Safer Internet Day 2019

On February 5, 2019, the world celebrates Safer Internet Day  “to raise awareness of emerging online issues”. In the Philippines, it is the Stairway Foundation, Inc. that will lead the first national celebration of the event, as mandated by the national government. Let’s dig deeper on what is involved in having a safe internet for everyone, our children and ourselves.

To be clear, the Stairway Foundation, Inc. has numerous exemplary programs, and I urge readers to check out their website, and perhaps support them. I am merely evaluating their CyberSafe program, which is aligned with the Safer Internet Day project.

The most talked about online issue, specially in 2018, is PRIVACY. In fact, the Philippines is now actively participating in keeping our data private via the National Privacy Commission. Keeping our data private, means keeping it secure and safe. So let’s take a look what the foundation above has in store for us.

Overall, the CyberSafe program is a good starter program. It addresses most of the online issues people encounter, specially children. The manuals are easy to understand, and follow. However, I have some issues with their program.

First and foremost, their websites, the foundation’s and the CyberSafe program’s, are “Not Secure”, according to my Safari web browser. I am sure that Chrome and Firefox will tag both as “Not Secure” as such as well, owing to the fact that they do not have a security certificate, i.e, no HTTPS, just HTTP. Whilst there is generally nothing wrong with not having HTTPS, but their website asks for your e-mail address and phone number when contacting them. Without HTTPS, anyone can easily eavesdrop and get your e-mail address and phone number in plaintext, i.e., not encrypted. It is good practice to be conscious of how your data is being transmitted, how your data is safe.

Being safe online is ensuring that your data is safe, and that your private and personal data are kept private and secure. However, in the manuals distributed on the CyberSafe website, the dangers of social media, particularly Facebook, are not highlighted, as if it is already inevitable that Facebook is a must have online. Note that being online on the internet does not only mean being on Facebook (or Instagram or Twitter) — which, unfortunately, a number of Filipinos do not know. Sadly, ordinary Filipino internet users equate the internet to Facebook.

Whilst the manuals include privacy, the manuals fail to explain how Facebook violates one’s privacy by collecting one’s data, within and outside of Facebook’s sites and applications. It is even worse that the CyberSafe program does not highlight how Facebook is using the data to manipulate users’ emotions, how Facebook designed their website and applications to make them addictive. There is no mention that Facebook shared their users’ data with developers.

CyberSafe highlighted the usage of children ages 18 and below of Facebook, without alarming students, teachers and parents of the dangers of Facebook. Despite the numerous studies that highlighted the ill-effects of Facebook to one’s mental health, with Facebook admitting to it , Facebook is no way safe for children most specially. However, CyberSafe ignores all of these, and instead of steering children away from harm and keeping them safe, the program provides a false-sense of safety.

In addition to Facebook, unless I missed it, there is no mention of the data collection being done by Google, and how to it tailors search results based on your online profile, as derived from all the data it collected about you. Highlighting what data is being collected when do search, use Gmail, Android, Maps, etc., and how it is used is no where mentioned on the CyberSafe program.

Whilst privacy (and security) is just one issue that needs to be explained, in detail, to young internet users (heck even to adults!), it is one of the most important issues to discuss, and I believe that this is where Stairway Foundation, Inc.’s CyberSafe program failed.

Finally, except for the privacy part, specially those that use Facebook as examples, the other issues tackled and explained by the CyberSafe program are sufficient as a starter guide, specially for children.