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From Nosy Little Brothers to Stranger-Danger: Children and Parents' Perception of Mobile Threats

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Carleton University, School of Computer Science



Project Leader(s)

Sonia Chiasson, Canada Research Chair


The main purpose of this research is to improve children's understanding of mobile online privacy, enable them to recognize potentially risky situations, and empower them to better protect themselves while online.

The researchers conducted a qualitative study with parents and children aged 7-11 years (mean age = 8.75), consisting of 28 semi-structured interviews (14 parents, 14 children). The interviews covered the following main areas: general use of mobile devices, what activities the child performs on the device, security management of the device, children's knowledge of online privacy and threats, and parents' protection strategies. Using the Grounded Theory qualitative analysis method, the researchers transcribed and coded all of the interviews, using a second coder for reliability checks. The data was then organized into themes through axial and selective coding. Based on their analysis, the researchers identified parents' main concerns with respect to their children's online privacy and identified where children had misconceptions or lacked the knowledge to properly protect themselves.

The study found that younger children were especially at risk since many of them had never discussed online privacy and their parents were unsure how to start the conversation. To address this need, the researchers designed an interactive e-book targeted at children aged 7-9 years old, freely available on the web and as a mobile app. The central story is that Cyberheroes (a play on superheroes) must maintain their secret identities on the Internet. The 13-page storybook centres around two young Cyberheroes who lost their cyberpowers and must face the consequences unless they can earn them back through privacy-aware behaviour. Each cyberpower relates to a privacy-related lesson about personal information, online trust, location sharing, cyberbullying, and passwords. The e-book is intended to be read together between the parent and child, and act as a conversation starter about online privacy. Lessons can be tailored to the child's maturity level at the parent's discretion.

The researchers conducted a two-part user study of the e-book with nine children and their parents. In the first session, they audio-recorded the pairs as they read the e-book together, and the session included pre- and post-interviews and knowledge assessment. In the second session, they reassessed information retention one week after reading the e-book to see if the lessons had been remembered.

Results showed that the e-book successfully improved children's understanding of privacy risks, they exhibited excellent knowledge retention after one week, and children and parents found the interactive e-book to be fun and engaging.

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OPC Funded Project

This project received funding support through the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s Contributions Program. The opinions expressed in the summary and report(s) are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. Summaries have been provided by the project authors. Please note that the projects appear in their language of origin.

Contact Information

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