National Safer Internet Day 2018

PC Gav McDevitt

By PC Gav McDevitt

A decade ago, internet safety was something of a niche concern. The last ten years have seen a dramatic change in the way we use the internet and the number of us that find it almost irreplaceably integrated into our every day lives. The most recent figures published by the Office of National Statistics suggest that 89% of all adults in the UK are internet users and, as smart devices and broadband connections become more affordable and accessible, it seems like that figure is likely to keep trotting up towards saturation point.

As the adoption of technology continues at exponential growth, it really is about time we start thinking about internet safety a little more carefully. In my experience of dealing with victims of internet enabled crime, there’s always been a common thread in their feelings in the aftermath. The intangibility of cyberspace affords people the idea that what happens there is somehow disconnected from the “real” world and that the two don’t interact with one another. Perpetrators of internet crime often express the same perceived disconnect between digital and real space, somehow feeling that their actions are mitigated by the fact that there’s no physical dimension to their offence.

Think about how you would feel if someone stole a £10 note from your hand as you walked down the street, then think about how you would feel if someone dipped it electronically from your bank account. The former seems more personal, more audacious. We consider the physical interaction with the thief to be somehow more invasive and shocking. The reality is, both are theft.

When I sat down to write this, I had intentions of throwing out some generic safety advice about strong passwords or digital footprints, but you can pick up advice like that pretty much anywhere and it kind of gets to the point where we hear it so often, it becomes background noise. So, my advice is that we stop thinking about internet safety as something separate from physical safety and start leading our digital lives with the same care as we take in the real world. It’s only when we get to the stage that setting strong passwords is as mundane as locking your front door, or we start treating what we say and do online with the same weight as what we would say or do in the street, that internet safety stops being something we need to promote but rather just becomes business as usual.

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[1] https://www.ons.gov.uk/businessindustryandtrade/itandinternetindustry/bulletins/internetusers/2017

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