Teen Privacy Online

  1. Privacy what is it?
  2. Social Networking what is it?
  3. Who can benefit from your personal information?
  4. Who else could access your personal information?
  5. What are some basic guidelines for disclosure of personal identifiable information?
  6. Are there exceptions to the basic guidelines?
  7. What are some of the other security risks?
  8. What are privacy policies?
  9. What is caching?
  10. Isn't just common sense like not talking to strangers enough?

Q1. Privacy what is it?

One way to think about privacy is as the right or opportunity to decide who has access to your personal information and how that information should be used.

Keep in mind, knowledge is; The more you learn about the way technology works, the more you can use it effectively to your advantage and avoid potential risks.

This short FAQ will review the people and entities that may have access to your personal information when you place it online, the ways that they may be using that information, and the things you can do to make sure your information is accessed and used only in the ways that are okay with you.

Q2. Social Networking what is it

When you create a personal profile on a website like Facebook, MySpace or Friendster, and interact with other people online, you are engaging in what is referred to as "social networking." Depending on how you manage the privacy settings offered by these sites, participation in these networks allows you to meet, converse, and otherwise interact with other Internet users whom you accept as "friends," who attend your school, who live in your geographical area, or around the world.

Networking safely and in a manner that protects the privacy of your personal information is the goal.

Q3. Who can benefit from your personal information?

Web Site Operators: Make money by advertising. The more users they attract, the bigger the audience, the more valuable the ad space, the greater the ad revenue

Companies that want to sell you things (marketers): will be interested in your brand loyalties, buying habits, likes and dislikes. Marketers may use cookies to recognize your computer, to compile information about your computer's interaction with various ads, and to deliver targeted advertising based on that information.

What does this mean for you? Possibly more personally-tailored advertising campaigns, materials, or emails directed toward you. You may not think this is a bad thing, and it may in fact be highly convenient for you. But it is also a cost and should be recognized as such – you are allowing a person or company to use your personally identifiable information to enable targeted advertising and maximize sales.

Q4. Who else could access your personal information?

College officials and current or future employers – want to know what kind of person you are, and whether you are good student or employee material.

Parents – may want information on how you, their child, are doing out there in the world – maybe information about drinking, drugs, sex, and friends. They probably would not read a diary, if you kept one under your bed. Should they read your blog (short for "Web log") or on-line journal? Does it make a difference if those materials are available for the review of others you don't know on the Internet?

Sexual predators and pedophiles – may want to locate you and meet you in real physical space. Sexual predators may pretend to be someone they are not or provide false information about themselves, despite both prohibitions of such behavior in contractual terms and other technological efforts to keep potentially harmful participants off of the system.

Q5. What are some basic guidelines for disclosure of personally identifiable information?

Be sparing with personal information. If you network socially, provide only that information you need to provide to network effectively If you have a username, avoid including your actual name or birth date. Never share your password with anyone.

In a profile, generally speaking, do not provide your last name, your phone numbers, home address, date of birth, school or team name, or travel plans. Do not provide your social security number, family financial information, bank or credit card numbers.

Use the privacy settings available on many social networking sites to secure your personal information and to reflect your level of comfort with the disclosure of that information, restricting access to your profile if you choose. Be aware that default settings often allow the sharing of information, and you must take affirmative steps to limit that sharing.

Adjusting privacy settings can be a multi-step process: Access the Privacy Settings page on the social network of your choice and learn how to protect the privacy of your information.

Some sites offer you the ability to set different privacy settings for different parts of your profile page.

Privacy settings are not foolproof: Generally speaking, even if a site has a privacy policy in place, it cannot guarantee that content you post on the Site will not be viewed by unauthorized persons. In the end, you are the single best protector of your privacy by making smart choices about what information you share online.

Basics of On-line Social Networking Behavior: The Number One Rule Unless you would be willing to attach something to a college application or resume, share it with your parents, your grandparents, current or future employers, don't post it. If you wouldn't put it on a poster and hang it on your locker or your dorm room door, don't post it.

