Be it talking to friends on their smartphone, or jumping into a game of Fortnite, your kids will unavoidably be communicating and sharing information online. When using any devices or service connected to the internet, including games, it’s also a given that some data is going to be collected to make the product work and, in some cases, companies will collect more extensive data to personalize game experiences, serve ads, and offer more in-game features. All of this can raise privacy and safety concerns. The good news is that by taking a few simple measures you can decide how much of your children’s information can be collected, used, and shared, and play an important role teaching them how to stay safe online.
- Choose privacy settings. All video game devices, including consoles, offer a suite of parental controls that include default privacy settings for children. You can adjust the privacy settings of consoles and use similar features on platforms and popular devices to help protect your children’s safety and privacy. This includes settings for data collection and use, as well as settings that limit whom your child can share their profile with and who is able to search for your child in a game. You can also look for settings that allow you to limit features your kids may want to use like chat functions and voice and messaging recording. You can always adjust the settings as your kids mature and gain experience protecting themselves online.
- Always put in your kids’ accurate ages! This is extremely important – especially for kids under the age of 13. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires companies to follow the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), meaning they are not allowed to collect personal information from children under the age of 13 without verifiable parental consent. Beyond COPPA, many states have privacy laws that provide additional protections for teens. For example, some prohibit companies from selling or sharing teenager’s (typically age 13-16) personal information without their consent or the consent of their parent or guardian. These laws are in place to prevent the collection and sale of your kids’ information (and more!), so make sure your children understand the importance of being honest about their age when asked for their birthdate when entering a website or registering for games or devices!
- Discuss ground rules for online play. Many kids may be tempted to share information with their teammates when playing online. It may seem perfectly innocent – and in many cases it is – but some of this information can be used to guess passwords and other important life details or even create extensive profiles about them. Unless your kids are playing with friends they know in real life, they should know never to give out their real name, location (state, town, street name, etc.), school, or anything that can be traced back to them. To add a layer of protection to this, you may even want to set up parental controls to ensure that your kids can only communicate online with their real-life friends and family when playing games online.