Protect your kids from the repeal of internet privacy laws
One thing that rankles me about D.C. politics is the degree to which children get left behind, eating dust.
As of Tuesday, the Republican-controlled House voted to repeal internet privacy protections enacted during the Obama administration, intended to prevent companies from exploiting consumers’ personal information and mining their browsing histories—everything from their shopping habits to their app use to their geo location. That bill will now go to President Trump, who is expected to sign it into law.
It’s hard to know the extent to which the repeal will impact children, but odds are it will be often and relentless. The Electronic Frontier Foundation pointed out that third-party sources can abuse devices by doing one of five things: “selling your data to marketers; hijacking your searches; snooping through your traffic and inserting ads; pre-installing software on your phone and recording every URL you visit; and, Injecting undetectable, undeletable tracking cookies in all your HTTP traffic.”
If the lingo feels decidedly adult, that’s because it is. However, we know that kids are becoming more accustomed to adult privileges. Influence Central, a marketing agency, noted that the average age for a child receiving their first cell phone is 10.3 years old; 64 percent of kids have access to the internet via their own laptop or tablet, up from 42 percent in 2012. According to New York Magazine, companies spend roughly $17 billion a year in ads directed at children, a majority of whom don’t know how to tell the difference.
Studies have also shown that 25 percent of children have been exposed to unwanted pornographic material, according to statistics gathered by the internet control company Sentry PC. Also, 75 percent of children are willing to share personal information about themselves and their family in exchange for goods and services, while 77 percent of targets for online predators were over the age of 14; 22 percent were ages 10 to 13.
If you’re a parent, here’s what you can do to prevent these kinds of statistics from getting worse:
Impose stricter parental guidelines and rules on your kids and their devices
This is perhaps stating the obvious. Kids have lots of freedom these days, and they’ve adapted to a certain lifestyle. We forget that owning a cellphone or using an iPad is still a privilege, not a right. Ironically, Internet Service Providers like AT&T and Verizon—the very companies that the impending repeal is likely to benefit—has several options to limit browsing and even accessing the device altogether. You’ll likely pay an additional fee, so take their safeguards and their advice with a grain of salt. You can also try apps like MMGuardian Parental Control, which tracks and restricts browsing habits for a relatively small amount of money.
Shop for a VPN system
A practical and relatively affordable way to prevent your kids’ browsing habits from becoming public information is to establish a VPN system on your home computers and mobile devices. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, a software that varies in sophistication. Many companies use advanced VPN systems to protect information from becoming public, outside of their employees. But cheaper versions exist, some as low as a $6 a month per user. You can likely find others by doing a simple Google search and checking reviews to make sure they’re reputable and that they serve your needs.
Contact your local representatives at the state and federal level
We take the power of the people for granted. Despite knowing that the repeal of Internet privacy laws is on the verge of becoming a reality, the fight goes on. We’ve already seen how public pressure can move the needle in drastic fashion (if you need proof, look no further than the American Health Care Act). Voicing your disapproval or your concerns to elected leaders is one of the great luxuries of our democracy, and it can be done to great effect. You can find your reps easily by visiting sites like House.gov and punching in your zip code. And the best part? There’s no limit as to how long or how often you can contact them with your concerns.