Internet and Privacy

The internet and social media have become a daily part of consumers’ lives, but caution is needed when surfing the world wide web. Click below for information consumers can use to guard themselves from the dangers found online.

Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act

  • The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) was created to help parents control what personal information is collected from their children on commercial websites. It does not address information that is collected from parents or adults about their children, although the Federal Trade Commission directs websites to protect this information as well. It also does not prevent children from accessing adult content. COPPA is aimed specifically to protect those under the age of 13.
  • Personal information includes names, phone numbers, addresses, social security numbers, geolocation information, photos, videos, or audio files among other items.
  • COPPA regulates websites and apps that are directed to children under 13 and to those geared toward the general public but with actual knowledge that they are obtaining information of children under 13. A website has actual knowledge if the information collected allows the website to determine the users age.
  • COPPA requires websites to post their privacy policy in a clear spot and obtain verifiable parental consent before they collect any information about children using their site.
  • The policy must state all operators who collect information, a description of what information is collected and how it is used, and a description of parental rights.
  • COPPA prohibits websites from disclosing information to third parties unless they obtain consent from the parents to do so.
  • Parents must have access to enable them to view their child’s personal information collected by a website and be able to request the information be deleted.
  • Websites must take reasonable steps to keep any information confidential and secure, and to keep such information only as long as it is necessary, otherwise it must be deleted.
  • If a website violates COPPA, they are liable for civil penalties.

Data Breach

  • A data breach occurs when a person, group, or software company intentionally or unintentionally accesses personal or sensitive information without authorization to do so.
  • An unintentional data breach can occur when an employee mishandles the information by downloading a compromised program, accesses an unsecure website, or loses a work laptop.
  • Personal information that has been obtained through a data breach is often sold to other hackers on the “dark web,” which is underground web markets that trade in a variety of illegal assets.
  • When a company, such as a bank or hospital, suffers a data breach that has compromised their user’s personal information, they are required to mail out notices to those affected or possibly affected.
  • These notices should state what information has been compromised, such as names, social security numbers, or email addresses.
  • If a person’s personal information has been compromised, they should put a fraud alert or security freeze on their credit reports to monitor if anyone is trying to use this information or to stop thieves from opening new accounts.
    • Any possible compromised passwords should be changed.
    • Any suspicious activity on a debit or credit card should be reported to the bank immediately.
    • Compromised debit or credit cards should be canceled with the consumer being issued a new card.

Dating Services and Apps

  • Some dating services are funded through subscription fees or through advertising. Companies make money the longer a person is on their sites. For that reason, users have begun to notice certain website only suggesting incorrect matches.
  • There are paid sites and free sites. There are also sites geared toward one particular characteristic, such as religion.
  • Whether the site is free or requires payment, individuals can use the site to search for characteristics they are looking for in a match.
  • Paid sites can weed out non-serious users whereas free sites can give the widest net of possible dates.
  • Be careful of people who are trying to deceive a user by lying about age, work, or past history.
  • To protect personal information, many sites advise users to not reveal personal information and to go on first dates in public places.
  • If someone immediately asks for money, they are probably a scammer. They have no intention to have a relationship.

Identify Theft

  • Identity theft occurs when an impostor obtains personal information about another person, such as social security number or credit card number, and uses that information to open new accounts, make purchases, obtain medical treatment from a consumer’s health insurance, or get a tax return.
  • Thieves may obtain this information by stealing mail, rifling through a person’s garbage, or hacking it from a retail store or company the person uses. This can also occur through internet or phone scams when a person unknowingly gives out personal information to a scammer.
  • Signs of possible identity theft include unauthorized purchases on a card, collection calls for debts that the person did not owe, bills not arriving in the mail, denial of health insurance for a condition the consumer does not have, denial of a claim due to reaching the limits of health benefits, or if the IRS notifies the person that more than one tax return was filed in that person’s name.
  • Everyone is entitled to a free credit report from each credit reporting bureau once a year. If a person is concerned that they might be a victim of identity theft, they should order a copy of their credit report to check for suspicious activity.
  • Consumers should check bank statements, payment of bills, health insurance claims, and their credit reports often to make sure the information is accurate and to stop identity theft as early as possible.
  • If someone suspects that they have been the victim of identity theft, they should file a report with their local police immediately, as well as all financial institutions that the person uses. They should supply any documentation that supports their claim of identity theft to both the police and to their financial institutions. Filing a report with the police enables consumers to obtain a police report to show creditors proof of identity theft.
  • To avoid identity theft, consumers should change passwords on a regular basis, secure mail that contains personal information, and never give out personal information over the phone, mail, or internet unless the consumer has initiated the contact.
  • Consumers should black out personal information and shred documents they no longer need before throwing them out.

The Internet of Things

  • The basic idea of “the internet of things” is being able to connect different types of technology with the internet.
  • It encapsulates the idea that different types of technology can work together to improve the way of life. Such as telling a virtual assistant, like Amazon’s “Alexa” or Apple’s “Siri,” to set an alarm or turn on the oven.
  • The internet of things includes voice recognition, cars connected to the internet, smart watches, smart tv’s, and home networks among other things.
  • It has the potential to introduce technology that could help with sustainability and healthcare.
  • A lot is still unknown when it comes to the interaction of technology in this way, so before engaging in this technology, consumers should make sure they understand how the technology works and the best way to keep personal information safe.
  • The internet of things is still in the early stages with safety, privacy, and setting uniform standards. Always use a strong password when using these devices to ensure personal information is not stolen.

