Don't take the '10-year challenge' at face value

By now everyone has seen the “10-year challenge” meme: you share a photo of yourself from a decade ago alongside another that’s recent. It’s a way to show friends how well – or how poorly – you've aged, and to share and comment on photos of others on social media. Seems like harmless fun, right? 

Maybe, but maybe not.  

The perfect data set

No one is sure where the “challenge” originated, and questions are arising about whether it’s a data mine for facial recognition software. It’s easy to see how that’s possible, because the meme incorporates the perfect data set: millions of people self-attesting that this photo is them 10 years ago, and that one is them now, attached to the same identity.  

Your face is increasingly becoming a key part of your online identity. Giving it out without securing it could come back to haunt you.  

The old notion of a photo – a moment in time, captured and shared with family and close friends in an innocuous setting – is long gone. Photos can be weaponized and used to attack your online identity, to defraud you, even to break into your devices. 

Those pics are part of your biometric data

Biometric data include your face, your thumbprint, retinal scans, and in China software has been developed that can even identify people solely by the way they walk! “Gait recognition” surveillance may (hopefully) never be part of life in the Western world, but other less obvious ways of tracking people are on the rise, such as DNA kits sold by various companies, some of whom disclose in their terms of service that by participating, you grant royalty-free, perpetual licence to your DNA to the company doing the testing. 

These DNA kits could reveal that you have a genetic disease, and if that info were ever sold to insurance companies, that could adversely impact you and your family.  

How private do we need to become?

Photo sharing is huge and it’s getting people in major trouble, from the “sextortion” of Tony Clement, to “deepfakes” that create a realistic depiction of someone from the massive volume of available photos, applying their image to videos that look scarily legitimate.  

The more images of yourself out there, the more data there is to work with, and the easier it is for your image to be weaponized against you. 

It’s probably not realistic to tell people to stop sharing photos of themselves online, but it doesn’t hurt to be skeptical and think carefully about how your participation in these things – DNA testing kits, quizzes on social media, trends like the 10-year challenge – could be used against you. 

Privacy is not dead!

If anything, privacy is more important now than ever, as tech users are realizing that the more info they give out, the more they may be compromising their identity – their whole life. Privacy requires people to be educated and empowered about the limits and failings of technology, and to act accordingly. 

A parent's guide to protecting your kids online

In recent months, a handful of New Brunswick families found out the hard way that if kids have internet access, they also have access to all the bad things that come along with the online world. Four children between the ages of eight and twelve voluntarily sent nude images or videos of themselves that were later discovered by RCMP on various unspecified free websites.   

Perhaps the only positive outcome from this story is that because it hits so close to home, it serves as a much-needed wake-up call to other parents, who will often say, “My kid wouldn’t do that” — but we’re learning that, in 2019, you may know your child, but if you don’t monitor their internet activities, you can never really be sure what they’re up to.  

Prevention, not punishment

This stuff is scary, but there are effective ways of protecting kids from the darker side of this age of connectivity. Rather than punishing negative behaviour after the fact, prevent it. 

How, you ask? Two approaches work. 

First: Maintain an open dialogue with children about what’s acceptable online. Make yourself out to be an ally, not an enemy, so that kids feel comfortable bringing issues to you before they even begin.  

Ask kids who they’re talking to online, explain to them that adults shouldn’t be pursuing relationships with kids, talk about healthy versus unhealthy relationships, about ways to get out of uncomfortable situations online, and talk openly about what kinds of thing you do online so children know how the internet should be used.  

Second: It doesn’t get much more tangible than physically removing devices from kids’ bedrooms —especially anything with a webcam. They don’t need it!  

Prevent your child from seeing things they shouldn’t online by changing some basic security settings — monitor the settings of the device itself, as well as your ISP settings.  

Take safety a step further by plugging a cool gadget like CleanRouter or Circle into your router. These control what all other devices are able to do while on the Wi-Fi network at home: they can filter out age-inappropriate content, set internet curfews, and generally monitor what kids are doing online. 

It can happen to you, but it doesn’t have to

Studies show that 60% of people under the age of 30 have created an intimate image of themselves — by the time a pic is snapped it can make its way out of your hands. If adults can fall victim to this kind of thing, kids obviously can too.  

It’s important to remind your children (and yourself!) of the legal implications of online activities — sharing intimate images without consent is illegal.  

A good guideline: Tell your kids, “Don’t do anything online that you wouldn’t do at the mall.” 

Alexa, what are you doing with my data?

Alexa, what are you doing with my data?

Well, that didn’t take long. The Amazon Echo has been on the market a few short years and already unnerving stories of the smart speaker’s failings are cropping up worldwide, including in Germany, where an Amazon customer took advantage of the new EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that grants individuals access to their personal data.  

StatsCan wants your personal financial data

StatsCan wants your personal financial data

On October 26, 2018, news broke that Stats Canada is asking financial institutions across Canada for “individual-level financial transactions data” for 500,000 randomly selected Canadians in order to develop a “new institutional personal information bank.” Data requested