaires, free giveaway offers, or contest applications. Companies use them to scrape kids’ information and use it to market directly to them.
  • Make sure kids look for the “opt out” buttons. When kids use a site or download an app, they often must accept the company’s privacy policy – which might not be very private. Many sites have opt out options that stop third parties from collecting information.
  • When in doubt, check it out. Before letting your kid sign up for anything, make sure you know the facts. Do your homework, because in this connected culture, where information is constantly being bought and sold, you can never be too careful.

For more information about Common Sense Media’s online privacy campaign and policy work, visit