Quick guide to Internet privacy for families

Over the weekend we activated an iPhone for our teenager. I decided to put this guide together for other families who might be less technologically inclined.

Picking the right device

  1. iPhones and iOS ecosystem are fundamentally more secure and private than Android.
  2. Apple doesn’t make money from tracking people. Google does.

There is no shame in using Android or letting Google track you, but make your own decisions wisely and read terms of service.

Securing passwords and identity information

Do not use the same password for different services. Make sure that you can access critical accounts in the event of an emergency.

  1. Get a 1Password Family plan and use it to generate unique passwords for each service you use. Yes, the cost is worth it.
  2. If given an option, use 1Password to create a new account — do not allow apps to authenticate you against Google or Facebook.
  3. Create two shared vaults. One for adults in the family to share passwords to critical accounts, such as banks, life insurance, utilities, etc. Create another one to share PINs and passwords with your child. When your child turns the age of majority, review the critical accounts with them as well.
  4. Just like it is a good idea to share necessary credentials for significant accounts with your spouse in the event of an emergency, explain to your child that you have no intention of violating their privacy but knowing their passwords is for emergencies only.

Secure email

Email services like Gmail are not private.

  1. Use ProtonMail for secure messaging within the family. If each family member has a ProtonMail account, you can be assured that no one else can decrypt messages. You can send bank statement to your spouse knowing that no one else can see them.
  2. Second best is Apple iCloud. Apple doesn’t make money from scanning your emails. Apple does store your messages in an unencrypted form on Apple’s servers, so bear that in mind.
  3. Do not use Gmail, Hotmail, or any other free email service that lures you in with unlimited storage and what not. Google scans your emails to track you for advertising purposes and so do other similar services. If you do use these services, assume that your emails are not secure.
  4. You can use Gmail and such for signing up for newsletters and various other spam-like mailings. For example, you can use Gmail to sign up for a store loyalty program.
  5. Use secure email, preferably Proton, to sign up for bank statements.

My preference is to have two accounts — a ProtonMail account for private, secure emails; and a Gmail account for everything else.

Separate “media” from “social”

Try to maintain a social network without the “media” part. Stay away from social networks such as Facebook and Twitter that don’t separate “social” from “media.” Luckily, teens don’t want to use either of these services and the ones they do prefer give them a lot more control (i.e., Instagram and Snapchat).

  1. Apple iMessage is end-to-end encrypted, and you can create a family group chat. If your extended family does not use Apple phones, the next best alternative is Viber.
  2. You can use Apple Photos to share photo albums, Instagram style.
  3. If you must use Instagram or Snapchat, make your account private and approve all followers. Do not connect with people you don’t know in person. Periodically review who you follow and who your followers are and prune the list.

Secure notes and documents

Remember that services like Google Keep and Evernote store your notes on their servers and they can scan them. While it is highly unlikely, a breach may result in a leak of your records. Do not store anything in plain text on the Internet that you don’t want on the front page of the New York Times one day!

  1. Do not store private information in Evernote such as social security numbers, passwords, or accounts numbers.
  2. Use 1Password to save documents and notes in an encrypted form.
  3. Services like Grammarly are popular with high school and college students, but remember – Grammarly stores your writing in plain text and scans it.

Enable location sharing

If you are using Apple devices, configure “Find My Friends” app to share your location with family members. Explain to your teen that this is not because you want to spy on her – this is for her safety so that in the event of an emergency all members of the family know where to find one another.