Install Update: Online Safety

Words by Briana, 21 VIC

  1. Cover your camera lens (for the paranoid).
  2. Increase your privacy settings.
  3. Use a safe VPN.
  4. Don’t post anything you don’t want your future employer seeing.
  5. Update your browser to prevent fraud sites.
  6. Be careful who you meet online.

These online rules are slowly becoming outdated, as the digital space evolves at a pace that makes it difficult to regulate.

Today’s generation of children have easier access to media and websites that are not intended for young viewers. New apps such as TikTok are not regulated by robust laws that restrict or even monitor the content uploaded. Distressing content can be uploaded and disguised as ‘recommended for you’. Children who are typically curious may click on links that expose them to damaging content, such as the video that went viral on TikTok last year of a man taking his own life. According to The Guardian, laws that allow content which is violent in nature to be removed, did not apply to the video as it did not fit a specific definition of violence.

When I was in high school, we had presentations on cyber safety. They emphasised keeping your location services turned off, not participating in sexting or online bullying, report everything to an adult and to not post anything that you don’t want your future employers to see.

Children today have adapted to technology at an earlier age than previous generations. Young people setting up their social media accounts are encouraged to keep their personal information limited and ensure maximum privacy settings are enabled – but is this enough?

Our approach to staying safe online needs to change.

We grew up with computers that looked like boxes and dial-up internet. Typically, our first phone was a Nokia E72 (or something similar), compared to today’s high schooler who has the latest iPhone. MSN was one of the first social networking platforms we used. There were no advanced algorithms monitoring our content. We had set up an awkward email address such as not appropriate for work and our profiles would be lyrics and the symbol ‘<3’ next to our name.

My parents never restricted my internet access. They were not actively involved in my media usage, so they never knew what I was consuming. Our internet use was limited to basic webchat sites because that’s all there was. If a suspicious link popped up on our PC, 20 years ago, we knew not to trust it. These days our trusted apps are perceived as safe, even though research tells us they’re not.

The meaning of privacy is undermined when agreeing to the T&Cs and cookies are the price we pay to access sites. The cookies icon jumps on your screen with no option for us, but to accept. Cookies allow websites to remember you, your website logins, shopping carts and the emails with reminders to purchase the items you had clicked on. That’s cookies. HTTP cookies specifically track, personalise and save information about each user’s time spent on a site.

Third party cookies can be dangerous as it allows advertisers to have access to the data from your browsing history. Fortunately, we can remove or change cookies settings, but it is simply more convenient to accept cookies so we can enjoy our browsing uninterrupted.

Many users don’t understand what they are agreeing to when clicking ‘agree’ on the T&Cs. Some companies are transparent in their policies where their wording is ‘user friendly’, whilst others have pages of fine print no one even attempts to read. We may be signing away our rights to our information being collected and used with just one click.

The function of Instagram and Facebook have also rapidly evolved to be more than chat platforms. When Instagram launched in 2010, it had a simple focus of posting pictures, which has now transformed into a marketing platform for businesses. Now we can ‘shop Instagram’ where links are provided for products and ‘DM’ businesses for a purchase. The downside is the collection of our data. Imagine walking into a store for the retail assistant to watch your every move. A little uncomfortable and irritating, isn’t it? When I recently shopped through Instagram, I felt I wasn’t being left alone once I made the purchase. I had an overflow of similar products spamming my feed.

The transformation of social networking apps has forgone the rules that were embedded into us as teenagers. We now opt to turn on location services so you can tag the restaurant you are dining in for your Instagram or Snapchat story.   We have become accustomed to a lack of privacy, we seem to have accepted that unless you are truly ‘unplugged’, our online presence is known.

We are more immersed in the online world than ever before. Large corporations have found new innovative and creative ways to engage users. Yet laws and regulations are unable to keep up. We need to be more conscious in how we consume the online world, to ensure we are safe online today and the next generations are safe tomorrow.

Illustration by AileenYou can find more of her work on Instagram @aileenetc

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