Overview

Even if your child has never used a computer before, he or she has a digital footprint. In an age where information is constantly shared online, it’s almost impossible to be completely offline. Whether it’s registering for preschool, scheduling a doctor’s appointment, or sharing pictures with Aunt Judy, your child’s digital footprint begins nearly at birth and only grows from there.

Even if you’re careful about what you share and with whom you share it, identity thieves can use even small snippets of personal information against your little one. Thieves use that information to gain access to credit and use your child’s squeaky clean footprint as currency. It’s up to you to protect your child’s digital footprint so it stays safe even as they start using the internet to play and learn. Make sure you’re vigilant with these steps and your child will be less of an online target.


What’s a Digital Footprint?

A digital footprint refers to the impact anyone has online. It might seem like it’s reserved for avid internet users but the truth is that almost everyone has one — even young kids. That’s because the web is used to exchange information from day one. At first, you’re the one contributing to that footprint by sharing pictures and information online. As your child gets older, however, they might share even more identifying information, expanding that digital footprint. Identity thieves can steal that information, but it’s also important to remember that a digital footprint can affect future education and job prospects. The internet is forever, and things shared online can never be completely erased. Whether it’s age, location, photos, interests, and eventually jobs, the information that contributes to your child’s digital footprint is permanent.


Sharing Might Not be Caring

Your child’s digital footprint starts almost as soon as they are born. Think about it: Did you post a birth announcement on the happy occasion? Have you posted videos of first steps, first foods, or first trips to the zoo? We naturally want to share these things with friends and family, especially if they live far away. The internet is the perfect tool to help people stay connected, no matter where they are. 

But before you share that funny video or cute photo, you might pause to think about how it could affect your child’s digital footprint. What seems totally innocuous could actually be fodder for would-be identity thieves. An innocent video, for example, could have identifying information like a street number in the background. A birth announcement posted on social media might give your child’s full name, along with parent’s names, too. While you think it’s just a way to stay in touch, identity thieves can take that information and use it to open credit cards, access accounts, or even score things like tax returns or health insurance — all in your child’s name.


Get to know COPPA

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act was created by the Federal Trade Commission to protect children under the age of 13. It requires websites that are geared toward kids to disclose to parents when collecting personal information or using targeted advertising. COPPA gives you a head’s up on how sites are using your child’s information and what data is being saved.

Share mindfully

It’s OK to share a few pictures online, but do so mindfully. Make sure your privacy settings are created so that only approved friends and family can access pictures. Avoid sharing personal details like full names and birth dates. And, ask that friends and family not share pictures and videos of your child without your permission.

Talk to your child

Kids are never too young to understand the importance of online safety. Have conversations about what is and isn’t OK to post on their own social media. Try this: run a Google search on your child’s name and see what the search engine finds. You might be surprised at what information and images are readily available and associated with their name. Make sure you set boundaries around sharing online and monitor your child’s Internet usage to stop any inappropriate sharing before it becomes a problem.


Summary

Your child is likely being raised as a digital native. Technology is as much a part of his or her life as toys or games. And, while the Web is a great tool for learning and entertainment, it can be dangerous. Your child’s digital footprint can cause major problems in the future. By being mindful about what your child leaves behind online, you can be sure that sharing never leaves a negative mark.