The Internet Never Forgets 

By Joe Gervais

It’s critical for your children to understand that anyone and everyone is on the internet (good people, bad people, predators) and it can be very hard to spot the predators online.

The worst people are often the kindest voices over text messages or chat rooms. They are master manipulators, and may pose as other kids. There’s a classic comic that shows a dog in front of a computer and telling his friend, “On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” It’s a funny cartoon that drives home a very critical point—anyone can pretend to be anything on the internet.

Kids need to realize that online “friends” they’ve never met are actually strangers. Strangers wanting to know more about their personal life, their habits, strangers who want to meet them. Kids should be in the habit of treating online “friends” the same as they would treat a stranger walking up to them on the street, and for the exact same reasons.

Talk to your kids about online privacy and how to protect it.

Your kid is in their room, the door is closed, everyone else in the house is asleep. They’re at the park alone under a tree or in a quiet corner of the shopping mall. They share personal thoughts on social media, texting with friends, sharing pictures of each other.

While it feels private to them, the harsh reality is that what they are sharing is anything but private. Once something is available on the internet, it’s pretty much staying there. As the saying goes, “the internet never forgets.”

Maybe your kid wants to share an inappropriate “selfie” with someone, “but you have to promise to delete it.” The supposed friend doesn’t delete it. They save it, and they share it.

Or someone gets ahold of your smartphone while it’s unlocked, and starts going through the photos.

Then there are the apps that claim to send photos just once and delete them when viewed. But what if the person who received the photo uses the smartphone’s screenshot mode to capture the displayed picture before it’s deleted?

Lastly, the company that made the app is likely storing those pictures and chats on the company’s computers. What happens if they are hacked and all those photos and chats get shared on the internet?

Help your kids understand that privacy isn’t something you can count on when sharing data online.

A zero-tolerance policy for bullying.

Bullying used to be “that one mean kid at our school or in the neighborhood.” Social media has changed that. When your child has a social media account, every bully in every neighborhood around the world can start targeting your kid.

For example, in-game chats may expose your kids to all kinds of angry taunts and verbal abuse. Kids are like social sponges and will copy the behaviors of others.

It’s important to help your kids understand that it’s not OK to be bullied or to be a bully themselves.

Talk it out.

By having conversations about good digital behavior and bullying with your kids, they’ll feel more comfortable telling you about it, and know that it’s not ok to be a part of it. Even if it’s directed at other people, it can be tempting for them to join in or start their own verbal attack later.

Whether it’s texting chat rooms in a video game or a child’s game tablet that takes pictures and uploads them to servers halfway around the world, there are a lot online safety issues to talk about.

Family online security is the gift that keeps on giving. Go to to get the conversation started with your family, just in time for the holidays.

Joe Gervais is the principal cybersecurity researcher at Symantec.

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