The internet and our computers, smartphones and other devices are crucial to our way of life. Although the internet has many benefits, it also has some risks. Online safety is essential for both children and adults.
This document explains some of the risks and dangers online, and how you can keep yourself and your child safe.
It also tells you where to get more support and information on online safety and cybercrime.
How to keep your child safe online
If your child spends time online, you should understand the risks that could put them in danger. Online dangers include:
- Loss of privacy: Sharing information in public that should be kept private (after information is posted online, it is outside your child’s control)
- Inappropriate content: Adult material, hate speech, violence, dangerous dares or challenges
- Cyberbullying: Bullying in the form of abusive and threatening texts or emails, messages on social media and chat rooms, or the posting of photos or video clips
- Online grooming: Individuals targeting children through sexual coercion or extortion, usually on social media or gaming platforms
The most important thing is to communicate with your children about what they are doing online. Familiarise yourself with the apps and websites they are using.
Talk to your child about the important features and settings they can use, including:
- How to adjust the security and privacy settings
- How to block or unfriend someone
- How to delete their own profile and account
- How to deal with inappropriate content (such as: turn off the screen, use the back button, tell a trusted adult, or report the content to the website or app where they found it)
There are also practical ways to safeguard your child online. These include using:
- Parental controls: Allowing you to manage your children’s use of online services and devices
- Filters: Restricting access to specific content by using services such as SafeSearch on search engines
- Time tracker tools: Keeping track of your child’s social media use through tools available on social media apps
Learning about the internet is the most effective way for you to protect your child from online dangers. You can get lots of practical information and advice on online safety at:
- The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC): Has information on its parenting hub about online safety and children’s exposure to inappropriate content
- CyberSafeIreland: Works to educate children, parents and teachers in online safety and has a dedicated advice page for parents
- Webwise.ie: Gives you access to expert advice, information on the latest apps and social networks, and a how-to guide on setting up parental controls – on its parents’ hub
- Hotline.ie: Provides safety advice for parents and children using the internet
- National Parents Council Primary (NPC Primary): Has a helpline for parents on internet safety issues and also provides online and face-to-face training courses
- Safer Internet Day (SID): Is an EU-wide initiative to promote safer internet use for all, and is promoted in Ireland by PDST Technology in Education and Webwise
- Spunout.ie: Provides information on online privacy, safety and security – enter ‘online safety’ in its search box
How to protect yourself online
Adults should also be aware of potential threats and take measures to stay safe online. Cybercrime is increasingly common and comes in many different forms, so it is important to protect yourself.
You can read more in our document on how to avoid scams.
The growth of online shopping means people have greater access to goods and services. However, it also means that people are now more vulnerable to online scams.
Before making a purchase:
- Check to make sure you are buying from a real company
- If you can, pay securely by debit card, credit card or PayPal (which can offer extra protection for your payments)
- Never transfer money to people you do not know personally - money transfer payments cannot be traced, so you have no fall-back if things go wrong
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) has advice on buying online.
Internet scams can affect anyone at any time. Being aware of possible scams and knowing what to do can help you to protect yourself.
Common types of online scams include lottery and grant scams, romance scams, investment opportunity scams and working-from-home scams.
If you think you have been the victim of an online scam or fraud, you should report it to your local Garda Station. You should bring copies of all emails, account details, the advert or online posting, and any other relevant information you have.
Phishing and malware
Phishing is a type of scam where you can be deceived into revealing your personal or confidential information. This is often done in the form of an email which tricks you into downloading malware (malicious software) to your device. You could also be directed to a fake website designed to look like the legitimate website of a company or an online store.
Beware if you are redirected to a website and asked to enter your personal details. There have been many phishing scams where the emails or texts claim to be from well-known organisations, including banks and Revenue.
You should never click or download anything you do not trust (for example, if you get an unsolicited email or text from a company you do not know). You can opt out of receiving further communication or block the email or number.
You should be careful of web browser pop-ups that require you to install software or a plugin. Think carefully before clicking on banners and links if you do not know their true origin – and avoid websites with pirated material such as music or movies.
The Europol European Cybercrime Centre has information on malware basics.
How to report online crime or threats
Illegal content: If you come across illegal content online, you can report it anonymously and in confidence to the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPAI) service at Hotline.ie.
Financial transaction: You can dispute a transaction with your bank or credit card company if you did not authorise the transaction. Contact your bank or credit card company and request a chargeback. The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission has more information on chargebacks.
Personal information: You can report a complaint about the use of your personal data to the Data Protection Commission using the online form.
Legislation covering online safety
An EU directive deals with combating the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and with child pornography. In Ireland, the activities of Hotline.ie and the Garda blocking initiative fulfil article 25 of Directive 2011/93/EU. The Cybercrime division of the Department of Justice and Equality oversees these activities.
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) provides EU citizens with stronger data privacy rights. It also puts strict obligations on organisations in how they collect, store, and use personal data. The GDPR came into force across the EU on 25 May 2018.
In March 2019, the government published a new Online Safety Bill. The legislation aims at improving online safety for children. It proposes to appoint an Online Safety Commissioner (OSC) with regulation and enforcement powers to deal with disputes.
The An Garda Síochána website provides a local Garda station directory.