Ever since Grandpa Thag expressed confusion over how to use the new sharp rocks to cut his mammoth steak, there’s existed a long-standing distrust between new technology and the elderly. It’s simply harder to learn complex new skills later in life. While some still do well, most take one of two approaches: they either avoid computers entirely, or go charging in headfirst with the boundless enthusiasm of a puppy running into a woodchipper.
This worries you, because, let’s face it, the internet is a dangerous place. It’s full of spam, trolls, terrifying pornography, scammers. Let’s not even get started on 4chan. Someone must be responding to all the emails you get from Nigerian princes, and odds are, most of those people are over sixty.
So: short of cutting their network cable with gardening shears, what can you do to keep your grandparents safe online? Here are a few simple tips to make it easier.
1) Install anti-virus software.
Using an anti-virus software like Norton or AVG is generally a good idea; it helps to remove all of the fun programs that came with your transvestite porn collection. It’s also absolutely critical for the elderly, as (let’s be honest) old people have a bad habit of downloading everything that looks interesting, even if the filename reads “trojan.phishing.exe.”
Your Grandparents also tend to use Internet Explorer, which is the equivalent of having sex using a condom made of used toilet tissue. Speaking of which…
2) Recommend a better browser.
Internet Explorer security protocols have more holes than an adventurous leper. A good, free browser, like Firefox or Chrome, with security updates, is far more secure. Chrome will even warn you if you try to access a page with “trojan/hax/viruseslololol” in the source code. It’s also much harder to get Chrome or Firefox to install things without permission.
Now, you could probably try to explain to them the differences between the different browsers, and what precisely a ‘security hole’ means, but we recommend switching the Firefox icon to the Internet Explorer icon and hoping they don’t notice.
3) Get them on Gmail.
Some day, Google will take over the world with it’s army of primary-color, contextually appropriate murder-robots. Until that day comes, though, embrace their vast network of cold, soulless algorithmic intelligence, because it runs the best damn spam filter on the market- and, it’s free.
This should eliminate virtually all of the problems you’ll ever run into via email, by scrubbing out 99% of the scams, penile enhancement offers, and pornography redirects that might kill your grandparents from shock- or (worse) give them ideas. It might take a little work to get them used to the idea of using email in a browser, but it’ll be worth it.
4) Explain phishing to them.
Unfortunately, Google’s not perfect, and some stuff will get through, which is why it’s important you explain the concept of phishing. Phishing is a process in which someone sends you an email, pretending to be your bank / auction site / mother, and then links you to a fake login page, which logs your password, then robs you blind.
Phishing can be avoided by disregarding any links emailed to you by sites you use, and by always using your bookmarks instead. Explain to your grandparents that they should never open links in emails from their banks. Actually, if you can persuade them not to open links emailed to them at all, it’ll cut down on the number of cat pictures you get emailed by about five hundred percent.
5) Install adblock.
Ads on the internet are the driving force of its economy. They’re also often annoying and dangerous. Many ads make money by peddling scams, spyware-ridden software, or yet more phishing. While you and I probably know instinctively we haven’t really won an iPhone, and we aren’t really the millionth visitor to the site, and those screensavers aren’t really free, the elderly don’t necessarily have the healthy skepticism / soul-crushing cynicism that spending a lot of time on the internet engenders, and they’re vulnerable to this sort of thing.
Adblockers are pieces of software that run along with or inside the browser to actively remove advertisements from pages before they’re displayed. They’re available for Firefox, Chrome, and several other browsers. This will also prevent any embarrassing conversations about Adult Friend Finder.
6) Talk to your grandparents about scams – before someone else does.
The only thing the internet has more of than advertisements is scams. From pyramid schemes to the Nigerian scams to lottery scams – if you’re on the internet, odds are good that at least one person is trying to screw you over. In general, scams are pretty easy to avoid, so long as you keep a level head and remember that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. With a little work, your grandparents can stay safe. Actually, this part isn’t that hard.
You see, for all the internet’s innovation, the scams floating around it aren’t that different from the real life scams that have been perpetrated for decades. For example, the 4-1-9 or Nigerian scam has been around since 1920, when it was called the ‘Spanish Prisoner’ scam. Pyramid schemes have been around longer. Odds are, your grandparents have dealt with these, long before you soiled your first pair of nappies. They just have to make that connection.
Start by alerting them to the most common forms of scam, most of which can be found on sites like this, or this. They’ll probably recognize most of them. Then, remind them that the internet isn’t immune to the way things really work: Nothing is free, and you should be suspicious of anyone who says otherwise. Once they’re in the right mindset, they should safely enjoy the internet, and you’ll be able to moderate all those late-night calls about ‘the youtube’ with much greater peace of mind