As the 2021-22 school year begins in communities across Texas, teachers, administrators and families are adapting to varying situations. While most Texas communities are resuming face-to-face instruction this school year, the presence of COVID-19 requires flexibility and an emphasis on maintaining a safe online environment.
Better Business Bureau offers the following tips on how to stay safe on the internet this school year.
Teachers and administrators
Videoconferencing tools. Make sure the online software used to deliver lectures, classroom work and other online interactions is secure. The days of Zoom bombing, phishing and other forms of cybercriminal activity are not over.
Evaluate and update cybersecurity plans. The sudden shutdown of in-person activities left many scrambling to change course in creating and delivering a curriculum. Now is the time for educators to develop a plan to notify students, faculty and staff should there be a data breach or security problem once classes are back in session.
Keep a clean machine and update devices that connect to the internet. Scheduling and regularly backing up critical lesson plans, personal information and assignments is the best defense against viruses, malware and other online threats. The only way to do this is to stay updated on the most current software to protect against attempts by cybercriminals to access electronic devices.
Parents: Be careful
Creating accounts on websites without permission. Social media sites are ripe with strangers with intentions that may be quite different than yours. Many sites are designed to collect and sell unauthorized user details and behaviors to advertisers looking to engage in targeted marketing. When creating an account, some children may falsely create a birth date to meet the minimum age requirement. Know what your child is doing online and keep track of the social media sites and accounts they have access to.
Phishing. Adults are not the only ones who receive spam and junk mail. Kids often get junk mail, and since they don’t have much online experience, they are more likely to click on links and answer questions they probably shouldn’t. While some emails may be legitimate, the last thing parents want is a $500 bill from a fraudulent website where their child may have made a purchase — or worse, releasing personal information that con artists can track to your home.
Understand apps. Short for “applications,” apps are downloaded software that operates on various devices, such as smartphones. However, certain apps might collect and share personal information about your child or target your child with ads. Even free apps may include paid features, and children may not understand that some apps or game features cost money since the developer labeled them as free to download. They may click on these so-called free games and end up costing parents or guardians a hefty bill at the end of the month.
File sharing sites. Many websites allow children to download free media. They may not know that these sites often come with the risk of downloading a virus, allowing identity thieves to access the gaming device, personal computer, or even cell phone used. From there, the cyber thief can track financial transactions, physical location or even tap into the household Wi-Fi without anyone knowing it.
Tips on how to manage online privacy for the family:
Learn about CARU. The Children’s Advertisement Review Unit (CARU) is the nation’s first Safe Harbor Program under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), signed into law on April 21, 2000. Participants who adhere to CARU’s Guidelines are deemed compliant with COPPA and essentially insulated from FTC enforcement action as long as they follow program requirements. When advertising or data collection practices are misleading, inappropriate, or inconsistent with laws and guidelines, CARU seeks change through the voluntary cooperation of companies and, where relevant, enforcement action. Parents can find more information about CARU and its impacts at BBBPrograms.org.
Learn about COPPA. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) protects the personal information of children under the age of 13 on websites and online services — including apps. COPPA requires those sites and services to notify parents and get their approval before collecting, using or disclosing a child’s personal information.
Use parental controls if necessary. Although the best way to keep a child’s online privacy safe is to teach them to manage it themselves, enabling parental controls is an additional tool to help monitor their online activity. Today Android, iOS, and most web browsers offer built-in features that allow parents to monitor their children’s online activities, but third-party apps are also available. Research the option that works best.
Share with care and remember, personal information is like money. What is posted online can last a lifetime: parents can teach children that any information they share online can easily be copied and is almost impossible to take back. Talk to them about who might see a post and how it may be perceived in the future by showing them how anything they do online can positively or negatively impact other people. Sharing personal information can also give online thieves an idea of what login information or passwords might be used for banking or other online accounts.
Avoid sharing your location. These days nearly every app automatically tracks a user’s location. It’s a good idea for children to disable this feature on the apps they use. Advise them not to geo-tag their posts with their location either.
Visit BBB.org for more information on how to protect a child’s online privacy.
Visit the National Security Alliance at StaySafeOnline.com for the latest news regarding internet safety.