By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – While Black and White people have similar rates of Internet use, Black people are slightly more plugged in to certain social media sites, where sharing life’s minutiae is the norm.
“Social networks are a great way to stay connected with others, but you should be wary about how much personal information you post,” the National Cyber Security Alliance says on its website, staysafeonline.org.
“The more information you post, the easier it may be for a hacker or someone else to use that information to steal your identity, access your data, or commit other crimes such as stalking.”
According to the Pew Research Center, more than 75 percent of Black people own a smart phone, and are likelier to access social media from their phones than a computer—making photo and location sharing even easier.
“Sometimes in the privacy of your home you say something, feeling like you’re just talking to your close friends,” says Angie Vaughn, a Nashville, Tenn. resident. Vaughn says she’s particularly cautious online, opting for the highest privacy settings on her social media accounts and taking necessary steps to have her information removed from marketing sites. “You don’t really think much about it but then you come back to like 10,000 comments. And it’s like, oh, I didn’t think all these people were paying attention to what I say.”
Ben Halpert, vice president of Risk and Corporate Security at an online security firm, says this is a primary consideration when sharing online.
“Social media really gives identity thieves a treasure trove of information,” says Halpert. “The security questions you have to answer on some sites—like your childhood home, or your pet’s name—all of that is information people give freely on social media all the time.”
It’s easy to lose control of a photo, comment, video, or message online. Without privacy settings, anyone can stumble upon public posts at any time, even within Google results. If privacy controls are in place to only share with approved people, those people can simply save an image, video, or message on their own devices, and post them elsewhere where strangers may see, save, and share it.
Additionally, using the Internet—visiting websites, shopping, reading articles—creates a digital trail. That trail, and anything posted to the Internet, exists in archives, sometimes indefinitely, even if the user deletes the information from his or her own page, website, or device.
Using the Facebook phone app, for example, allows Facebook to access a user’s location, down to the block. The app is also is able to “read” whether or not a phone call is in progress, the phone numbers involved, and the user’s call log. (It says so right in the App Permissions most people pretend to have read before clicking “Accept”). In the event that archives or servers are breeched, the intruder can expose this content at will.
While online security is often centered on protecting credit and identity and teaching minors about privacy and safety, it’s equally important for parents to understand how their own behavior can affect their children.
From delivery room snapshots, to embarrassing videos as punishment, to childhood antics that end up on daytime television, the average parent introduces their children to the World Wide Web well before the age of consent.
“As adults, we decide to tag our children in pictures, even from birth, and some people even make pages with their child’s name. We’re creating this online life for them, and kids have no say in it,” Halpert says. “If you’re posting that kind of information online, think about how your child may see it in the future.”
Vaughn doesn’t have children but does have reservations about some of the things she sees in her newsfeeds.
“I feel like funny stuff is okay, but sometimes it’s too much, with kids,” she says. “They’re too young to even understand what it means to be online, and it should be a choice they make as an adult, whether to post themselves there.”
Interestingly, parents and grandparents often rely on the young people in their lives to lead the way with technology. But according to Halpert, children may not be as knowledgeable about safety as parents may believe.
“In everything I’ve seen, I don’t believe kids are as privacy aware as adults think they are. While they’re more users of technology, there’s less thought behind what they’re doing. As they’re growing up with technology, there’s no inhibition,” he says.
Halpert is also the author of a storybook series called The Savvy Cyber Kids At Home, designed to teach young children about Internet safety, cyberbullying, and life/screen balance. Halpert also advises parents to consider their own interaction with technology, and the message it sends to their children.
“Parents need to model the behavior they expect from their kids,” he says. “It’s up to the adults to make sure you’re locking down privacy for the whole household.”