Protect Online Privacy

Strategies to protect users’ personal information

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When building a social product, one of the crucial things to determine is how you will handle PII (Personally Identifiable Information).

It’s important that you educate yourself on the best practices and standards based on the age group you’re targeting. There may even be legal implications to allowing certain types of PII (real name, phone number, email address, physical address, and more) on your platform. And children’s products are not the only ones affected. General and mature audiences both deserve careful consideration when it comes to PII, as those communities can still be harmed when their personal information is shared online with or without their consent. As well, anonymous networks — which tend to have mature audiences — need a way to prevent users from sharing personal information.

Your best option is to leverage the experts and use a proven content filter. Community Sift will help you take care of tricky privacy issues and ensure that you are covered. We understand privacy restrictions across the globe, so we’ve done the hard work for you. We’ve programmed hundreds of language patterns into our system that label and filter PII like real names, phone numbers, and addresses, and more in real time.

Your community is unique, and so is your privacy policy. Maybe you’re fine with users sharing outgoing links to other websites, but not phone numbers. Maybe you want to allow PII everywhere except in usernames. Maybe you have different standards for comments and private chat. You don’t have time to build this framework yourself — it’s expensive and time-consuming, and your resources should be directed to building a great product.

Here are some tips when considering your stance on PII in your social product, based on your targeted age group:

  • Child-directed: Internet safety for kids is critical. Child predators are known to use children’s products to nurture relationships with young people, so when minors are able to share PII they put themselves at risk. By law in the US, if your product is targeted at users 12 and younger, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) legally requires you to keep PII out of your product. As well, some kid-related certifications like kidSAFE Seal will require that you have effective and proven strategies for dealing with Personally Identifiable Information. Regardless of demographic, companies in the EU must consider the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield when determining how they handle PII.
  • Family-Friendly: Family-Friendly products are directed towards all ages, although portions of the experience may be age-gated. This means that you have to consider the legal ramifications of allowing PII alongside how much freedom you grant the older members of your audience. Our advice for family-friendly social products? Err on the side of caution and block most, if not all, PII regardless of the user’s age. This keeps everyone safe and can help you achieve COPPA compliant standards as well.
  • General: Teens between 13 and 17 are still considered minors, so it’s important to plan how you will handle PII in your teens-and-up platform. Teenagers often lack fully-developed judgment and reasoning, and when given the opportunity, may share personal information with a stranger without realizing how dangerous it is. Given their greater independence and freedom, teens who share personal information are also in positions to meet strangers offline. Finally, sharing PII can lead to cyberbullying, harassment, and abuse, all of which are huge issues for teens online.
  • Mature Audience: At first glance, it may not make sense to block PII in an adult-oriented product. After all, adults are free to make their own decisions, and should be allowed to share their real names, phone numbers, and addresses if they choose to, right? Maybe — but have you considered how you will handle users giving away someone else’s personal info, especially for malicious purposes? Doxxing — the practice of distributing someone else’s personally identifiable information without their consent — has become a very real issue in social networks and online communities, and is an important consideration for product owners when shaping their online community. Online privacy is an issue for mature users as well as children.

All of these options can seem overwhelming, but luckily you have experts on your side. We work with a wide variety of products in the industry and are familiar with the unique needs of different audiences, and we would love to help you.

Contact us today to discuss your community's legal and privacy requirements.

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