Even if we personally take digital privacy seriously and are mindful of our online presence (e.g. by limiting our digital footprint and practicing cyber-hygiene), it is our loved ones who can turn out to be the "weakest link" in the chain of our cyber security.
Of course, not all friends and family are the same when it comes to digital literacy skills; however, we can expect that realistically there is at least one person with low digital literacy skills in everyone’s circle of friends and loved ones. We may not need to "educate" everyone about online risks, but it would be wise to at least talk to our closest friends and family about their online habits.
Here are some of the ways your close friends and family can seriously impact your privacy in the digital world:
* (Over)sharing online
Sharing content online is an activity practiced by all generations - from the youngest (sometimes even from preschool age) to grandparents. The likelihood that no one in your family or friends shares content from their life online is very small, and most likely most of your friends and relatives do. However, there is a difference between occasionally sharing "harmless" photos, status updates, etc. and constant, daily sharing of all kinds of data about yourself and your environment.
People who share "too much" (including regular location sharing, tagging, "live" videos, etc.) knowingly or unknowingly expose those around them and those who are in their closest circle. You may have already found yourself in a situation where someone recognizes you or asks about a family dinner or outing, while you had not even realized there was a photo or video taken let alone that it was shared on social media. Excessive sharing (especially of videos and location) not only negatively affects the privacy of those who share this kind of information, but it also can affect the people in their immediate vicinity as well.
* Too much trust in certain individuals, institutions, companies
People tend to trust established presences in everyday life, such as celebrities, influential businesses and brands. Therefore, it is easier to deceive someone via email if a malicious message is "disguised" as being sent by Google or Facebook, or a famous football player or your bank. What happens when these established presences interact (and make demands) with your relatives and friends? If your friends received messages on chat or by e-mail with requests to update information about you (as their close friend/family), they should be aware that it is a trap and they should let you know immediately. These requests can sometimes seem very convincing, using various psychological tricks to appear genuine. In order to minimize the risk of falling prey to such messages, you can have a "contract" with your loved ones to never share sensitive information and data with third parties without prior explicit permission from you (ideally given via a phone call in each individual case).
Legitimate companies and institutions never ask for sensitive data from third parties - they directly contact the data holders.
* Not valuing their own privacy
A lot of people do not value privacy as a concept and, in many cases, even consider it dangerous to be too private. Depending on your social context, privacy in your country or region may be historically associated with negative phenomena (e.g. privacy was and still is highly valued by spies, terrorists, and other bad actors). Your loved ones may lean toward the "if he/she has something to hide/wants to keep private, something must be wrong" attitude. For many people around the world, where concerns around safety due to, for instance, state surveillance, is a daily reality, and seeking to increase one’s privacy can raise questions about the safety of the individual. However, even if protecting your privacy does not put your security at risk, many people attach very little value to privacy.
If someone does not value their own privacy, it is harder for them to comprehend why someone would value theirs. When talking to people who take better care of their online presence, such individuals might get frustrated or offended at attempts of privacy protection. In general, when people do not value something personally, they tend to not value it in other people as well.
If your friends and family see privacy as a "luxury" they may consider your attempts at limiting your digital footprint as a "nuisance." They may not take any steps to protect your personal information, and will see your efforts as futile or even silly.
Do you agree with the ways in which our loved ones can affect our privacy as described above?
Maybe your family is different, but if you see yourself in the above text, what matters is what you do next. We are all constantly learning when it comes to digital security and privacy, and it should not be at all embarrassing if you find yourself (or your loved ones) reflected in the article. It may be a good time to sit down with your partner, parents or grandparents, and have a heart-to-heart about their constant tagging in pictures and sharing private information about you. You may also decide to do this online, dedicated course on Digital Safety and Security together with your family members: