By Claire Stead, Online Safety Ambassador at Smoothwall
The web is a mine of information and has transformed our access to knowledge, enabling anyone to find out what they need at anytime, anywhere. The internet shouldn't be feared, as it can be a powerful force for good: from creating connections with people all over the globe as well as providing endless sources of entertainment and news. We can now communicate in myriad ways, not least through social media. We can share what we're up to, where we are, who we're with, videos of friends and pictures of loved ones.
Facebook now sees eight billion average daily video views and Snapchat users aren't far behind, sending more than seven billion photos and videos each day. They say sharing is caring - and that's true to an extent. But when you overshare or share the wrong information online, that can often lead to tricky conversations or unintended consequences.
It's never been more important to ensure that children are aware of these potential risks, but adults can be equally as guilty of putting themselves in a precarious position by not following some very basic rules. No post is ever truly private and no image is ever truly temporary - there are, of course, traditional social media settings to ensure that profiles are protected, but can you really trust every single one of your hundreds of 'friends' on social media?
Here are a few top tips on how to stay safe online and on social media:
Be careful what information you share in a selfie: It's easy to give away personal information in a selfie, such as which school you go to by the emblem on your uniform, where you are based on landmarks in the background, tagging your location and personal attributes like your age and gender. Be mindful of what information you may be giving away before you share your selfie, particularly if you're sharing it on 'My Story' on Snapchat where it's sent to everyone on your list.
Make sure you turn off geo-location settings: All smartphones these days have GPS built in. When you allow location settings, various GPS services will use your phone's location for data; for example, traffic is measured by how many smartphones there are not moving on a road at a particular time. Anything you do on your phone is tagged with a location and therefore when sharing pictures from home on social media, you are advertising your home address. Equally, when you check in on holiday or at the airport, you're leaving yourself wide open for burglary.
There is no such thing as a free lunch, or in this case, a free app: Free apps trade use of their application for your data, so do not be fooled to ever believe these are truly free. They collect every bit of data about you, such as name, age, location, personal contact details and content you share to build a profile of you that they can then use to sell advertising. If you don't want someone to know your personal information, don't share it - it's as simple as that.
Understand the meaning of 'social' 'media' before you expect to share something that will be truly private: It's important to check the privacy settings on all the social media apps that you use and check that the information you share is truly private. Most of the time, information can be seen by friends of friends, which means that what you share can quickly spread. Equally, even when your settings are turned to private, all smartphones have a screenshot functionality, meaning friends can save your image and show to people you don't know. Never share something you're not prepared for the world to see. If you wouldn't want the images you send plastered on the side of a bus, my advice would be to not send those images at all.
The internet is a wonderful tool and should be used for enjoyment - but it needs to be done safely and securely. One poorly thought out selfie could show more than a nice smile you had intended or one free card game could link to your social media profiles and share unwanted personal information for marketing purposes. So, don't stop taking selfies and posting on social media, but keep your personal information to a minimum and be careful about what and how you're sharing. Happy posting!