Online Privacy Advice for Kids

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As anyone with a Social Security number knows, tomorrow is Data Privacy Day 2009, the second annual international celebration of personal-information protection. (Don't forget to send your CSO flowers.)

In honor of this pseudo-occasion, Intel has collected all manner of relevant resources and event listings, including its "Top Five Teen Privacy Tips."

It's not a bad list, I mean other than the fact that No. 1 is pretty much the same as No. 4, and No. 5 -- gist: "Don't be a knucklehead" -- goes without saying. What's lacking, though, are real-world examples that demonstrate the consequences of failing to follow all of this advice. So, I thought I would provide a few ripped-from-the-headlines examples ... examples of the type that teens are most apt to appreciate: Those that involve stupid and/or inept grownups.

Teen Tip 1. Know your potential audience. Be aware that anyone, including site operators, advertisers, colleges, potential employers, friends and parents, as well as dangerous people or sexual predators may access, use, and forward the information you share online.

And by "anyone" we mean school principals, too, as was learned by a 42-year-old high school band director who received this written reprimand from his boss in 2007: "As we discussed in our conference, you are to deconstruct your MySpace account as soon as possible. Specifically, I am asking that you remove the pictures we spoke about and consider removing ... students from your friends list." Whether he complied is unclear. What is clear is that he was arrested last month and faces charges related to having sex with a student.

Then there's the 29-year-old Massachusetts teacher who most certainly did not know her potential audience when writing on MySpace about a 13-year-old boy, "It's hard to be with you and set boundaries." That one was forwarded to prosecutors.

Teen Tip 2. Use privacy settings to control who has access to information you put online, including your profile page, your photos, your "wall," and your online journals. Do not share your phone numbers, home address, date of birth, school or team name, travel plans, social security number or other national ID numbers, family financial information, bank or credit card numbers. Don't share your passwords with anyone.

It's pretty clear that couldn't manage a MySpace page. The world's most famous online job site days ago began warning users that it had allowed unauthorized outsiders access to stored user names, e-mail addresses, birth dates, and in some cases, states of residence -- along with user IDs and passwords. Of course, this kind of thing can happen to the best of companies ... it's the third time for Monster in the past two years.

Teen Tip 3. Don't accept "friends" you do not know in the real world. Never agree to meet anyone in person you have only "met" online.

By friends here we mean "Friends," as in Chandler Bing, also known as actor Matthew Perry. Any teenager would know that Perry, being notoriously faithful to Monica, would never strike up an online romance with another woman. Less attuned was grownup woman "Kirsty," who not only deluded herself thusly for 11 months but went on "Dr. Phil" to talk about it. Dr. Phil: "Why did you think that Matthew Perry would be on Facebook chatting you up for 11 months?" Kirsty: "In the back of my mind I flip-flopped back and forth." My advice: If you do make this kind of mistake, do not go on national TV to try to explain that which cannot be explained.

Teen Tip 4. Think before you post. If you would not want a college or a prospective employer to see it, or if you wouldn't share it with your parents, don't post it. ... Don't identify others on your page in a way they would not identify themselves or post photos they would not post. Protect yourself. Ask friends to take down content about you that you would not post yourself, and un-tag photos that you may find embarrassing in the future.

Say you're a 27-year-old hot-shot speechwriter for soon-to-be-president Barack Obama, and, in a moment of beer-soaked revelry, you happened to be photographed groping a cardboard breast on a cardboard cutout of the former first lady and soon-to-be-secretary-of-state. You wouldn't want that picture to show up on Facebook, would you? Neither did Jon Favreau, who miraculously got off with just an apology and is now dating a Maxim model (OK, maybe Favreau isn't the best cautionary tale to use here.)

Teen Tip 5. You are your own best protector online. Online conduct has consequences. Make smart choices.

In other words, do as adults say, not as they do.

This story, "Online Privacy Advice for Kids" was originally published by Network World.

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