By Adam Wakefield

Talking about the right to privacy means mentioning the likes of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden. Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, and Snowden, who leaked information about the extent of global surveillance in 2013, are thought to see Internet privacy and encryption in the same way.

A lack of privacy infringes on freedom of speech, with a lack of free speech impacting the ability of the body politic to hold their governments accountable for the power they exercise in the name of security.

While the worlds of Assange and Snowden can be seen as separate from interactions South African children have with the Internet and communications technology, similar themes arise: how much power should caregivers exercise when assessing how and what type of interactions children and the vulnerable have with the Internet? 

You did not read the Terms and Conditions?

Rianette Leibowitz, presenter of the Cyber Health feature on Cliff Central and founder of SaveTNet Cyber Safety NPC, says the world we live in is populated by digital citizens who use apps and platforms. It is these apps and platforms where privacy settings can be adjusted, but assessing the terms and conditions prior is a good place to start.

That being said, Leibowitz says the question of privacy should be framed differently.

“The question is rather what the difference is between privacy and personal data. You can protect your personal data such as passwords, banking details and where you live,” she says.

“On the contrary, when you join the World Wide Web, the idea of privacy becomes tricky as people can share and use the information you have shared and that has been shared about you. We need to protect children and vulnerable person’s online identities and carefully consider their digital footprints.”

Fellow online safety activist, Jacqui Mackway-Wilson from Stay Safe Online SA, says the balance between privacy and protection can be reached by taking several steps in unison with one another.

These are promoting access to age-appropriate devices and platforms, limiting screen time with device-use rules a home-life norm, age-appropriate device supervision, and having the necessary conversations ahead of time to prepare those in your care about what the use of technology opens them up to and how to deal with it.

“There are ad blockers and other apps and software that can assist and these do have their role to play, but rather than keeping the proverbial life-preserver on your child, teach him or her how to swim,” Mackway-Wilson says.

“Let them learn bit by bit. You’d never throw your child in the deep end of a swimming pool without arm bands or supervision unless they were well-prepared. Don’t throw them into the ocean of information on the Internet unless you can say the same.”

The risk of caring too much

The question does exist, and it is an important one, whether there is a risk of parents and caregivers being over protective about how those in their charge interact with the online world.
Leibowitz believes that if the right apps, platforms and security software are in place, the risk of over-protection is moot, as these earlier choices should take such considerations into account. 

Leibowitz believes that by having relevant conversations and using the right apps, platforms and security software, they are actually being responsible caregivers as would be expected.  

“However, I do think we can become overprotective in the way we deal with social media issues and how we educate on the risks,” she says. “Let’s show them how to use technology in a positive way and help them to be responsible digital citizens, instead of throwing the devices out of the window and saying it is bad.”

Leibowitz also believes that to be an effective caregiver, instead of documenting those in your care’s life by being behind the camera and constantly sharing these memories online, , be present and enjoy it with them. 

“Instead of being the spectator, be the one they connect with daily,” she says.

How do you keep the balance between online safety and privacy? Let us know in the comments below.