Other Opinion: Avoid online pitfalls of new school year


With online learning taking on added importance in the age of COVID-19, there are some scams, computer viruses and other hazards to steer clear of as families prepare for a new school year.

The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota encourages everyone to follow these tips to stay safe online this school year.

Warnings for parents:

Creating accounts on websites without permission. Social media sites are ripe with strangers with intentions that may be quite different than yours. When creating an account, some kids may falsely create a birthdate to meet the minimum age requirement. Know what your child is doing online, and keep track of the social media sites and accounts to which they have access.

Spam and junk mail. Kids often get junk mail, and since they don't have much online experience, are more likely to be susceptible to click on links and answer questions they probably shouldn't.

Understand apps. Short for “applications,” apps are downloaded software that operate on various devices, such as smartphones. However, certain apps might collect and share personal information about your child, or target your child with ads. Even free apps may include paid features, and children may not understand that some apps or game features cost money, since they were labeled as free to download.


File sharing sites. Many websites allow children to download free media. What they may not know is these sites often come with the risk of downloading a virus, allowing identity thieves to access the gaming device, personal computer or even cell phone that’s being used. From there, the cyberthief can track financial transactions, physical location or even tap into the household WiFi without anyone knowing it.

Don’t share your location. Nearly every app automatically tracks a user’s location. From placing an online order for groceries or fast food to playing an online game, review the apps on all of your devices to see which ones are tracking your location. Then, if it's not needed, look in the settings to see how to disable this feature.

Use parental controls if necessary. Although the best way to keep a child’s online privacy safe is to teach them to manage it themselves, it doesn’t hurt to have their backs by using parental controls. Today Android, iOS, and most web browsers offer built-in features that allow parents to monitor their children’s online activities, but third-party apps are available as well. Research the option that works best. Follow through with the child the reasons why you're monitoring their activities.

Advice for teachers and administrators:

Video conferencing tools. Just like businesses, make certain the online software used to deliver lectures, classroom work and other online interactions is secure. The days of Zoom bombing, phishing and other forms of cyber criminal activity aren't over.

Evaluate and update cyber-security plans. The sudden shut down of in-person activities left many scrambling to change course in creating and delivering a curriculum. Now is the time for educators to create a plan to notify students, faculty and staff should there be a data breach or security problem once classes are back in session.

Keep a clean machine. Backing up critical lesson plans, personal information and assignments is the best defense against viruses, malware and other online threats. The only way to do this is to stay up to date on the most current software to protect against them.

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