Parental Controls to Keep Children Safe Online

The Internet is part of many children’s daily lives, and because of COVID-19, their time spent online may be increasing. Kids are:

  • Streaming TV and movies
  • Using social media sites
  • Communicating through cell phones and computers
  • Accessing other entertaining and educational content

Risks: While the Internet provides a lot of benefits for children, it also contains content inappropriate for minors. Additionally, it can give children the ability to buy content, products, or apps without a parent or guardian’s permission.  Worst of all, is the risk that children will be exposed to cyberbullying or contacted by harmful predators.

Tools to Protect: Fortunately, tech companies have responded to these dangers by providing parental control tools which allow parents and guardians to set appropriate limitations on their children’s online activities.  Parents are also encouraged to speak with their children to discuss issues of concern.

Parental Controls

The NAGTRI Center for Consumer Protection is publishing a series of tips for parents to access these parental controls. The installments, which are being periodically released, include tips on:

  1. Streaming services (Released August 7, 2020): Including Amazon Prime, AppleTV, Disney+, Hulu, Netflix, and YouTube.
  2. Social media (Released September 15, 2020): Including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Tumblr, and Twitter
  3. Mobile devices (Released November 9, 2020): Including iPhone, Android, AT&T, TMobile, and Verizon
  4. Video game consoles (Released December 21, 2020): Including Nintendo Switch, Wii U, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One
  5. Desktop and laptop computers (Released March 22, 2021): Including macOS, Windows, and Chromebook

The NAGTRI Center for Consumer Protection does not endorse the use of any of the products, platforms, or services highlighted in this series. If you decide to allow your children to be online and choose to use parental controls, talk to your kids about why you are using them—to keep them safe online and help them establish reasonable usage limits. Be aware that the parental control tips provided herein are not 100% foolproof. Kids can undo parental controls and directions on how to get around them can easily be found on the Internet. We recommend you monitor your kids’ Internet usage, look for signs that they may be bypassing controls you have set up, and research parental controls to stay current on how they may be disabled or avoided.

We hope this series helps you keep your kids safe online!

Private Browsing

  • Some browsers have a “private browsing” option that will keep the browser from tracking cookies, browsing history, searches, or retaining downloaded files.
  • Browsers also may have a “do not track” option that a user can use to indicate they do not want to be tracked. Not all websites honor the “do not track” option.
  • There are software programs consumers can use that attempt to block websites from tracking their information.

Privacy Policies and Terms of Use

  • Some states require websites to have privacy policies and terms of use contracts.  These notice features inform users how the website collects, uses, and protects personal information.
  • The websites should also have a terms of use section that details how a user can use or interact with the website.
  • Before giving personal information to a website, users should make sure there is a privacy policy in place so the user knows how their personal information might be used. If the website doesn’t have a privacy policy or terms of use, consider using another site that does to protect one’s personal information.
  • Consumers should always read the privacy policy or terms of use to avoid misusing the sites or giving away personal information that the site can use. Once the user has agreed to those terms, they cannot get back any personal information they gave out.

Social Media

  • Social media sites are a top target for scammers to either hack a page or gain personal information for identity theft purposes.
  • Use a strong and long password that has upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols to prevent hacks.
  • Try to use a different password for each social media site, or at least change the passwords frequently.
  • Many sites allow two factor authentications which require a password and another form of verification, such as security questions or entering a phone number.
  • If an unknown person sends a friend request, do not accept it. They are most likely a hacker who will try to access personal information.
  • Do not click on unfamiliar links as they often are links that will allow a person to hack the page or obtain personal information.
  • Many schools and employers look at a person’s social media to determine if the person is mature and reliable, so a user should be careful what they post or what a friend posts that involves them. Any inappropriate pictures or material should be removed.
  • Users should adjust privacy settings so only people they know can see the information. Users should also avoid putting personal information on social media, such as their phone number, home address, or full birth date.
  • Users should refrain from posting that they are away from home. Robbers scan sights for people posting they are away so they can break into a home.
  • Parents can screen children from different social media sites using their internet service provider or through certain software.
  • Click here to learn more about how to close the social media accounts of deceased loved ones. 

Website Tracking

  • A “cookie” is information stored in a web browser that allows the website to recognize a computer in the future. They are used to remember details from shopping carts to log in names to game scores.
  • Cookies are used to deliver ads targeted towards a person and customize that user’s browsing experience.
  • Cookies can be deleted from a browser to limit the tracking. There is also add-on software that can be used to limit or delete cookies.
  • Deleting cookies can cause a user to have to reenter their information each time they use a browser.
  • Browsers also use “fingerprinting” where the browser creates an image of the site and assigns a number to a computer. It will then recognize that number again and tailor ads or preferences to that user.

Wireless Networks

  • Wireless networks allow a user to access the internet from a wireless router. These networks can be private or public. If the network is public, anyone in range of the router can access the internet. If it is private, the user needs the password to access the network.
  • For home networks, the user should use a password so that only those who know the password can access the network. This prevents people from using the network for free or from being hacked.
  • Change the default name of the router and the pre-set password to keep unauthorized users from accessing the router.
  • When using a public wireless network, avoid staying logged into accounts so hackers cannot access the information. Users should make sure nobody can look over their shoulder to gain personal information.