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U of T promotes safety, data protection and privacy issues through Online Smarts

 As a faculty member, how do you set boundaries when interacting online with students? As a student, how do you control who views your personal information on social networking sites like Facebook? And, as a parent, how do you protect your children and educate yourself about online hazards?

One website, developed by a group of U of T staff and students, will help you access the necessary information to navigate the Internet safely. Want to learn about security tools such as firewalls, figure out how to use Facebook wisely or develop some cyber rules for your children? Online Smarts ( is the place to start.

It became apparent, about a year ago, that there was a huge hunger for this kind of information at U of T, according to Paddy Stamp, U of T’s sexual harassment officer and one of the initiative’s key organizers. During a U of T Mississauga police session on online safety during the Take Your Kids to Work Day, many parents wanted more information. And at tri-campus community safety meetings and conference sessions on identity theft, the questions just kept coming. “We felt that U of T had a role to play in educating people about online risks,” Stamp notes.   

Five U of T Mississauga staff  – representing campus police and human resources – along with U of T’s community safety officer, coordinator of information technology and communications projects and Stamp formed the core group. Their goal: to develop an online safety website for all members of the U of T community – students, staff, faculty, parents and their children.

“More and more staff, faculty, students and parents are dealing with online issues, so it just makes sense to have this resource,” says Constable Bobbi-Jo Duff of U of T Mississauga. The “one-stop” website doesn’t reinvent the wheel, she notes. Much safety information already exists elsewhere so Online Smarts links to many other sites operated by groups such as the RCMP, the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario and the Media Awareness Network.

The website focuses on eight topics – privacy, safety, data protection, U of T policies, children online, issues for teachers, issues for students and issues for employees. If you drill down further, there’s information ranging from privacy risks and cyberstalking to passwords, phishing and organizing activities online.

“Online Smarts is an attempt to pull together some answers to the questions that we all have about online communications,” Stamp says. “For example, how can faculty ensure confidentiality in email communications with students or make sure an online correspondent is actually who they say they are? What do students who are teaching need to consider about their online identity and profile? They might learn that they need to readjust their privacy settings on social networking sites and clean up their personal archive. They might not think they’re a public person, but they are.”  

The website, Stamp adds, is a beginning. “It’s not definitive but it’s a starting point.” U of T Mississauga campus police have provided funding for communications materials such as posters and bookmarks that will be available on all U of T campuses.


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