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Lifestyles

November 20, 2010

Everyone, especially children, could use lesson on Internet privacy

I think my kids have finally given up.

They used to tell me that I should join Facebook, and get in on all the fun. Then I would ask them if they ever read the agreement that they have to consent to before using Facebook.

None of them ever had, and I bet they still haven't.

I'm talking about the "terms of use," the legal stuff that you have to agree to before you can use their system. Most people just click "I Agree" and forget about it. I do that too, sometimes.

But sometimes you shouldn't do that. You should actually look that stuff over, and see just what you're agreeing to.

All that legal stuff is there mainly to cover the website's arse, so they can do what they want with you, without you having any way to come after them. Most of these agreements in effect say "We can do anything we want, and you can't do anything we don't want you to."

Most of them include another gem. They say they can unilaterally change the agreement any time they want to, and that's also something that you have to agree to. What fun. For them.

At any rate, please read this stuff before you agree to it. Especially with a social networking site, where you post information about yourself.

I should make clear that I'm not singling out Facebook, just using it as an example. This should apply to anywhere you plan to deposit your personal information.

And I don't dislike Facebook, either. It's fun and an easy way to keep up with people. My wife uses it and I sometimes look over her shoulder to see what the kids are up to.

It's just that I feel uneasy about putting so much personal stuff out there for the whole world, quite literally, to see.

There are many pits to fall into when you put your life online. Most people don't think much about it.

Looking for a job? The employer where you applied probably knows how to check Facebook to find your stuff. Is there anything on your public page that you wouldn't want someone like that to see? Maybe not really bad stuff, but just silly things. Things you may not want to have to explain to someone who was thinking about hiring you.

These are important things to think about. But it's not the main point I'm trying to make.

A little while ago I was doing my usual online news reading when I ran across a story that I want to bring to everybody's attention.

It seems that in Germany, where people seem to be a little more concerned about individual rights and private data (actually most of Europe is like that), some schools are planning to teach young people about the risks of putting private data on the Internet.

To quote Angelica Schwall-Düren, a government minister in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia: "Our goal is to convey that the Internet doesn't only offer chances and opportunities, but also has risks that students should understand in order to exercise autonomy with regards to digital media. Many young people are unaware of how many details they reveal about themselves online."

She goes on to say that children need to know that future employers and friends can follow their digital footprint online, something that could negatively affect their professional and private lives.

I agree. And I think that bringing the subject up in schools is a good idea.

I'm sure that in our country, sometimes, in some places, some teachers bring this idea up to their students. But I also think that it would be a very good thing to make sure that at least a minimal amount of education regarding this topic is taught in every school.

I believe it would go a long way toward reducing the careless posting of many types of information that should never be placed online.

There are already enough bad guys out there trolling for information. We shouldn't be giving them any more help than we have to.

I know that schools are having a hard enough time of it these days, but it seems to me that a real school curriculum which spells out what is OK, and what is NOT OK, to post on the Internet would be worth the cost and effort to develop in our own state. Right here, right now.

Here's hoping that there may be an educator or two that peruses my column occasionally.

Bruce Endries is former systems manager at The Daily Star. He can be reached by e-mail at techgp@dailystarmail.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/techgp.

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