Children's Advertising Review Unit (CARU): Consumer Privacy Tips

Jul 23, 2019 by BBB National Programs

In a world where social media, smart homes and connected devices have advanced so rapidly, we’ve all been struggling to catch up to understand the impact these things have on personal data protection.

While kids are more adept online than ever, the internet may feel like a bit of a minefield for parents--but have no fear. We have some easy tips to help parents protect their children’s data and personal information online. 


  1. Share with Care: What you post can last a lifetime. These days, kids’ digital footprints start even before they’re born. Don’t be an over-“sharent!” Posting photos of your ultrasounds and newborns are the first steps to allowing companies to collect a dossier of information, including personal information like birthday and where your child was born. Companies can then use this information to put together a portfolio that can be used to market towards you and them.
  2. Give the Internet a Group Hug:  Making the internet safer and healthier place to exist is a group effort. Teach your children to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Explain to your children that if they wouldn’t want someone to share something about them, that they shouldn’t post it about someone else. And that goes double for parents.
  3. Do Your Homework: Do some reconnaissance on the websites and apps where your child spends time. A quick web search may reveal disturbing trends or security breaches on that site. Also, you may wish to sign up for web alerts that could tell you about such events in the future.
  4. Familiarize Yourself with Privacy Settings on Social Media: Take the time to learn how privacy settings work, which may not always be as intuitive as it should be. If you have a difficult time finding the privacy settings on a site or service, do a quick web search of the site with the term “privacy settings.” You can usually find step-by-step tutorials and often even videos to explain the different options.
  5. Go Dark: Where possible, ensure that your child has the privacy settings sealed as tightly as the site will allow. Many social channels like Instagram allow you to have private accounts where only people you accept can see your shared content.
  6. Don’t Get Faked Out: Kids often have several social media accounts, including one exclusively for the benefit of their parents where they post wholesome content their parents approve of. They often then have secret accounts parents don’t know about where they post more unfiltered and often inappropriate content. Explain to them why sharing this content can be problematic so if they do create other accounts they better understand the consequences of sharing racy content.
  7. The Company You Keep: Explain to your child that your privacy settings are only as good as the people they’re friends with. If a friend’s profile is public and they are tagging your child and sharing their location, you’re back to square one.
  8. Browse Privately: Most popular web browsers like Chrome, Safari, and Firefox have private modes that let you browse without saving the sites you visit or the files you download. This allows you to browse without websites saving as much of your information.
  9. Secure Your Connected Home: Having even the most complicated password in the world is useless if it’s easy to hack your Wi-Fi network. Start by changing the default password on your Wi-Fi router, which ill-intentioned hackers can easily gain access to. In the same vein, be sure to install free software updates on your connected devices. These often address security issues that may leave your home otherwise vulnerable. And while you’re at it, please only purchase products from reputable companies that take security seriously.
  10. YouTube: Think those new iPhone restrictions are preventing your child from staying up late watching YouTube videos? Think again.  One way children can get around Apple’s new restrictions on app access is to download an alternative app that allows them to watch YouTube videos not on the official YouTube app. Make sure you check what every app on the phone is for.
  11. Search and Rescue: Be Your Child’s Own Internet Filter: Parents should always be involved when kids are searching on the internet. Kids may innocently search terms like “adult” or “mature” that have unintended and inappropriate results. Be there.
  12. Read Between the Lines: You know those boring documents that always pop up? Yep, the dreaded privacy policy. Well, turns out they’re pretty important. And often the best way to understand whether a website’s information collection practices are kosher. If you can’t find a privacy policy, that’s your first sign to use another service. Most websites though do have privacy policies. If they don’t contain the following information, consider using another site or service:
    • A list of who is collecting personal information
    • What information the device collects and how it’s used
    • How personal information is stored
    • Who has access to data
    • Your parental rights
  13. Use a Secure Connection: Only connect toys over secure, password-protected Wi-Fi or VPN (Virtual Private Network). Avoid using public connections, which may easily allow unwanted access to toys if there are security flaws.
  14. Supervise, Supervise, Supervise: Have your children use connected devices in family areas of the home so you can closely monitor usage. Kids are brilliant when it comes to technology but it can be dangerous for them. Kids are much less likely to get into trouble if you’re nearby. Remain engaged; be aware of who they are communicating with and what content is being shared. Ever heard the term helicopter parent? Engage.
  15. Turn It Off: Turn off all connected devices when not in use to ensure personal information is not inadvertently collected.
  16. Enable Restrictions on Smartphones: Create a passcode for your phone for places you do not want your child to go. Use a password they cannot guess and do not to share this information with your child. On most phones, once you set restrictions, the apps won't’ show up at all. You can also restrict the ability to make purchases within an app. You can also restrict access to activities like the ability to add friends and access to multi-player games.
  17. Restriction Avoidance: One-way kids can get around Apple’s new screen time restrictions is to set their phone to a different time.  For example, if mom and dad set a restriction for no phone use after 9 PM, a child can go on her own phone to settings>general>date & time and turn off “set automatically” and manipulate the time on the phone so when it is 9 PM parent time, it is only 6 PM kid time!

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