Geeky Jargon for Smart Moms & Dads

By Michelle Dennedy

I have a degree in psychology and another in law. I have no more formal education to talk about technology than your average high school kid. But what I do have is a ton of curiosity about how things actually work and a desire to be an active participant in the kinds of risks to which my children are exposed. (I also have more than a few years in the information technology industry under my belt.)

Welcome to the geeky new frontier!

Here are a few terms you need to know to understand how to judge products and services online and off that may gather and use information about your family. Understanding the jargon can help you protect against ID theft and what is happening with your data when a company collects it.

It even sounds like a cool robot-ey thing, right?! Encryption is used to scramble information into nonsense and then use a really complicated and very long string of numbers as a password to unscramble the information. Encryption is a great way to scramble information, which keeps the bad guys from being able to read it. If you can read information, it is not presently encrypted.  So, having an “encrypted laptop” only protects data that is encrypted—not the stuff that is open and readable.

Data in the clear:
If data is not encrypted, it’s in the clear. (But unencrypted sounds cooler.)

Back end:
Nothing naughty folks! This term typically refers to nearly everything other than the images you see on the screen of your laptop or smart device. The back end is sometimes used to describe the hardware and software in data centers where companies keep and process information.

This is geek speak for software. You get double geek points if you call the person who writes software a “Code Slinger”.

Applications or apps:
These are the software programs that do the things that you want—the interface that helps you bank, manages your address book or chat with your friends on Facebook or via email.

Identity management or “IdM”:
This term stands for the technology that allows companies to control who has access to what. This includes using passwords or limiting which employees are allowed to look at your information to provide you with the goods and services you want. This type of technology can be very complicated and there are many choices in how the technology may be used in any one company. This term is also used to describe the management of the companies that provide services that use the available IdM technologies.

So there you have it – a geek speak decoder to help you understand more of what you learn as you educate yourself about what’s happening with your private data.


Michelle Dennedy was America’s first Chief Privacy Officer, for Sun Microsystems. When Michelle’s own daughter’s identity was attacked, she vowed that she would never let it happen again. Michelle is now the Editor-in-Chief of The Identity Project, which is sponsored by AllClearID. AllClearID will monitor your child’s identity, notify you securely if it has been compromised, and repair and restore it – at no cost to you.