Shared devices and privacy: how to create boundaries for your family

What did you do on your device today? Email? Pay a bill? Check your social media? Read the news? Shop? Now imagine if your child or partner was able to see, watch and read everything that you did. They can if you share devices. And it’s pretty common, most families do.

Think about the last time you were at a restaurant, airport, or in the grocery store line (or any line for that matter). There was probably a quiet, docile child transfixed by a screen. Depending on the age, it could have been the child’s own phone. But chances are, the parent handed over his or her phone or family tablet to help pass the time.

That’s how privacy problems can pop up. With March marking Fraud Prevention Month, it’s a great time to start thinking about building better boundaries for your family-shared devices, especially if your phone password is common knowledge in your household. Without vigilance, you can unknowingly expose your own private information or have the wrong eyes see the wrong things. Here are some steps you can take to share devices more safely with family members:

  • Log out: most of the time, on our devices, we stay logged into social media, streaming, e-commerce and communication apps. It can be a pain to log in and log out each time you’re using an app, but it can protect your privacy if other family members are using your device.
  • Turn off push notifications: eliminate the possibility of family members seeing snippets of texts or alerts from sites that you may follow that aren’t age appropriate.
  • Set up profiles: many popular applications (i.e. Netflix, Amazon Households) give you the option of creating multiple profiles in one account. Having separate profiles means that only you see what you watched or bought or what the app recommends for you.
  • Control recommendations: e-commerce sites like Amazon give you the ability to control your recommendations. It’s a helpful way to stay discreet about your shopping habits – whether you’re buying gifts for yourself or your family.
  • Browse privately: sometimes referred to as incognito mode, private browsing allows you to surf the net discreetly and prevent scenarios where family members may see ads for things that you’ve perused online.
  • Track usage: both Apple and Android offer family sharing capabilities, so you can set limits for your family including tracking app usage, blocking applications/notifications at certain times, choosing appropriate apps and managing in app purchases.

It’s important to note that managing privacy on family-shared devices varies by device. Similar to your desktop or laptop, Android devices do offer the option of multi-user support. You can set up multiple profiles on one device, separating user accounts and application data. Apple has yet to offer this option for iPhones and iPads for the mainstream. However, iPads being used in the education setting do have this capability, so it’s definitely possible that multiple users will be able to share an Apple device more effectively in the future.

While it can be tempting to hand over your phone in a long grocery line or on a long flight, it’s still important to be vigilant about privacy – even amongst family members. It’s easy to take for granted what we do, buy and consume on our devices, until we step back and imagine exposing our device habits and activities to a family member. Employing a few simple steps can help you protect your privacy and teach your family about the importance of creating boundaries for how you use your shared devices.

Read the TELUS Wise Tip Sheet for more advice on digital safety and privacy.