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Google asks: where do you go for help with staying safe online?

Web browsing

Which? and Google have partnered up to deliver free training to help people stay safe online. Ronan Harris, Managing Director of Google UK and Ireland, has joined us as a guest author to explain how this partnership could help you…

With the majority of us spending more of our time online and the ability to shop via mobile is easier than ever, online security has never been more important.

Internet safety

According to the Office of National Statistics, online fraud is the most common crime in the country. In fact, you are 20 times more likely to be robbed online than you are on the street.

It is for these reasons that our teams at Google partnered with Which? to launch a new course in web safety that’s designed to empower you to feel more confident online.

We believe Google has a responsibility to teach people how to stay safe in what can sometimes seem an extremely daunting online world.

The ‘Stay Safe Online in 2017’ course is designed to push simple and effective solutions further into public awareness so that more internet users can make smart and responsible choices online.

These courses include bite-sized sessions that teach you how to manage personal information including online bank accounts, passwords and advice on how to stay safe when shopping online.

They will be delivered as part of Google’s Digital Garage initiative which provides tailored digital skills training to anyone. Whether you are a small business owner, a student or even a grandparent taking your first steps in the online world, and it’s all offered without having to pay a penny.

Staying safe and secure

We’re excited to be working with Which? as their respected influence and a strong understanding of consumers will help us on our mission to provide a safer online environment, that is accessible to all.

The courses are currently available at the Digital Garage pop-ups on the High Street in Sheffield and Birmingham, with plans to launch it as an online course in the near future.

So, do you know how to stay safe online? Where do you go for help and tips on online security?

This is a guest contribution by Ronan Harris, Managing Director of Google UK and Ireland. All views expressed here are Ronan’s own.


Thanks, Ronan. The internet has given us many innovations such as the ability to bank and shop online, but it has also presented new challenges. We regularly hear from consumers who have been caught out by online scams, with many people losing money as a result.

We are delighted that we will be involved in this project and look forward to helping as many people as possible build their knowledge about how to stay safe online.

If one were in cynical mood, one might wonder about such an alliance, especially since Which distance themselves from the briefing by adding their italicised comment below. However, cynicism aside, any enlightenment on internet safety is to be welcomed, as is the free nature of the course on offer. I have posted elsewhere on the lack of progress by those whose job it is to track and catch the internet villains, and do feel that the internet vulnerable might be better protected by an increased effort here. Perhaps Google has done a profile of the likely applicants to study with them. Perhaps they are intending to advertise this more widely and, maybe people will see this and study. Being susceptible to scams and falling for them might be part of a profile of some who would not see/wish to make the effort to study safety on line. Google will see what the uptake is and how best to attract students. As a tool to persuade people to do more on line than they might otherwise do, it could be counterproductive unless lessons are headed and the scammers become less devious. Good luck with the project.

Hi Vynor – all guest convos include the italicised note at the end. It’s just a reminder that Convo publishes opinion pieces from guest authors, but Which? doesn’t necessarily agree with all of these opinions or all of the guests 🙂

I hope to share a link to the online resources we’ve collated soon

@Lauren, Hello – I’ve had quite a good day today so cannot blame the grumps for my comment. The Convo begins “ Which? and Google have partnered up to deliver free training to help people stay safe online.” So I would have thought as you are partners you would have debated and then agreed with what is being said. If you don’t agree with Ronan then Which? perhaps should not be a partner to this. 🙂

Without the disclaimer, I expect some hypercritical contributor would be in there criticising Which? for working with a commercial organisation.

Sorry Malcolm, I missed your comment as I’m @ldeitz 🙂 haven’t had the chance to meet @lauren, but she beat me to the username!

I’m not sure what you mean with regards to debating the issue – we often invite guests to come and write about issues that we’re both working on, that may be an MP who is supporting our campaigns or even CEOs who are taking action on consumer issues. We’re participating in the discussion here on Convo, so I’m not sure that it would be necessary for us to outline positions in the convo that’s been written by Ronan.

