Teach kids Internet security before the sex talk says Google Chairman Eric Schmidt

Internet security is rapidly becoming essential knowledge. Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt recently spoke at Cambridge University about his view of our future as tied to technology. Among predictions about cyberterrorism and ransoming of online identities he emphasized the need to teach kids Internet security early in life. He predicts that in the future our digital personas will be so valuable that parents will need to talk to their kids about online privacy before they have the sex talk.

As quoted in The Guardian:

“I’m absolutely convinced that parents will have to have the ‘online privacy’ talk with their children before ‘the sex talk’,” he said. “It might be when they’re eight years old, you’ll be saying ‘don’t put that online! It’ll come back to bite you!’ and then have to explain why.”

The only part of this I disagree with is Schmidt’s punting the parental responsibility to teach kids Internet security to some future time. Every day there are new ways that people can use online information to find, judge and manipulate people. Facebook Graph Search is an example of a tool that gives new access to old information. Things that kids post today could resurface far into the future, which is why it is important that kids quickly learn the risks of posting online.

My oldest child is not even 4 years old yet, so I’m hoping that I haven’t been negligent in not talking to him about online privacy yet. (I haven’t had the sex talk with him either.) When we do talk, here are the main things I want my kids to know about Internet security:

  1. The Internet has no comprehensive delete key. If you post it, assume it is stored somewhere forever.
  2. The Internet has a lousy sense of humor. You may have thought it was hilarious to “like” prostitutes on Facebook, but your future girlfriend’s father or a potential employer may not get the joke.
  3. People are not necessarily who they say they are online. They can lie about details including age or gender. Anyone can create a username or email address that mimics the name of someone else. They can pretend to be your friend when they are not.
  4. The only thing protecting what you post online is trust. Trust that the person you sent it to won’t share your pictures and posts with someone else. Trust that the people who run the systems you use have adequately protected your data from hackers and are honest enough not to misuse your data themselves. Trust that the technology won’t change and suddenly expose things that were previously hidden. As Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg once wrote about his users, “They trust me — dumb fucks.”
  5. Because of all the above, don’t post anything online that you wouldn’t want your mother to see on a bulletin board in Times Square.

Have you talked to your kids about online privacy? How old were they? What did you say? What did they say?

For a lighter look at parental responsibility read my 40 reasons being a parent is f***ing awesome!

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