Millennials can help grandparents achieve stronger internet privacy

Millennials can help grandparents achieve stronger internet privacy
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It is not Labor Day or Thanksgiving, but National Grandparents Day has been a designated United States holiday for more than 40 years. The perfect gift that millennials, those born between 1981 and 1996, can give then to their beloved older relatives is better digital privacy protection.

Millennials, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center, are a digitally savvy generation. More than 90 percent of millennials own smartphones, and the vast majority at 85 percent say they use social media. Significantly larger shares of millennials have adopted relatively new platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat than older generations.

In contrast, the survey shows that grandparents, typically members of the silent generation, have not have been as enthusiastic in adopting a range of digital technologies in recent years. Less than a third of silents report owning a smartphone, and even fewer indicate that they have a tablet computer or use social media. Previous surveys by the Pew Research Center have found that the oldest adults face some unique barriers to adopting new technologies, from a lack of confidence in using new technologies to physical challenges manipulating various devices.

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Although not quantified, there also is a real fear among silents that they are poorly equipped to navigate their digital devices and online services to provide the necessary privacy protection against online scammers. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, “Older Americans are less likely to report a fraud because they do not know who to report it to, are too ashamed at having been scammed, or do not know they have been scammed. Elderly victims may not report crimes, for example, because they are concerned that relatives may think victims no longer have the mental capacity to take care of their own financial affairs.”

That brings us to a gift recommendation for all millennials on National Grandparents Day, which is an emailed card with a coupon for a one hour visit. When it is redeemed, focus on some key aspects of online privacy protection that can offer grandparents an increased level of confidence in connecting to the amazing digital capabilities that the internet offers.

Start with a conversation about how they are engaging online now and what they would like to do to make them they feel better about privacy concerns. Work with them on developing a series of passwords that will not be easy for someone to discover. Tell them to forget about family names, birthdates, anniversaries, or expressions like “I love you.” A few complex passwords, such as their high school mascots combined with their graduation years, should do the trick with their recall, but write passwords down in a journal that will be handy if memory is fuzzy.

Encourage them to only use credit cards for online shopping, which have a high level of transactional security. Using them instead of debit cards is the way to go, since there is a maximum liability of $50 for fraudulent charges and the ability to report them to the card issuer, which has a whole department to investigate and resolve unauthorized charges.

Show them the difference between a genuine trusted website and one that is fraudulent. For example, an email received from www.irs.gov is an official one sent by the Internal Revenue Service, while something from www.irs.us is a scam. Have them email or text you before they open anything that looks suspicious if there is any doubt so you can advise them accordingly. Customize their security settings for each of their devices, including browser controls that allow websites to track cookies, the tiny files that are transferred to a computer from a visited website.

Better online privacy protection can be passed up from younger to older generations, in a welcome reversal of the traditional pattern of elders handing their wisdom down to the offspring of their offspring. This gift is guaranteed to be greatly appreciated for both its novelty and utility. It can also help to forge more frequent communication afterwards between millennials and grandparents that is meaningful throughout the year.

Stuart Brotman is a former government official and fellow in digital privacy policy issues with the Science and Technology Innovation Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars based in Washington.