SCVO Digital are producing a series of blogs in response to questions and challenges the voluntary sector are facing as they adapt to the demands of coronavirus.

One of the top questions we have recently been asked is: 

“When moving services online, how do I keep people safe and manage privacy?” 

Looking after the people that we serve and keeping them safe is at the heart of what we do in the voluntary sector. We excel at it. We put people at the heart of our services and do our utmost to put their needs first (sometimes to the detriment of ourselves - that's a whole other blog). Now more than ever in this ever-changing environment, we need to remember that the same principles apply. 

We are all Zooming in to each other's front rooms, spare rooms and even the odd cupboard. We are WhatsApping, Facebooking, texting and house partying. Socialising is one thing – but how can we keep people safe and manage key aspects of privacy when we are moving our services online?  

Staying safe online is a massive topic, and we can’t cover all of it in this blog. But we’ll look at four main areas, and share some links to resources to get you started. 

  1. Privacy ease of use
  2. Personal data
  3. Confidentiality
  4. Safeguarding vulnerable groups, including children and young people 

Privacy and ease of use 

Some platforms, eg Zoom and WhatsApp, can be set up so that anyone with the right link can join a conversation. This can be handy for informal groups or information networks, as it means group members can include new members themselves. But if you want to restrict a conversation to only approved members, you’ll need to have a process for ensuring that only authorised people can join. For example, manually adding people via their phone number, or setting a meeting password. It’s all about understanding what limitations and trade-offs various platforms offer. Most widely-adopted platforms such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams etc offer reasonable security features, but you do need to know how to use them properly. See Alison's detailed blog on privacy and security issues to keep in mind when using Zoom.

Keeping personal data safe 

Users should be able to keep their phone numbers or email addresses private, and only share them with people they trust. On platforms such as Zoom, this is easy enough as people can set their own user name. However on WhatsApp, user’s phone numbers are visible to other members of group chats. As an organisation, you may need to capture personal data to help identify who your users are. But you should ensure that this data is kept safe and not shared with others unless you have permission to do this. 


Some charity services such as counselling require a high degree of confidentiality. So you should have clear processes in place to ensure your staff are using online channels securely. But also consider the need for a service user to ensure privacy at their end of the conversation – this can be difficult while people are confined to their homes. Finally, when sending appointment reminders think about the fact that service users may be sharing devices. 

Safeguarding vulnerable groups 

When working with children and young people and other vulnerable groups, there are extra issues to consider. The NSPCC has a comprehensive set of guidance for this area. You’ll need to get parental consent (an e-signature tool such as YotiSign may help here). You’ll need to take extra precautions to ensure you are not inadvertently putting young or vulnerable people in contact with strangers. And you’ll want to ensure that young or vulnerable people you are supporting with online services are protected from harmful content or cyber bullying. The NSPCC has detailed guidance on how to spot and prevent online abuse

Insights from the digital services Zoom call this week – highlights coming soon as a podcast 

Jane Griffin, LGBTY Scotland 

Don’t overthink it ... you wouldn't record a 1-to-1 session in your office, you’d just document it. So you probably don’t need to record it online. 

Jenn Goff, Waverley Care 

Your safeguarding policies are the same ones you’ve always had in place – they just need to be  tweaked and updated for online delivery 

Be clear about the boundaries on what your support service is offering – communicate them clearly on your website 

Ensure your team knows where to signpost people to if the conversation tips outside your boundaries (write a list for them) 

Check in with your staff to make sure they are ok, as they are probably being bombarded with more problems than usual 

Catriona Jamieson, PAMIS

Talk to your clients - keep them informed about what data you are collecting and how it is being used. 

Guidance on privacy and security

  • Get Safe Online has a good set of videos covering key issues on how users can keep themselves safe online 
  • Online Compass - simple traffic light tool to show where you are, what you need to do and provides advice and guidance on your policies & procedures  
  • 10 steps to cyber security - Guidance on how organisations can protect themselves - by National Cyber Security Agency  
  • Guide to Data Protection – a guide, including self-assessment data protection checklists - from Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO)

Resources for working with children and young people

Resources to help children and parents when accessing services online

  • BBC Own It - advice and information for children by children about online life  
  • ThinkUKnow – advice & animations for children about staying safe on a phone, tablet or computer - by National Crime Agency  
  • Staying Safe Online – advice for parents on steps to take to keep children and teenagers safe online – by Scottish Government