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How can I protect my family's data privacy?

Kids' info is captured and sold every minute. How to protect their privacy.

Does the idea of data privacy make you dizzy? It's all so complicated, just cross your fingers and hope for the best, right? Well, that's about to change. Stricter consumer privacy rules hit California in January 2020 as the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) became law (with more states following suit the same year). The rules give people more control over their personal information and require companies to be more transparent about what they collect and why. Meanwhile, tech companies including Apple and Google have recently introduced ways for you to exercise more power over your data on their platforms. It's definitely still complicated. But there are some steps you can take to limit the damage. Below you'll find our best tips for managing your own privacy and that of your kids on all the most popular platforms.

The basics

Make privacy a family value. Be choosy with what you share and with whom. The more you post, the bigger your digital footprint, and the more data companies can collect. Review your privacy settings (tips on that below), and help your kids enable strict ones on anything they've signed up for. Data privacy may be tricky to explain to younger kids, but older kids can understand the difference between personal privacy (like not sharing your address in an online chat) and consumer privacy (not allowing Google to track you wherever you go).

Scan privacy policies for red flags. At least take a look. Privacy policies should be readable and specific about what they collect, why they collect it, and what they do with it. Beware of legalese and vague phrases such as "we may share certain information from time to time." Choose products and services with reasonable and transparent policies (hint: If you can't understand it, it's bad).

Remain skeptical. In a world that runs on data, always remember that you are the product. If you're using a free or low-cost tech product, it's likely profiting off your information.

Six smart privacy steps to take

Download your data. It's no secret that Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google collect a ton of information about you. Finding out what they have is sobering. Each platform allows you to view your history and download it (which you might want to do if you want to move certain things such as photos and videos off the cloud and into a local storage device). You usually can't edit this information, but after you access it, you can delete your entire history and start fresh with stricter privacy and security settings. To download your data and adjust your privacy settings, log in to your account, go to your profile page, and find the privacy section. Visit StaySafeOnline for links to the privacy settings pages of dozens of companies.

Tell companies not to sell your data. Californians can opt out of having their data sold to third parties. Use our handy Do Not Sell tool to exercise this right. (Anyone can do this, but companies only have to comply with requests from state residents—for now.)

Manage your Google account. If you have gmail, you have a Google account. An easy way to manage what the company collects about you as well as what people can see about you publicly on the internet is to take the Privacy Checkup on your profile page.

  • Go to and sign in. Take a sec to review all the settings here, including the ones in People and Sharing (which manages your visible info) and Activity Controls (which include your YouTube viewing history and location history from Google Maps).

  • In "My Activity" (which is what Google calls your search history), you can set time limits for how long Google can store what you've accessed on the platform (three months, 18 months, or until you delete it). To do this, go to, click Activity controls, click Manage activity, and click Web & App Activity.

  • Email accounts from other providers, such as Microsoft Outlook, Apple Mail, and Yahoo Mail, have similar privacy protections.

Use single sign-on—safely. Instead of making you enter your email address every time you register for a new app or site, some platforms allow you to use your login from another platform, such as Facebook, Google, or Apple. Single sign-on is convenient, but it's only as good as the original platform's privacy policies and practices. Facebook, for example, was found to be giving third parties more personal data than it revealed to users. Apple, by contrast, allows you to use a feature called "Hide my email" when you use your Apple ID to log in to your accounts. This creates a new, unique, random email address that automatically forwards to your regular inbox. You can also set up a "burner" email address that you use only to sign up for stuff.

Give third-party requests the side-eye. A lot of apps work by pulling information from other sources. Instagram, for example, can access the photos and videos you take on your phone. But they have to get your consent for this. Be on the lookout for apps that ask for way more information than they really need to perform the service you intended. The companion app for the smart speaker you got for your kids may ask you to upload all your contacts so your kids can make calls on it. But if you don't want them to make calls, don't consent. And if an app won't let you use their service unless you agree to everything they want—scroll on by.

Clear your search history. Your search history is rather personal. (That's why kids don't like you looking at theirs.) If you don't want anyone seeing what you've searched for, delete your search history in your browser's settings. If you don't want companies to store your searches, you can use incognito mode.

  • In Safari, you can enable a setting that automatically deletes tabs (on iPhones, go to Settings/Safari/Close Tabs and choose to have them deleted after a day, a week, or a month).

  • You can avoid the problem altogether by using a private browser like DuckDuckGo, which doesn't track and store your data.

Kid's privacy tune-up

Explain how data-driven companies work. Tell your kids how online companies track you on the internet and how they sell that information to other companies to make money. Tell them how they can avoid being tracked at all by only registering for platforms designed for their age (if they're under 13, or under 16 in California) and by using their correct birth date when signing up for an app such as TikTok. Also:

Make sure kids know to:

  • Use strict privacy settings in apps and on websites. When you or your kid gets a new device or signs up for a new website or app, help them establish privacy preferences first thing.
  • Limit their "discoverability." Companies often make profiles public by default, so you have to go into the settings and toggle your account to private. Take advantage of other settings kids can use to reduce their visibility, like showing up in other people's feeds; these connections just give the platforms more information.
  • Use their real birth date when registering for an account. If they're under 13 (or 16 in California), you'll need to give your consent for them to join most platforms. This is a good time to discuss data tracking and ad targeting.
  • Turn off location settings if you don't use them. Unless you use a tracking app such as Life360 or Find My, you might want to keep location services off so apps can't collect info on your kid's whereabouts.
  • Use kid profiles on smart speakers. Set up profiles for kids if you have smart speakers. Doing so limits what data companies can collect and use (plus it lets you enable parental controls).
  • Be on the lookout for phishing. Shady companies and hackers send emails and texts that can seem like they're from a friend. Teach kids to delete these, never respond, and definitely don't click on links from anyone they don't know.

Stay safe out there

Of course you may not be able to do everything here. Using privacy settings and talking to your kids about privacy are perfectly fine places to start. No matter where you live, you'll start seeing more privacy alerts on your devices and in your apps as companies prepare for impending regulations. Now, the topic even comes up in presidential elections as candidates discuss their approach to Big Tech.

Caroline Knorr
Caroline is Common Sense Media's former parenting editor. She has many years of editorial and creative marketing writing experience and has held senior-level positions at, Walmart stores, Cnet, and Bay Area Parent magazine. She specializes in translating complex information into bite-sized chunks to help families make informed choices about what their kids watch, play, read, and do.