Privacy awareness week: How to safeguard online privacy for Australian students

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

As technology continues to shape our daily lives, the protection of personal information is a critical issue. And with the rise of remote work and online schooling, are children are more vulnerable to privacy breaches?

Privacy Awareness Week serves as a reminder to prioritise privacy and data protection for all individuals, including Australian schoolchildren.

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) is leading the annual event, in partnership with State and Territory privacy regulators and members of the Asia Pacific Privacy Authorities. This year’s theme, “Back to Basics,” highlights the fundamental importance of privacy and aims to encourage everyone to prioritise privacy in their daily lives, as well as children. 

EducationDaily asked ESET Australia, the digital security leader behind the Safer Kids Online platform and CyberPASS, a leading online education tool for parents and kids, to share their insights on protecting children’s online privacy for Privacy Awareness Week. 

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“It has become easier for the bad actors to target children via online platforms, specifically socials and gaming. These bad actors take advantage of children’s innocence and befriend them to extract personal information about themselves or their family,” says Parvinder Walia, ESET APJ President, and someone with fifteen years’ experience in the technology and cybersecurity landscape. “Breaches of children’s privacy can have devastating consequences, ranging from cyberbullying and doxing, to fraud and identity theft. In particular, identity theft involving children can go undetected for many years, in some cases until the child reaches adulthood.”

Craig Dow Sainter is Managing Director at Roar Film and Roar Educate, the creators of CyberPASS, which identifies the skills and knowledge gaps in students around cybersafety through online surveys.

While he believes that Australian children are getting better at protecting themselves, their research indicates there’s always room for improvement in the dynamic landscape of online technology.

“On the whole, the majority of students – 70 per cent-plus – come to CyberPASS knowing the importance of keeping theirs, and others’, personal information private. But as can be seen through our Student Online Safety Index, where they fall down is in their knowledge of how to manage basic privacy settings across the multitude of apps they use. This is, in part, due to the fact that many social platforms have default states set to public sharing, and access to privacy settings is less than intuitive.” 

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Cybersecurity, educational and tech experts all agree that it’s important to teach kids the basics of safe online behaviour, including not sharing personal information with strangers online, such as their full name, home address, phone number, or school name. 

Education is the key, says Dow Sainter, “Understanding what is private information and how to protect it is at the root of being a smart and safe user of technology. And not just your information, the safety of others is dependent on all users respecting others’ information and knowing it is theirs, and not ours, to share. But privacy is not an optional extra, it’s paramount and the only tool we have is education.” 

Parents and adults have a responsibility, particularly those with younger kids, says Walia,

“To protect children’s privacy online, it is important for parents and adults to proactively take steps to minimise the risks of online threats. This includes educating kids about the risks associated with sharing personal information online, setting up parental controls to filter out inappropriate content and limit screen time, and monitoring their online activities to identify any potential dangers,” he says.

Walia also recommends other best practices.

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“It is also important to be cautious about sharing personal information online, such as photos which can be used to identify or target children. Encouraging children to use strong passwords and avoid sharing them with anyone can also help protect their privacy online. Finally, teaching kids about safe online behaviour, such as not clicking on suspicious links or downloading unknown files, can be a critical step in preventing cyberattacks and keeping them safe online.” 

The role teachers play in protecting privacy for Australian students

Teachers particularly have a role to play, says Dow Sainter.

“In the past 12 months, we’ve seen the fallout for many millions of Australians when their private information is hacked and shared publicly,” he says. “This has sparked a public debate about what companies need our personal data for and whether or not they need to keep it on file years after the fact. Many kids are aware of the headlines and stories. 

“In our experience, students love contemporary debate, so creating classroom discussions around the need for data to be held by organisations against the right of the individual to privacy can create engaging lessons and help students reflect on what they’re happy to give away to corporate entities that use their data for profit.” 

Privacy Awareness Week highlights the importance of protecting personal information and having these discussions and implementing tools to strengthen the privacy of our children, to keep them safe and teach them good online behaviour. 

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Staying one step ahead of online cyber criminals

But the online world is constantly innovating, and so are the cybercriminals. It’s not a perfect world, so even when implementing protective measures, there’s still associated risk. 

In the event that a child’s or student’s privacy is breached, Walia recommends acting quickly. “It is essential to act swiftly to limit the damage. If the breach involves doxing or personally identifiable information, contact the relevant authorities, such as the police, to report the incident and obtain further guidance on how to safeguard yourself. If the breach originates from a school, notify them immediately to enable appropriate action to be taken. Changing passwords for any accounts that may have been compromised is also vital to prevent further unauthorised access. 

“Educating the student about safe online behaviour and the risks of oversharing personal information is also a critical step to help prevent future breaches.” 

As a parent, guardian, or teacher, it is important to understand children’s privacy rights and take steps to protect their personal information, and make sure they understand the risks and benefits too. Having the conversations and enhancing kids’ awareness is a fundamental defence tool for their protection now and as they mature into adulthood, engaging in smart online security practices and behaviours. That’s what Privacy Awareness Week is all about. 

Good privacy practice is imperative for everyone to enjoy the benefits of online activities. By promoting good privacy practices and raising awareness, we can create a safer and more secure online environment for Australian children, now and for the future. 

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]