@ldeitz, I should have known better. Sorry Lauren Deitz 🙂 I was suggesting that as this intro begins “Which? and Google have partnered up” that you were both in agreement on the topic and should therefore share the views expressed by Ronan. Otherwise why enter into a partnership?

I understand the disclaimer being used when you have a guest contributor who is speaking solely on their own behalf.

I see. I suppose the opening is to scene set and explain why we’ve invited Google to come and share the news.

At the risk of grinding this point to a fine dust, I think there is a contradiction between an article written by a partner with Which? in a project and a disclaimer statement that says “all views expressed here are . . . not necessarily . . . shared by Which?“. The disclaimer could have been omitted in this instance.

I’ve tweaked the disclaimer 🙂

Question – do you know of anyone who might benefit from a masterclass on staying safe online? Are there any particular risks/benefits you would like to highlight? Have you ever helped out a friend, neighbour or family member with getting on a computer?

I helped my gran when she was still alive and the biggest problem initially was the mouse-pointer coordination. My grandpa on the other hand was a whizz on computers up until he was 93 – phone scams were another thing altogether.

One obvious drawback of running online safety courses in a town centre shopping centre is that it won’t make the courses readily accessible to “couch potato” internet shoppers, i.e. those unable or unwilling to visit real shops run by real people when they need to shop.

I’d have thought – being in the business they are – they’d be running online courses.

A fair point, Derek – I hope to be able to share the online resources with your very soon 🙂

Hi @carneades, Google and lots of others already have tonnes of content online about staying safe but as this partnership grows, we hope to turn our course into an online module but in the meantime, we will be able to share a copy of the course syllabus and content. We are just waiting on some updates to our partnership landing page, and it will be available from there. I’ll make sure to come back and update this convo when it’s live.

Thank you, Tom.

Have to admit I’m not a fan of google, yes the search engine is useful, but the number of shyster sites that get returned is alarming. Just do a simply search for EHIC renewal, driving licence renewal and you’ll find several shyster sites. Similarly a search for contact number and again shyster sites galore, offering their own 0871, 0844, 0843 numbers. And if these companies weren’t only after making some easy free money, they’d be recording the conversations and emptying people bank accounts. Thank heaven for small brained scammers.

If google really wanted to help people keep safe online, I’m sure they should be tackling the shysters sites.

And this next point I’ve mentioned several times before, all internet enabled devices which have a use interface, e.g. smart phones, tablets etc should come with a free fact sheet. Which should include things to watch out for. Top of the list should be, if you’re looking for a government related service, like EHIC, driving licence, passport, use the search on gov dot uk

I’m sure Google really do want to help folk stay safe online, because they cannot make money out of folk who don’t or can’t go online.

I think Google have helped to date is by producing ChromeBooks as an alternative to virus-prone Windows PCs. However, I don’t use any Chromebooks myself, so I cannot personally vouch for their merit.

Google are also responsible for Andriod, which is now the most widely used OS for tablets and smart phones. Personally, I find Android hard to use for serious internet usage. I’ve also seen more than a few instances of folk falling victim to shyster sites via Android, so it may be that a good way to stay safe online is to avoid the use of Android devices, if and when it is possible to do so.

We can also apply the ERICPD safety measure hierarchy to internet safety:

Eliminate: Follow the example set by the the young John Connor in the Terminator movies. Don’t use the internet at all. Confine your commerce to cash transactions and your social networking to the pub.

Reduce: Limit your use of the internet – and try to avoid any form of e-commerce (i.e. banking, shopping, etc). (Posting on Which? Convo will probably be reasonably safe though…)

Isolate: Use different computers for different on-line activities. (Computer experts know that there is no such thing as having too many home computers.) So, if you must engage in e-commerce, consider using one PC for that and another one for general surfing. You may also want to set up different user accounts and different browser programs (e.g. with different levels of security extensions/add-ons) for different activities. And, if you must insist on using a Windows PC, try not to do any (or most or all) of your on-line activities from an account that has Administrator rights.