Basics of behavior: Blogging, Journals, The Wall When you journal or blog online, these entries are archived, or saved, and the content of these entries can be searched.
Some blogging sites offer you the ability to choose which subscribers can see what you have written, and some allow you to block any anonymous replies.

Think about why and how you are using your profile page. If you are blogging about your daily activities or your social life, be extremely cautious what personal information you provide about yourself and others in those contexts.

"Friends": Don't invite people to be your friends on-line if you do not know them in the real world. Some people feel social pressure to accept when faced with a friend request. While it is undoubtedly awkward to decline someone's request to be your friend, it is often the safer approach. You should share the information on your profile page with people you actually know.

56% of social network teens with on-line profiles interviewed by the PEW Foundation admitted to posting at least a few pieces of false information about themselves. Others may communicate using false identities for harmful purposes.

Requests for loans or monetary gifts; early expressions of love or affection; requests for you to ship or receive packages; professions that make online suitors particularly inaccessible; requests for you to cash checks or money orders; extensive grammatical, spelling, or linguistic errors; requests for passwords, PIN numbers or other personal information; job offers or opportunities. Requests for information about your family members of family plans should also raise suspicions.

Photos: Many teens regularly post, tag and share photos on their personal profiles. While the photo tool is a convenient and expeditious way to share photos, you should always be very careful about what photos you choose to post.

Do not post images of yourself that you wouldn't want to share with grandparents, colleges, and future employers.

If possible, ask permission before posting an image of someone else on your site. Be sure to let others know who has access to your site, so they will know the extent of their exposure if they agree to be on your site.

  • If you post so many photos to your page that asking each individual is unrealistic, make sure you always honor any individual's request to remove a specific photo of him or her from your page. Along the same lines, if a friend is taking pictures or videos at a party, and you don't want pictures of you to appear online, affirmatively ask the person not to include such pictures on their profile page.

Avoiding risky behavior: Sex -- Just don't talk about it on the Internet, particularly with people you do not know. If someone begins a conversation that is sexual or creepy in some way, block them, do not respond, and sign out. Don't even play along in what appears to be a joking fashion with a person you do not know. And, as a general rule, never agree to meet someone in person that you "met" on the Internet. If you do arrange such a meeting, Research the person first Bring a parent or other adult friend Meet in a very public place Meet during the day Make sure someone knows where you have gone and when you will be back.

Other ways to protect your privacy:

  • Use services with age and identity verification systems and links that can be used to report inappropriate content, response systems that deal with such reports quickly and effectively, and staff members who review images and content for compliance with the site's guidelines.

Look for privacy seals from organizations like TRUSTe or the Better Business Bureau. Facebook, for example, has TRUSTe's seal of approval. The TRUSTe seal means that:

  • The company who displays that seal takes your privacy seriously and adheres to TRUSTe's strict privacy principles, including notice and disclosure, choice and consent.
  • TRUSTe monitors the compliance of its member businesses and provides an arena in which you can file a privacy violation complaint that will be resolved effectively.
  • You can click TRUSTe's icon on Facebook's privacy policy to visit TRUSTe's site and learn more about the significance of such a seal.

Note: You do not have to be a member of Facebook or MySpace to access their privacy policies.

More ways to protect your privacy:

  • Talk with a parent, older sibling, or another adult you trust about your Internet use and ask questions if you have them.
  • Educate your parents about technologies that are new to them. While they may not be as knowledgeable as you are about the way the machine works, they may have some very good ideas about how it should be used in a manner that will be safest for you.
  • Check out any safety tips provided by the site you are using. MySpace features a Safety Tips page with materials for teens and parents (the link can be found at the bottom of the MySpace homepage). Facebook also offers safety tips for its users in the context of its privacy page, see Facebook - Safety, and urges parents to become educated and to talk with their kids about the safe way to use social network services. Other online resources, many of which are listed at the conclusion of this presentation can provide additional safety and privacy information.

