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Back-to-School Online Safety

Neville Pattinson Gemalto

Neville Pattinson

As the nation gears up to send its kids back to school, parents, guardians and teachers may find themselves shopping for the latest education-technology gadgets, particularly tablets and smartphones. But with these purchases come responsibility – on our part and the parts of the students who will be using them.

When we think of identity fraud, we tend to picture adults as the victims. But theft of children’s identities has become more commonplace in recent years. Given that more than one-third of middle-school students now use smartphones for schoolwork, our kids – and potentially our kids’ sensitive personal information – will likely soon begin spending far more time exposed to the online world.

That’s why we believe it’s so important for websites of companies catering to children to offer additional online-safety assurances to kids and their families. Added transparency about who will be interacting with children on a specific website, as well as verifiable credentials, will go a long way toward allaying parent and educator fears – and keeping minors’ personal data secure from hackers, identity thieves, phishers and marketing scammers.

I urge kid-centric sites to consider implementing an approach which would truly protect minors online. Parental control is key here. Essentially, a parent should oversee their children’s cyber presence. A parent should engage with specific content providers or an identity provider to establish their identity and then associate their children’s pseudo-anonymous online Identities to their account where consent has been granted. The use of pseudo-anonymous identities for kids helps keep any children’s personal identity information masked. The children could then use their online identities to access specific websites in a controlled and private manner. Ideally, all the companies opting into such a system could be added to a whitelist of kid-safe sites, creating a perimeter inside which both parents and children can be assured they are interacting with only other verified users.

Most important in creating and implementing such a system will be verifying the age of a user while keeping that user’s identity anonymous and secure. The site that succeeds there will be a leader in web-browsing safety.

It’s imperative for the good of our children and the future of the Internet that we have this conversation. By bringing this initiative to light, we’ll foster communication and collaboration between companies working on the back end to provide assurances to front-facing consumers (i.e., parents and teachers). Our end goal should be to implement a safe, secure and effective system to ensure child online privacy.


Neville Pattinson is the Senior Vice President for Government Sales at Gemalto, Inc. based in Austin, TX. Within that role he constantly evangelizes the need to move to smart card based solutions to protect both identity and privacy. Mr. Pattinson is a leading expert and thought leader on digital security identity solutions such as smart cards, electronic passports and hardware tokens that use secure microprocessor chips to keep identity credentials including biometrics secure and private.