Fostering Online Privacy for Seniors

with Debra Berlyn of The Project to Get Older Adults onLine (GOAL)

The Pew Research Center reports that the number of older Americans using web-connected devices continues to rise. As seniors spend more time online, they can become targets of identity theft.

Debra Berlyn of Project to Get Older Adults onLine (GOAL) discusses how seniors can protect their online privacy.

Posted on:

Jul 31, 2019

Hosted by: Nathalia Ortiz
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Ortiz: There are 73 million people over the age of 60 in the United States. A Pew Research Center study reveals that 73% in that age range are Internet users and 53% of those have smartphones. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Nathalia Ortiz. Those percentages have increased dramatically over the past two decades. Joining me to talk about this is Debra Berlyn. She is the Executive Director of Project GOAL. Welcome, Debra. Berlyn: Thank you very much. It's great to be here.

Ortiz: Thank you. [So that's the good news, right, that there's been an increase in people over the age of 60 who are using the Internet and other technology and those sorts of devices. What would you say are some of the concerns I know you wanted to address?

Berlyn: Well, this is great news because this has happened in the past decade or two that Internet use has increased dramatically, as well as smartphone use, which has increased dramatically in just the past couple of years. And what this means is that older adults are taking great advantage of being digital-device users, going online, communicating with friends and family, and having --

Ortiz: Participating in the world, right?

Berlyn: Participating in this great new world we have. But it also means that they are very concerned about their privacy online, as older adults are and all consumers are. And we really need to have a national privacy law to protect everyone, and we're relying on Congress to take that action as soon as they can. But in the meantime, there are things that consumers and older adults need to do, steps they need to take on their own to protect their privacy.

Ortiz: So let's step back a few steps there. You said Congress needs to pass laws that protect privacy. Where are we in that process? Are we even starting in that process?

Berlyn: Well, they're working on it. They're in the process now. There's no bill that is ready to go, but they're working on it, and we hope] that they will take that action before the end of the year because everyone needs those privacy protections. We need something that will be across all providers and something that consumers then can have to protect them. But in the meanwhile, what do you do?

Ortiz: Yeah.

Berlyn: When you don't have that national privacy protection, what do you do?

Ortiz: Let's talk about that. What are some of those tips or steps that you recommend people? Especially those over the age of 60, who may not be aware of how to protect their privacy online?

Berlyn: Well, first of all, you know, I think we all, when we go onto a new site, we see these terms and conditions that we see, and at the end it says "accept." What do we do? We scroll to the very end and we check that box and we say "accept." And there was an interesting study done in 2017 that found that 91% of us don't read them.

Ortiz: Including those under 60, as well, I'm sure, yes.

Berlyn: Including all of us, exactly. So first step is read those privacy policies. Take a look at what they're doing with your information. They are collecting information. They, the providers, are collecting information about you, and you should know what they are doing with that information. And if there are options, take a look at them and see what you can do to manage those options. [Every social-media site also has privacy controls that you can enable yourself. Take advantage of those, and do that.

Ortiz: Deleting cookies, using strong passwords or pass phrases, as well.
Berlyn: Exactly, exactly. You should enable strong pass phrases, which is something new that I've just recently learned.

Ortiz: Right.

Berlyn: More than just a password. A sentence, for example, instead of a word is something that we should all try, and change them frequently, of course.

Ortiz: And do you know what? Just on a personal level, I started implementing the pass phrase, you know, concept, as well, and it's helped me to even remember things. And to maybe have a pass phrase that resonates with me for some -- I don't know, I'm living some sort of thing, and I want to remember that. And so it's actually kind of -- I think it's helpful on many levels. What would you say is the place to go for people to learn more about these things?

Berlyn: So, if you have problems -- and a lot of consumers do. They run into situations where they're being taken advantage of. The FTC has a complaint center, so I would recommend that consumers, if they want to file a complaint, that they go to the site and do that. There's also a great deal of information on the FTC's website that offers consumers tips on how to learn about scams, fraud, privacy, as well. So that's kind of a one-step process.

Ortiz: Got it, yeah.

Berlyn: So that's probably the best place to start.

Ortiz: Thank you so much, Debra Berlyn, for visiting us from Project GOAL, and thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit I'm Nathalia Ortiz.

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