Q6. Are there Exceptions to the basic guidelines?

Birth Date:
You may be required to provide your birth date to sign up for social network or other online service because federal law prohibits the collection of information from children under 13 years old.

Arrange your privacy settings so the birth date is not visible on your profile. If you want to display your birthday, show the day of the month but not your birth year.

School Name:
Although you generally should not provide your school name online, some sites feature school-specific networks, and the name of the network will reveal your school online.

Limiting your social networking participation to a school group, as opposed to the world at large, may provide an extra degree of protection and privacy for you.

The short quiz provided by CyberStreetSmart.org entitled, “What can your profile reveal?” at cyberstreetsmart.org is an interesting and interactive way to see how a personal page may reveal more than a user intends.

Q7. What are some of the other security risks?

Protecting your personal information: Passwords.

  • Keep your passwords in a secure place.
  • Do not share passwords.
  • Experts suggest: the strongest passwords have at least 8 characters and include numbers and symbols as well as letters.
  • Do not use your personal information, your login name, or adjacent keys on the keyboard as passwords.
  • Change your password every 90 days or so.
  • Use a different password for every online account you access (or at least a good variety).

File-sharing software

  • Avoid down-loading file-sharing software. If you use this software be extremely careful about the information you share in order to protect your personal information.
  • Read end user agreements, understand whether you are allowing spyware to be installed on your machine, and understand the risks of free downloads.


  • Spyware is a program that can be installed on your computer from a remote location to steal your personal or financial information or to monitor your online transactions to capture that information.
  • Generally, you will not know that you are downloading spyware. It is often masked by some other program that you intend to download or an attachment that you intentionally open. That is one of the reasons why it is important to know something about the programs that you install on your computer and the email attachments that you open.
  • You can install antispyware software to detect and remove these spyware programs. A number of the anti-virus programs and security products are also capable of screening for various types of spyware if the appropriate settings are used.


  • A phishing scam is one designed to elicit your personal information (username, password, account information) on a fake website.
  • In phishing scams, criminals send out spam or pop-up messages in an attempt to lure victims into sharing their personal and financial information on fake websites. They often disguise themselves as well known businesses and set up fake websites.
  • For example, you may receive an email from paypal or amazon.com, if you typically use those services, suggesting that there is some problem with your account and requesting you to click on a link, enter your personal information and resolve the issue. Don't do it. If you suspect that there may actually be a problem, go through your internet browser to access the site and contact the company to ask if there is a problem with your account. Companies like to know if they are being used as a phishing tool and often request that you forward the phishing email to them. Antiphishing software is available that recognizes or blocks fake or phishing web sites.

Phishing Protection:

  • When you receive a suspicious email, go to your browser, contact the company, and ask whether it is trying to reach you or if there is a problem with your account.
  • Use anti-phishing software.

Automatic Updates:

  • Automatically updating your computer helps ensure that your computer is protected against the latest threats.

Q8. What are Privacy Policies?

Most websites that you interact with will collect some personal information. Many sites/companies have privacy policies or privacy statements posted on their websites designed to tell you what they will do with this information. Before you give any personal information to a web site, look for the privacy statement. If you do not see one, that could be a cause for concern. When you find the policy, make sure it addresses the following topics: notice, choice, access and security.

Privacy policies should provide:

Notice Exactly what information they collect and how they use it.
Choice You should be given a choice about the collection and use of your information.
Access The ability to access your information maintained by the site and the opportunity to correct inaccurate information
Security Reasonable security measures to protect your information from loss, misuse, or alteration

Although they are often long and involved and may not be as clear as one would hope, privacy policies generally try to convey what information the site will collect, the purpose for which the site collects that personal information, what the it will do with the information that you provide to them, whether third parties may have access to that information, and what steps the site will take to ensure the security of your information.

