Are you doing enough to protect your family privacy online?

3rd February ‘21

Amelia LeCoyte recently attended a webinar hosted by Thought Leaders 4 HNW Divorce with Jenny Afia, Clare Usher-Wilson and Lily Kennett. As experienced advisors in this field, they took the opportunity to provide their top tips for protecting family’s privacy online in an increasingly digital age.

High-net-worth families are usually subject to increased scrutiny, whether directly from being in the public eye, or more indirectly based on connections and influences that family may have. This means that more than ever, it is more important to take steps to secure a family’s privacy and security. Especially given that children are ‘plugging in’ younger and younger and there are increasingly additional risks from what younger members of the family might choose to, or accidentally share online.

Generational differences over views of what is deemed suitable online content, combined with frequent efforts by young teens to make their mark or seek attention, and the risk of a ‘digital tattoo’ can make for tricky navigation.

It is questionable whether there are strong enough safeguards in place to protect both children sharing information online and the reputation and privacy of their families. In response, Afia advocates for a duty of care to be placed on technology companies to take reasonable steps to make this sphere safer for younger persons.

So, considering the challenges and potential far-reaching consequences of a mis-judged share online, what can be done to mitigate this risk?

Age limits

While this might seem like an obvious point, it should not be overlooked. A chilling statistic quoted in the Telegraph from a recent report showed that the average child has around 1,300 photos and videos published of them on social media before they turn 13. Similarly, a child will post on average of 70,000 times between the ages of 11 and 18.

Most social media services use an age limit of 13 (and WhatsApp users need to be 16 in Europe). These rules around age relate to privacy, but also are relevant to safety – young people also risk being exposed to content which is intended for older users when they use sites that are not designed for people their age.

Awareness

One of the key takeaways from the webinar was that parents and minders of dependants should actively ensure that they are aware of the applications and platforms their children are using. Granted, there can be a very wide breadth from: schoolwork, to social media, to games and those platforms that might seem completely harmless such as encrypted text messaging apps.

Ideally, sit down with your children as they create the accounts or download an app, so you may carry out your own risk assessment. Of course, such an approach could be potentially very time consuming and at the risk of micromanaging a young teens life and the level of oversight should be proportional to how responsible the child in question is.

It is also advisable to spend time online together to teach your children about safe and responsible online behaviour. Establishing consistent views as a family, on what can be used and shared online is also useful. These might range from photographs of family members, to home addresses or locations.

If children are aware of what they are using and the various risks, they are more likely to be able to spot potential danger zones.

Childnet International share these basic guidelines for safe online use:

  • Follow the family rules, and those set by the Internet service provider.
  • Never post or trade personal pictures.
  • Never reveal personal information, such as address, phone number, or school name or location.
  • Use only a screen name and don’t share passwords (other than with parents).
  • Never agree to get together in person with anyone met online without parent approval and/or supervision.
  • Never respond to a threatening email, message, post, or text.
  • Always tell a parent or other trusted adult about any communication or conversation that was scary or hurtful.

Privacy settings and digital ‘footprint’

Many Internet service providers (ISPs) provide parent-control options. You can also get software that helps block access to sites and restricts personal information from being sent online.

While seeking to set a delicate boundary between control and surveillance, it might also be useful to monitor screen time or enquire into whether apps offer a ‘family safe’ mode or the digital equivalent of ‘don’t talk to strangers’. Most apps set accounts to public as the default and so this must be manually modified. Some offer further personalised restrictions: on TikTok you may control who can direct message your account; on Instagram you may control what ‘stories’ can be forwarded and shared to other accounts; and on Snapchat you may control who can see your geolocation. If in doubt, you may disable certain features via a device’s own security settings.

Children should also be knowledgeable about the possibility of leaving behind a digital ‘footprint’ and how this can have consequences in the future, especially if the child is expected to take a role in the family office. In cases where a child is a member of a prominent household, it is likely that information shared is vulnerable to becoming legacy content that can become part of someone’s permanent record.

This post is intended to be a guide for clients and other interested parties. The information is believed to be correct at the date of publication but should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional advice. No responsibility can be accepted by us for loss occasioned to any person acting or refraining from acting as a result of any material in these publications.

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