Make sure that you’re protected when online - steps to maximise your level of protection

Once we go online our privacy is a thing of the past, but there are a number of steps you can take to maximise your own level of protection, writes Tom O’Mara

CENTRAL Statistics Office figures tell us that around 82% of people have access to the internet and use it regularly.

Most phones bought are smartphones that use the internet all the time, sometimes without you being aware of it. And consciously, most people choose to use the internet for a variety of reasons. You may have bought something online, you may have a Facebook page, a Twitter account, an Instagram site, a blog, or you may have commented on something you’ve seen on a news website or forum.

Your home address may be pinned on an online map. Companies you interact or work with often hold your details online, hopefully in a secure location, but not always. The internet is a truly transformative technology. It makes the world smaller, gives us access to free information in a way previously unimaginable. While this connectivity is great, we need to be increasingly aware there are also some potentially negative sides to the internet.

Once you’re online, your privacy is more or less a thing of the past. Most search engines use the terms you search for to gather information about your browsing habits; email providers read your emails to target you with ads; social media platforms own your images as soon as you post them; smartphones track where you are.

You may think ‘fair enough, it’s the price I’m willing to pay for all this fabulous connectivity’. However, you may not realise there was no such thing as a free lunch when it comes to the internet?

The Googles, Facebooks, Snapchats, Apples of this world don’t exist to give us free stuff – they exist to make billions of euro profit and they do it with the data we give them by using their services. It makes sense therefore for us to consider carefully what we put online and how we are represented in this virtual world.

It’s hard to put genies back in the bottle when you’re on the internet. Pretty much anyone can now go online and comment on other people.

You have the same protection as applies to mass media of course, and can request information to be removed from websites and apologies issued but it can be trickier to enforce when it comes to the internet.

Once a ‘juicy’ story is published on a website and goes ‘viral’, it is often shared across hundreds of other platforms.

With this in mind, it is worth considering your online identity and reputation. If you comment for example on an online discussion forum, it is often possible for others to look at your presence on other sites, particularly if you link social media platforms to your email address and include personal data in your online profile.

Make sure that you’re protected when online - steps to maximise your level of protection

So think about that rant you wrote about a certain football player on a discussion forum, or the bitchy comment you made about what someone was wearing on Instagram, or the risky pic you snapchatted to your partner. You might have intended that for a particular audience, but who knows who has read or seen it? Would you be happy for your child to see that? Parent? Employer? Colleagues?

Here are a couple of tips to consider the next time you’re online:

  • Do a search for your name online. If you find something you don’t like, you can often contact the website owner and ask for them to change the information.
  • Consider multiple online personalities. It’s often a good idea to keep your work online profile different to your personal social media profile.
  • If you post to a social media platform, check who then owns that picture or text. Facebook for example reserves the right to use everything you post anyway it sees fit.
  • If you are using social media, check your privacy settings. The default setting is often for whatever you post to be seen by everyone but you can restrict it.
  • Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying to someone in person. Comments you later regret will linger on the internet.
  • Consider what you search for online. Use a search engine that doesn’t track your searches if possible, such as duckduckgo.
  • Don’t share any intimate pictures online or through an app unless you’re happy that the world may eventually see them.
  • Don’t act illegally on the internet. If a certain product can’t be bought because it’s illegal in Ireland, then buying it online is also illegal.
  • Don’t give your personal details to anyone you meet online.

Apart from your online reputation, you might also remember some pointers about security online.

  • Don’t open attachments in emails from people you don’t know. This is the number one way viruses infect people’s technology.
  • Don’t use the same passwords for different accounts.
  • Use strong passwords with a mixtures of letters, numbers and cases.
  • Use two-step verification where possible. This means when you log on to something like an email account, you will be sent a separate code to your phone for you to input.
  • If you’re using a portable device in public, don’t leave it lying around without password protection enabled.
  • If using public computers such as in a library or school, make sure you log out of your mail, social media accounts after you have finished.
  • Limit use of public wifi hubs, or at least be cautious in what you do if using them.

Parents should be especially informed about proper and safe use of the internet:

  • Talk to your children and make yourself aware of what they’re using the internet for.
  • Learn what the different apps and sites they are accessing are for.
  • With young children, make sure their use of the internet happens when you’re in the same room if possible.
  • Check browsing histories. Children can often innocently stray onto inappropriate sites. It might be an idea to insist they don’t delete browsing histories or use private browsing options.
  • Use family filters and make sure children don’t know the passwords for disabling them.
  • Watch out for behaviour changes after using the internet. An upsetting experience online can often be noticed in other behaviour.

Useful resources for parents can be found at the following sites:

  • webwise.ie
  • spunout.ie
  • staysafe.ie
  • UCC will run a free seminar entitled uOnline on April 6 covering online reputation, security, behaviour and safety. Contact: tom.omara@ucc.ie. See on allaboard2017.ie/events.

- Tom O’Mara is Online Learning project manager working in the Office of Vice President for Teaching and Learning in UCC


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