If a site makes a practice of selling your personal information to third parties, for example, the privacy policy is where you will find that information. Look for the opportunity to opt-out of practices with which you are not comfortable. The privacy policy can be treated as a legally binding document in the sense that a web site owner may face legal action if he or she does not adhere to its own privacy rules.

Other info depending on student interest:

Privacy policies may also provide:

  • Information about registration with the site Any special services the site provides
  • Co-branding information (business arrangements with other companies and how those companies can access your personal information)
  • Links to any other relevant sites (like the web seal)
  • How the site uses cookies
  • Contact information

But Always keep in mind that a policy is merely a policy.

Because the policy is essentially the measure of your rights on the site in which you are participating, pay careful attention to the ways in which the policy limits the site's exposure and accountability.

Look for a web seal that lets you know the site takes its policy and your privacy seriously.

Q9. What is Caching?


If you put something on the Internet, it is difficult if not impossible to take it back.

Search engines and browsers cache websites, allowing photos, videos and text to be retrieved long after the website has been deleted.

For example, caching --

Basically, caching means that if you put something on your profile page – even just for a day or two -- that information or image remains accessible to others on the Internet even after you take it down or change it. Search engines cache web sites, allowing photos, videos, and text to be retrieved long after the web site has been deleted. “Chat,” journaling, blogs, pictures and other postings become public information.

If you read their policies, many social networking sites will also explicitly warn you that, even after removal, copies of the content you place on the site may remain viewable in cached and archived pages or if other users have copied or stored that content.

In a sense, a social networking page gives you access to a brave new world of youthful indiscretion. It is up to you how you use it.

Caching also raises issues you should be aware of when using a public computer, such as a public, college, or high school library computer. A cache may store websites that you have visited so the browser can store them locally instead of going to the website. The browser may also store temporary internet files, cookies, information that you have entered into websites or the address bar and passwords.

Protect the privacy of your information when you use public computers. Caching may allow your habits or information to be tracked on a public computer. After using a public computer, you can go to the “Preferences” or “Internet Options” folder in the browser and click on “Empty Cache” or “Delete Browsing History” to make sure that does not happen. Finally, close the browser before you leave the computer.

Think about tomorrow when you are acting today.

Do you know how much money it costs to remove a tattoo? It can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, depending on the size and quality of the tattoo. A lot of adults are trying to come up with the money to remove tattoos that seemed like a good idea at one time. Even after removal, there could be a scar or some remaining color. This doesn’t mean you should never get a tattoo – it just means you should be well aware of the costs and consequences associated with making such a decision, now and in the future, before you do it.

It is the same with social networking and blogging online – keep in mind that once you put them out there in cyberworld, information and images can be extremely difficult if not impossible to take back. Even when you delete information from your profile or site, older versions are still accessible to others.

MySpace provides the following notice on its safety tips page: “Think before you post. What's uploaded to the net can be downloaded by anyone and passed around or posted online pretty much forever. You shouldn't post photos or info you wouldn't want adults to see or people to know about you.”

Back to the rules your parents taught you that work equally well in the real world and online – treat other people the way you would want to be treated. Respect the privacy – and the personally identifiable information – of others. Don’t identify others on your profile in a way they would not be willing to identify themselves on their own. Don’t share the personal information of friends or others. And don’t post images of people that they wouldn’t post of themselves. If possible ask permission before posting an image of someone else on your site and always respect requests to remove photos or the personal information of others.

Q10. Isn't just common sense like not talking to strangers enough?

When it comes to using the Internet for the creation of personal profiles, common sense just isn't enough. Our common sense is informed by rules we learn from our parents and just operating in daily life, going to school, playing sports, going out on the weekends. According to the PEW Study, 49% of social networking teens use the networks to make new friends, and 31% of social networking teens have "friends" on their profiles whom they have never met. Common sense only takes you so far. Some technological understanding is helpful. There are lots of things about the Internet that are not immediately obvious or intuitive – even to a person who has grown up playing games online on a daily basis.