Most parents feel anxious when a child leaves for university. And when this coincides with a coming of age, which sees the legal protection afforded to minors ending, managing potential media intrusion and the possible threat of extortion or blackmail becomes yet another challenge facing high-net-worth individuals.
Balancing freedom with protection
You may have made the decision to keep your child out of the public eye, but living in a collegiate atmosphere, with liberal access to social networking, can be a game-changer. Even the most media-savvy teenager can be vulnerable when they start university. The pressure to make new friends and access to alcohol can lower inhibitions and encourage young people to share personal information.
“Leaving the protection of the family bubble can present significant risks,” says Joelle Rich, Legal Director at Schillings. “Where parents may have protected their children from media intrusion and made privacy a priority when they were young, there’s been a generational shift in culture that has changed perceptions of celebrity. This means that it’s not just entertainment stars or the royals who are of interest, but wealthy business owners and property moguls. It also means that privacy norms have changed. Teenagers today, for example, want to actively share and promote their lifestyles.”
Physical risk of social networking
A teenager’s desire to share details of their daily activities can leave them vulnerable.
“Unless young people are aware that apps like Instagram or Snapchat use geotagging, cataloguing their activities can alert opponents to their whereabouts,” explains Joelle. “That poses a security risk, not just for that individual, but also for the wider family and their property - if your teen posts that they’re on a family holiday, it highlights that the family home could be empty, for example.”
Technology can be used to support physical criminal activity, ranging from burglary to abduction. The 2011 kidnapping of 19-year old Ivan Kaspersky, son of internet security entrepreneur Eugene Kaspersky of Kaspersky Labs, is a case in point. The kidnappers allegedly used social networks to build a picture of Ivan’s daily routine, which helped them successfully kidnap him. The ransom demand was then sent to his parents - Ivan’s father had recently been named one of Russia’s richest businessmen1. Thankfully, Ivan was safely rescued and it was reported that no ransom was paid.
Technology as a tool for privacy intrusion
With new technologies and the rise of untraceable crypto-currency, it’s becoming easier to extort individuals and more difficult to be caught. In the UK, sextortion – a form of blackmail where a perpetrator threatens to reveal intimate images of you online unless you give in to their demands – is on the rise with the National Crime Agency citing a threefold increase in the number of reported cases of this crime in just two years2. Whilst this is an extreme example, the ease with which individuals can manipulate images from social networking sites or infiltrate apps, needs to be considered.
Legitimate media agencies can also lift images and quotes from social media sites and reuse these without permission, in some cases representing these as information provided to them directly. The recent admission by Facebook that a bug allowed third-party apps to access user photos, including those that users may have uploaded but decided not to post, shows that even having the most stringent privacy settings isn’t always a guarantee against intrusion.
Longer-term reputational risk
It’s not just the immediate impact that needs to be considered.
“Many clients and their children don’t appreciate the permanence of social media in particular,” says Joelle. “Their private life, whether that’s historical or on-going, may be of interest not just to the media, but also to future employers, banks, investors and potential business partners.”
Reputational damage can also be an issue for older generations exposed by their children.
“Many of our clients are militant about privacy but are perhaps unaware of the back-door risk posed by their children,” says Joelle. “That can be anything from opponents using their children as an easy way of finding out information about the family or business interests, to their child attending an anti-business event at the Students’ Union, which can create a reputational risk.”
How to protect family privacy
So how can you protect your child and your family from potential threats?
“Our services include cyber-security, investigative intelligence and traditional legal protection,” says Joelle. “We aim to protect our clients and prevent breaches of privacy but also manage any incidents that do occur. We encourage proactive management of family privacy, starting with reverse due diligence exercises, which shows the family what can go wrong, how exposed they currently are, and makes them alive to the risks they face. We then create protections and regularly monitor that level of security.”
There are a number of practical steps that can be taken to mitigate risks:
1. Insist on NDAs for all employees and staff.
2. Check out the security of any accommodation - if your son or daughter is living in shared accommodation, does it have individual locks fitted and intercom access? If they prefer to live alone, is an alarm system fitted?
3. Review travel routes - if they need to travel to university from their accommodation, have you considered whether there are any vulnerabilities in the route? Is public transport acceptable or would you prefer private transport? Are vehicles fitted with tracking equipment?
4. Have a conversation about their responsibilities for maintaining their own privacy, for example, not sharing family information too readily, carefully considering any photographs they upload, and maintaining privacy settings.
5. Discuss appropriate behaviour, such as not sharing sexual pictures, even to someone they think they know well.
6. Consider anonymity - rather than taking your child to university in your easily identifiable Range Rover, would it be better to arrive a little more discreetly?
7. Consider universities where the wealthy blend in - many universities in London attract foreign students from HNWI families.
8. Know your legal rights to privacy and be prepared to enforce them.
Whilst moving away to university is an important rite of passage for students and their families and allowing your child the freedom to explore and experience university life is crucial, protecting their and your family’s interests should also be a priority.
We have a wealth of information available on how we can support you and the next generation with everything from making a lasting impact and leaving a legacy and taking over the family business. For more details, speak to your relationship management team.