Kids in the cloud: A guide for adults

“Get your head out of the clouds!” frustrated teachers and parents say to daydreaming children. But when it comes to their online activities, particularly in the case of cloud computing, it’s not just our children’s heads, but their entire identities that are floating around in the stratosphere. Clearly there are risks. But before we can understand and deal with those risks, we must first know what our kids are doing online.

By the numbers: Kids are mobile

With the rapid growth of mobile devices, kids have ongoing access to all kinds of cloud-based services: email, games on demand, streaming video and music, not to mention social networks. A recent Pew Internet Research report, Teens and Technology 2013, reveals that more than 37 percent of teens now have smartphones, up from 23 percent in 2003. In addition, 23 percent of them have tablets and 95 percent have Internet access.  And according to the Washington Post, social media sites such as Instagram and Facebook are attracting preteens in droves. Although the age limit is set at 13 for these sites, many children have no trouble getting past access hurdles.

Social networks: Sharing isn’t always caring

Kids are, after all, kids, and they are often sharing information about themselves via social networks that could get them into trouble.

  • A Pew Internet Research survey found that while teens are using privacy settings more frequently in their social media profiles, they are sharing more detailed information about themselves, which increases their vulnerability in case of breaches.
  • Preteens often post photos of themselves on social media sites without deleting identifying information — including location — making it easier to find them in the physical realm.
  • Kids are unlikely to read the fine print for the cloud-based social media services they use to share photos, videos and artwork — or to understand what they mean. Some of these agreements include conditions granting rights to the provider to reuse any content posted via their services for whatever purposes they choose.


Why worry? Cloudy, with low visibility

Many of the hazards children face in the cloud are similar to those presented by any online interaction. Certain characteristics of a cloud environment, however, intensify the risks:

  • Location: Where is the information in the cloud stored? It could be anywhere in the world, ratcheting up the potential for misuse.
  • Access control: Which employees in the hosting company have access to your child’s data?  Predators, internal hackers and identity thieves don’t necessarily come from the outside.
  • Security: What security does the hosting company have in place? What about the apps on your child’s tablet or phone? Each can have its own security policies — and vulnerabilities.

The opaque nature of the cloud makes it more important than ever for children to proceed with caution when sharing personal information online.

Flying high with a foot on the ground

So how do we protect kids from the inevitable risks they face online and in the cloud?  We can’t, completely. But we live in a digital world, and parents and teachers must help prepare children to survive — and thrive — in it.

All you can really do is be their adult guide. Talk with them about Internet safety on an ongoing basis. When they’re young, limit and monitor what they have access to, install the best available security tools and help them create strong passwords.

As they get older, make sure they know how to install and update protective software, use and monitor privacy settings and understand the ramifications of sharing too much information online. And then do what all parents and teachers must do at some point: Step back and watch them take flight.

Dell provides cloud computingBYODconnected security and education technology solutions for the digital age.

Kristin Fern Johnson
Kristin Fern Johnson works in Business Digital Marketing at Dell and writes about educational technology and cloud computing.
Kristin Fern Johnson
Kristin Fern Johnson
Tags: Business,Cloud Computing,Downtime,Education,IT Security,Technology