Control: Make sure you keep your computers and software up to date with security updates etc. Also make sure that you have diverse multiple backups for any precious data that you own.

Protection: if you must insist on using a Windows PC, make sure that you have the best security software that you can afford. Apple, Android and Linux users should also consider the need for appropriate security software.

Discipline: Exercise due caution before giving out personal data or financial data to internet sites that “require you to register”. Try to use different passwords for different sites, otherwise, if one site gets hacked, the hackers may be able to use the password you used there to log into many of your other accounts. Remember, if a deal sounds too good to be true, there is probably a hidden catch that you have not spotted.

Hi @derekp,

The course is actually platform neutral. So whilst we discuss some Google products, we also discuss products from Microsoft, Apple and a whole host of other suppliers. You can see the full syllabus which is available for download here; http://explore.which.co.uk/docs/which_google_stay_safe_online.pdf


Tom: If I may, I’d point out a potentially serious error in the guide. With regard to ransomware it states “The best defence is to keep a backup of all your files on an external hard drive, rendering the threats empty. However, as I’m sure you’re aware, almost all ransomware lies dormant initially, while the program searches the networks for attached drives.

So unless your files were kept on a air-gapped drive, they would be compromised. I note that the same advice is also repeated n the summary.

I’d also take issue with your comment that “Macs are increasingly falling victim to ransomware attacks”. Isn’t it true that there are no recorded successful ransomware attacks on Macs and that it’s in fact only security researchers who have demonstrated that it’s theoretically possible? Not saying it won’t happen, certainly, but I suspect the comment in the guide is somewhat inaccurate.

I’m going to be a bore, but in the section about passwords you provide advice making your passwords complex with the addition of non-alphanumeric characters and symbols. But in fact all the evidence shows that a simple three word-dissociated phrase – such as “steakmudbannisters” – will defy brute force attacks better and is easier to remember than using non-alphanumeric symbols.

It might also be important to point out that almost all password ‘hacks’ are, in fact, the result of mass data thefts and not, despite what the media would like us to believe, the result of a bespectacled teenage hacker, late at night.

Hope you won’t mind me mentioning this.

Thanks @carneades. All of the content and also the course itself was designed in conjunction with the Which? computing team including the computing helpdesk. The idea of it is to give practical simple tips and advice to people who do not have your technical knowledge.

Also, whether Macs have been subject to a successful attack or not, the risk is increasing, with a number of new programs being designed to attack Macs.

I agree, Tom. But my point was that the sentence “Macs are increasingly falling victim to ransomware attacks” was clearly incorrect. I suppose my concern is that if information in the guide makes statements which are inaccurate in one aspect, it’s bound to make the newcomer wonder how accurate the remainder of the content is.

I agree with Ian here.

Whenever I see anything posted I that know to be untrue, it certainly makes me wonder how much other material from the same source is also untrue.

Further to the link that Tom posted above, I did download and read the syllabus, so I am content that most of it does seem to be well though out and presented.

As a producer of training material myself, I know that is hard work to produce materials that are both clear and simple. I also acknowledge that, depending on the target audience, it can be useful to simplify statements to the point where they are no longer 100% true.

Quite often there will be “exceptions that prove the rule”, but sometimes those are best excluded, if the training needs to be short and simple.

For example, we might tell people: “Don’t use Windows XP for internet browsing, it won’t be safe, because it is no longer supported.” Having said that, I have a brother who is a director of consultancy at leading IT firm and who still uses XP for his personal internal access. Since he is an expert, it is safe for him to use XP, because he really does know what he’s doing.

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It is not good enough just to ban pension scams. To be told just contact Action Fraud, if you can get through,
is not enough as it allows too much time to pass before any action can be taken. It must be made a crime of fraud with severe sentences. The police must not be allowed to claim it is a civil matter. They must take the matter seriously. The MP just wants to smack the offenders hands – not a real deterrent.