The dark side of technology

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Normal service has resumed. Christmas is special and merry, New Year is happy and friendly; but isn’t it nice to get back to a routine? Or am I just getting old? Don’t answer that please.

I remember a time when Christmas presents were personal, simple, special treats like scarves, gloves, toys to build and play with. Not any more or certainly not the normal. I’m talking gadgets - smart phones, tablets, computers - devices that connect you to the virtual world.

Now, like a lot of people I like gadgets. I like the portability of tablets, the instant messaging, the social media, the immeasurable amounts of information - Internet at your fingertips. But, as always in our line of work, there is a dark side. And with gadgets, that comes in a variety of forms.

Portability means easy for ‘sticky little fingers’ to steal and sell on. In certain places with certain people, stolen gadgets are a form of underworld currency, passing through several hands within hours of being liberated from their rightful owner.

Two things you can do to stop this trade - take steps to prevent your beloved device being lost/stolen in the first place (not rocket science - keep it out of sight when out and about, don’t leave it lying around, make it difficult for the thief); but also prepare a few things in case the worst does happen - register your beloved item on the home contents insurance, note the serial and IMEI numbers or better still, keep the original box, set up proper security measures on the gadget - passwords that protect, information back up systems that mean if your device is lost, your information will still be available. Service providers are often a great source of products and applications which can help target harden your beloved device.

There are loads of information on the t’internet about safeguarding your data...better to be safe than sorry.

The other aspect of gadgetry which often becomes police business is the more seedy side of the Internet - the grooming, the indecent imagery, the illegal pornography.

Children and young people spend a lot of time online – it can be a great way for them to socialise, explore and have fun.

But children do also face risks such as cyber-bullying or seeing content that’s inappropriate. The worst cases involve children being coerced into sending images of themselves to people they meet and chat to, who are often not who they make themselves out to be.

That’s why it’s important for them to know how to stay safe online.

Whether you’re unsure about what happens online or are up to speed with new technology, it’s important that you talk to your child about staying safe. Would you be happy for a complete stranger to walk into your house and sit chatting to you child in their bedroom with the door closed? No, then why would you accept a child in their room with internet on, chatting to the world and no monitoring?

It may feel daunting, but you don’t need to be an expert on the internet.

Understanding what children do online and the risks they face will help you keep your child safe. There are plenty of websites to help and give advice – the simplest advice being move the computer into a communal area of the house where parental monitoring can happen without being too onerous. Talking to children about the dangers and risks is the next best step.

All my police officers in Angus have a basic understanding of internet safety and can offer words of advice. We also have access to specialist officers and agencies who can do presentations to groups or provide more detailed advice to help keep everyone safe.

The internet is a wonderful and amazing modern development – we just need to know the basic safety rules.

Like always, if you need a hand, contact us at 101 or check out the Police Scotland website. We now have community officers for all the wards in Angus who are waiting on your call.

Enough for now. Stay safe.