Privacy is only a concept, and we all have different definitions of what our privacy means. The NSA has been proven to have one, which many citizens feel violates their rights. Facebook has an incredibly complex end-user agreement that changes faster than most people get their hair cut. Online privacy and security for your family have become one of the biggest concerns for our generation. Gary Kovacs, CEO of AVG Technologies points out that in the next 5 years another 2.5 billion people will connect to the internet, doubling the number of people online. As parents, we snap photos and instagram special times so that family members thousands of miles away can be closer to the moment. We tweet our thoughts, post photos to online albums and we’re excited to buy our mother-in law a computer so she can skype with the kids from afar.

But we have reached a turning point. We are now realizing that the content we put forth on the internet is not secure. We must think of the future reputation of our children as we post funny baby pictures. And even scarier? Bad people can cross reference information and find out exact locations and schedules of our kids.

I’m a trusting person. I recently attended a launch event for AVG, a company that provides (free) internet security for people across all platforms. I’m all for banking security and things, but as a parent I’ve been posting photos and names of my kids without worry. Really, what could happen? I spent a full day learning and had extensive opportunities to interview the executive team. The experience has changed my approach to online security.  15 million people currently run the free AVG ‘Do Not Track‘ program so they control who knows they are going on certain websites.

Did you know that hackers can put code onto your computer so that the ‘google-type’ ads you see on the sidebar are not run through Google at all? If you buy the product in the ad the hackers make money…. Did you know that when you plug your cellphone into a public charger, information from your phone may be collected and sold?… That In mobile, credit card hacking is much easier? The mobile app silently sends your credit card number and you will likely not notice a $3 charge on your bill next month.. That even though you might not use your children’s names on the internet, that a file with your last name and image of your son’s photo can be cross-referenced with his newspaper birth announcement?  Bingo: the hacker now has a full name, image and (if data attached to the photo are present), a location.  And you thought Hallowe’en horror movies were scary.

If you work off a PC, AVG offers an incredible new internet security program for 2014 that highlights protection, privacy and performance.  I’m excited not only by the spy-like encryption and privacy, but the ability for the performance aspects to save my battery life so I’m not always seeking out a charger!  The most secure option, it costs just under $60 and boasts a ton of features.  There is also a free version if you are not dealing with sensitive information on your PC.

Highlights of AVG 2014:
– Anti-virus and anti-malware protection
–  Anti-spam
– Online shield, which screens incoming links and files to make sure they are secure
– File Shredder, which permanently deletes sensitive information (it overwrites the files you want deleted)
– Data safe, which encrypts and stores your files for extra security.  You can create ‘safes’ of sensitive information.  Like when you don’t want your kids to see your tax documents.
– AVG Do Not Track, AVG Identity Protection, Anti-Spyware, and AVG WiFi Guard prevent spying and data theft
– Enhanced Firewall protects banking and credit card information
– AVG Turbo Scan, Game Mode, and AVG Smart Scanner enhance performance
– AVG Accelerator gives you faster video streaming.  Yes please!!

For mobile (iOS, Windows and Android) AVG offers some of the following apps for each platform: image shrinker (smaller photos), tuneup, privacyfix, cleaner (clean up cached memory), uninstaller (removes little-used apps), family safety (protects kids from unsafe websites) and safe browser (avoids malicious sites).  SIM Lock and Camera trap were added this year.  If someone steals your phone it takes a photo of their face and sends it to authorities.  Gotcha.

Here are the other tips I learned for keeping your family safe online:

1. Passwords should be a series of random words like ‘LakeCheeseSkirt’ to prevent people guessing. If you have to add a year, don’t make it your birthday, and for goodness sake, as an employer who has waded through piles of resumes, PLEASE don’t make your email address.

2. Software like PrivacyFix should be running on all of your devices. It allows you to monitor all of the end user agreements for Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, Google + and programs that have access to your accounts so that you can control your own privacy to the degree that you feel comfortable. You can remove Facebook ‘friends’ from seeing all of your updates and regain control of your online profile.  It’s interesting when you set it up that you are given your personal ‘worth’ as a dollar amount to each program.  It starts to hit home that our information and the way we engage online has value to many players.

3. Turn off location settings when sharing photos, and also do not name the photos with your children’s names. Google will cross-reference names and locations and even if you name a photo Dave.jpg and your account is under your own last name, it will put the two together and your child can be recognized. 20% of kids now have an online profile before they are even born. I spoke to a colleague today and she warned that this can cause classism and repercussions for the rest of their lives. Before they are born. OMG.

4. Always register domain names for your kids so nobody else can take them. This is step 1 of reputation management. GoDaddy allows you to register and when they are older they will want to own it. It’s like a resume. You won’t want 4 axe murderers with the same name to appear in search results above your kids when they are interviewing for jobs. Employers will always Google and the ownership of their online reputation is a professional must. $10 per year is a drop in the bucket for reputation management (think of it as an RESP). You can set up a free wordpress site for them, but just owning the domain is enough.

5. While you are at it, register their names on twitter (and yours) and set up a google alert for all of your names. You will then know if any of you are ever mentioned on the web. (This works for exes and celebrities too. Just saying.)

6. Don’t allow your kids access to your work email account. They may send something by mistake or seek revenge during an angry episode, which could hinder your reputation with colleagues.

7. Never allow the kids to have the password to download apps on their devices. Many apps are free, but the in-app purchases than many kids don’t understand they are buying will set mom and dad up with a massive bill.

8. Make a rule in the house such as a ‘tech basket’ so during certain times like dinner or after school, the tablets and phones are put in one location for the entire family and personal interaction is necessitated.

9. Know passwords for your kids’ devices and keep them by your own bed at night. Check them often. One friend who hosted an exchange student disabled the internet at night so the student could not skype or go online.

10. Be very aware of end-user agreements. Some games meant for 6 year olds request access to location and other data and this is not necessary in the least. They are possibly preparing to sell the data such as location information although the actual game doesn’t need location information to run. Don’t let your kids play these seemingly innocuous games. Clicking ‘Accept’ at each step isn’t necessarily a great thing.

11. Change all passwords regularly.

12. Dump everything on your computer to an external hard drive. Photos, music, documents and emails. Trust us. You don’t want to lose any of your memories or records.

We interviewed AVG Technologies executives Yuval Ben-Itzhak, Chief Technology Officer and Tony Anscombe, Senior Security Evangelist about keeping our families and children safe online.

The important thing to remember about internet security, safety and privacy is that you should have the control to set different programs and applications at different levels. If it is overly complex, that is a bad sign. From what I learned, AVG provides a ton of value free of charge with extra options for people who require it. I am so grateful especially for PrivacyFix. I had no idea. And I’m a good mom. We all want to protect our kids no matter what and it’s pretty scary when we don’t even know they are at risk.