Google Offers Security Tips for Safer Internet

Google today joined with a group of prominent organizations to mark "Safer Internet Day," offering an updated menu of tips for safe Web surfing.

The search giant has refreshed its " Good to Know" page, which it first launched a year ago, with new emphasis on using Google's own security and privacy tools, device hygiene and tips to avoid identity theft.

Speaking at an event in Washington, Google's Public Policy Director Pablo Chavez emphasized the importance of creating strong passwords and not reusing them for multiple online accounts.

"Very concretely, it is very, very important for all of us to think very carefully about our passwords. So you should have a long password, it should consist of symbols, numbers and letters a combination thereof. You should not have the same password for all of your major services, right. So Twitter should a different password from Facebook should be a different password from Gmail," Chavez said.

"And, honestly, this is one of the things that I have to remind myself of, because, you know, in the physical world, would I ever create a key that would open my car and would open my house and would open my bank account all at once," he added.

Google Needs You to Feel Safe Online

For Google, participation in an event like Safer Internet Day comes as a recognition that trust is an essential element of a vibrant and healthy Web. It's surely not lost on a company whose profits rise and fall on the rate of activity online that confidence in the Internet experience is crucial.

"One of the reasons why--that Google is participating in this is because our user safety is a number one priority. We focus on this on the engineering side on a daily basis," Chavez said.

Safer Internet Day, an initiative of the nonprofit National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA), follows closely on the group's Data Privacy Day, which saw participation from leading industry players including Facebook and Microsoft.

NCSA's work on privacy and online safety issues comes amid an ongoing policy debate over what, if any, additional measures lawmakers and regulators should enact to protect consumers' personal information on the Web. The Federal Trade Commission, for instance, has been taking a hard look at data brokers and other firms that collect and share users' information for marketing purposes, and has called on Web browsers to adopt technology to disable tracking.

Internet Privacy Policy Debates Continue

Separately, the White House has issued a proposal for a consumer bill of rights, calling for greater transparency and clearer notice about what information Internet companies are collecting and how they are using it.

In Congress, lawmakers continue to debate various proposals for limiting data-collection activities, acknowledging that they must navigate a careful balance between consumer protections and choking off a primary source of revenue in the online economy.

Similarly, participants in the policy debate allow that there may be tradeoffs between privacy and security, and that a completely anonymous Web, while offering maximum privacy, would entail an unacceptable forfeiture of security and trust.

"I think when you look at these security issues you can't look at it as just being black and white, right? You can't just look at things like, 'Oh, if we have anonymity that's going to solve every problem.' There's no panacea here," said Stephen Balkam, CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute.

"If I'm about to transfer money, that should not be done anonymously. That should be done in a way that can verify really exactly who you are. And that, actually, probably requires us knowing something about each other that may not be readily apparent," Balkam said.

"I think anonymity protects certain things like human rights, freedom of speech, and those kinds of things, which are really essential elements of the Internet as well," Balkam said. "Then we have verification, authentication, which allow is to transact different kinds of things which require high levels of confidence that you are who you say you are. So I think we have to look at the Internet as being all those things combined."

Kenneth Corbin is a Washington, D.C.-based writer who covers government and regulatory issues for CIO.com. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, on Facebook, and on Google +.

Read more about privacy in CIO's Privacy Drilldown.

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