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Hidden Risks

Updated: Feb 20

How Teens with Smartphones Expose an Entire Family's Worth of Data From Addresses to Phone Numbers

The explosion of technology has pushed extremely powerfully connected devices into the hands of young adults and teenagers. The added connectivity of technology provides safety and peace of mind for parents, but it also comes with hidden risks.

An average smartphone user does not configure the device from default settings. Location services are typically permitted for all apps, a single email address is typically used for all apps and most people have never heard of a VPN. So, what is a teenager with a new iPhone giving away when they download apps and create social media accounts?

In light of this connectivity, privacy has become increasingly difficult to maintain, and the younger generation is set on a course to be the most connected and least private generation ever. From social media documenting a child’s entire life, to the digital gaming ecosystem tracking usage, and now the boom of virtual classrooms, it is safe to say that the average child is connected to tech in almost every facet of life. It is also likely that most teens aren’t thinking about the repercussions of social media posts, and these posts may have serious implications for their future with employers, medical insurers, or even legal matters.

Why is personal data collected and how is it monetized?

Advertisements and targeted marketing have normalized data collection and tracking. Companies pay big money to push ads to consumers that fit their demographic. Data brokers are in the business of collecting information on individuals, identifiable by true name. Hundreds of sites profit from selling you and your family’s personally identifiable information (PII).

These brokers are available to anyone. You don’t need to be in law enforcement, or any regulated industry to gain access. You simply need about $20.00 to sign up for their service, gaining access to nearly anyone’s private information. Addresses, full names, partial social security numbers, job history, assets, VIN#s, email addresses and phone numbers, to name a few, may all be listed on these sites.

This data gets abused, really abused. Bad actors, social engineers, and even physical stalkers can leverage poor Cybersecurity practices and launch phishing campaigns with this data.

How can you protect you and your family’s privacy?

  1. Teach children never to provide anyone, app or website, their true address, phone numbers, or last names. The overwhelming majority of online predators start their attacks online.

  2. Create private registration data – Use a P.O. box or other private mailbox such as a UPS store box. These can be used by the whole family for limiting how often you give out your true residential address.

  3. Usernames or “handles” should be something other than true names, initials, birth years etc. when possible.

  4. Use a private browser – Firefox is a good choice out of the box and can even be configured further for more levels of privacy and security.

  5. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) such as Nord VPN – These apps are usable for your phone or computer can hide your IP address. An IP address is your home’s digital address, and can be used to help identify location.

  6. Use junk email addresses not connected to personal info when possible.

  7. Avoid using commonly collected information in passwords (area codes, birthdays, zip codes, graduation years, etc.)

  8. Avoid security questions that can be linked to easily-collected information (past addresses, mother’s maiden name, high school mascot, siblings’ info, etc.)


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