CSEdWeek: Privacy–Have Our Students Been Duped?

secret_00During a conversation this Computer Science Education week, a teacher expressed deep concerns about online privacy protection for students.  She believes that students are being duped into giving away their personal information without their understanding of the implications or the consequences.  The federal government is also concern about whether or not there are sufficient privacy protections online that go beyond complicated disclosure statements. The real question: Is this a technology problem or an education problem?

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project Study, 81 percent of parents believe that their teenagers are not prudent about personal information sharing on the Internet.  Many parents and privacy advocates believe that the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA) that protects minors age 13 and under should be expanding to age 17 and under.  This would require students under age 18 to obtain parental consent before using almost all online services that require some form of identity for personalization or communication. Today, the most common method of parental verification is done by using a credit card to authenticate that a parent has consented to their child’s use of the requested service.

This verification process would be true for all Internet-enabled devices: smartphones, eBook readers, tablet PCs, video game consoles, handheld media players, etc.  Moreover, these are only today’s most common Internet devices.

What happens in the future when cars, robots, televisions, and other machines become Internet-connected devices with Cloud Services?  Oh yeah, that is already happening.

Will parents want the hassle?

Mistaken Identity
The ramifications of online privacy go beyond e-marketers trying to sell to an emerging retail demographic. The FTC is increasingly seeing more identity theft complaints from teenagers who have had their identity compromised on the Internet. Cyber-savvy kids have been known to outsmart their parents.  However, their own savvy-ness can expose them to inappropriate content or solicitations on the Internet. Cyber-bullying continues to be challenge.  The amount and variety of locations young students share information online makes this even more difficult to address.

The Social May Not Work
When I ask teenage students how many of them have an online social network profile, all hands go up.  When I ask how many of them have filled out every data field just because it was blank, but not required, all hands go.  With so many social networks available, cyber-savvy are migratory. They know how to keep some information on the network that their parents are monitoring…and still more personal information on yet another social network for their friends and potential cyber-predators to find.

Today, we have the ability to broadcast to the planet not only what we are doing, but where we are doing it with our GPS-enabled phones.  These digital breadcrumbs can be aggregated to perform rich behavioral analysis of individuals.  These patterns of what they do, when they do, who they do it with and where can be used for community, commerce, and crime. Perhaps, students should only be able to check-in with the family and not on public social networks.

For Baby Boomers and Generation X, this demographic of citizens grew up with typically one real-world persona. Millennial and today’s 21st Century students are growing up with multiple personas across the real and digital world. Raising the 21st Century Citizen is more complex and layered than our 20th Century antecedents.  Families are going to need a new vocabulary, awareness, and conversation about privacy so that young cyber-savvy citizens can be more mindful and avoid digital pitfalls.

The privacy conversation starts at home.  It is continued in the schools. Students need to have their privacy concern elevated by an open honest dialogue.  Students need to know the difference between required information for a transaction and optional information.  Whether they are making a purchase at a local grocer with a loyalty card or debit card; whether they are publishing personal photos with hidden GPS-location online from their cellphone; or sharing their favorite movies, likes, and music on their favorite social network; these data elements are being tracked and aggregated by host of agents.

Schools districts and universities must make protecting student privacy at top-line criteria when considering cloud services and mobile devices to ensure that students are not unwittingly giving information to a third-party without their consent or understanding.

The Microsoft Perspective
Microsoft views protecting consumer privacy as a core business imperative.  This Privacy by Design imperative is evident in our approach to everything we do.  You can see it in search and advertising with Bing, error reporting with Windows, Office, and other Microsoft products; browsing the Web with Internet Explorer, and so much more.  I encourage you to read our Chief Privacy Strategist, Peter Cullen’s blog for the latest news and views.

Earlier this week, Microsoft announced a new capability for Internet Explorer 9 focused squarely on consumer privacy.  The new Tracking Protection Feature for IE9 gives users the ability to identify and block sites from tracking them without crippling their web browsing experience.

With advertisers and e-marketers use all manner of technology and technique to track consumers across sites, IE9 users get more innovation to protect them when they are online.  This is a significant step forward and it demonstrates Microsoft’s industry leadership in protecting consumer privacy on the Web.

I have included a video below for you to learn more about how the new IE9 feature works:

New Internet Explorer 9 Privacy Features

I invite you to explore Peter Cullen’s article on Online Privacy & Balance—Our Perspective. In it, Peter talks about the new Federal Trade Commission Framework for Consumer Privacy.  Additionally, read Microsoft’s Internet Explorer Vice President, Dean Hachmovitch’s blog on IE9 and Privacy: Introducing Tracking Protection. For K12 School Districts that need a more manageable and optimized desktop environment, Internet Explorer 9 offers the next-generation Web experience, administration, and privacy controls for students and employees.

There are no silver-bullets.  The use of technology is accelerating and emerging business models make near impossible what comes next.  However, our open dialogue can help us all be better prepared and our privacy protected. Share your stories or concerns below. I would love to hear from you.

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