Can I please have some privacy? Privacy as an essential skill for the modern world

Address given at Connect 2017

April 26, 2017

Niagara Falls, Ontario

Address by Anne-Marie Cenaiko
Manager of Public Education and Outreach, Communications Branch

(Check against delivery)

To start things off, I want to take a few minutes to tell you a little bit about me and the office that I’m representing today.

I’m Anne-Marie, and I’m a relatively new employee at the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. I’m here today because I want to connect with you.

I’m responsible for leading our public education campaigns, which includes outreach to vulnerable groups like seniors and youth. My job is to find out how we can help educate youth on privacy, and that includes what you, as teachers, need from us to help inform your students.

Being new to this role, I am incredibly interested in what you have to say about privacy and youth. I want to know what you have to say about:

  • How can we better prepare our kids to be responsible digital citizens?
  • Where do privacy skills fit into the picture?
  • Where are the knowledge gaps — among young people, and in your own understanding of privacy issues? And how can our office help with that?

So today,

  • I’ll start by explaining a bit about our office.
  • Then I’ll get into youth privacy and some of the research on that.
  • I’ll discuss our outreach strategy and about some of the free resources that we’ve put together to help you reach your students.
  • Then I’ll talk a bit about privacy education on the world stage.
  • And most importantly, I’ll make sure to leave time for us to talk at the end so you can share with me your experiences, your observations, and your suggestions for what we can do to help you.

So what is the Office of the Privacy Commissioner?

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada provides advice and information for individuals about protecting personal information. We also enforce two federal privacy laws that set out the rules for how federal government institutions and certain businesses have to handle personal information.

There are also provincial and territorial information and privacy commissioners, who enforce the laws in their jurisdictions.

At its core, our office is concerned with protecting and promoting privacy rights.

First, we resolve privacy disputes. While we encourage people to raise their privacy concerns with the organization itself as a first step—and we have tips on how to do that on our website—individuals can come to our office when they feel their privacy rights have been violated, and we can help to address complaints. In certain instances we can start investigations proactively and conduct audits into privacy practices.

But we are also advocates and educators. We devote some of our resources to raising awareness about privacy rights, and advocating for stronger privacy protections. We do this by, for example:

  • making public statements on emerging privacy issues
  • sharing information about our investigations in annual reports
  • giving expert testimony on the privacy implications of laws and policies contemplated by Parliament, and
  • through plain-language guidance and information for small businesses, government agencies, and the general public as well. Often we give these out at events and while exhibiting, and of course information is available on our website.

New developments in youth privacy

Okay so now that I’ve explained who we are, let’s bring it back to the classroom context. As you know, technology is a huge part of our lives and is only becoming a bigger part of that future. Not just in terms of how we use technology, but also, increasingly, how technologies mediate our lives.

From big data, metadata, surveillance, to the internet of things, whether you grew up with these things or not, it’s become part of our everyday lived experiences.

Whether you use these technologies in the classroom or not, kids need the literacy and critical thinking skills to make informed choices as they move through adolescence into adulthood.

While those of us working in privacy might have some insights, we certainly don’t have all the answers. Which is why our office is deeply engaged in a multi-year outreach strategy focused on young people, the educational sector, and youth-serving organizations.

But first—

Do young people care about Privacy?

There’s a myth out there—one that’s been around for a very long time—that young people don’t care about privacy.

Well, that’s just not true.

I know, I know…some of you might be thinking, “Yeah, okay, how about my students with thousands of followers on Instagram.”

The thing is, they really do care.

Research by Media Smarts in Canada and the Pew Research Centre in the United States shows us that youth are taking control of their personal information in very clever and innovative ways.

For example:

Young people are selective about who they share information with:

  • By keeping their social media profiles private; and
  • By deleting people from their networks.

They’re taking steps to remove people or information:

  • By deleting comments posted to their profiles; and
  • By deleting or editing past posts.

They’re obscuring information about themselves:

  • By pretending to be someone else or using a pseudonym;
  • They're cloaking or otherwise coding messages they post online, quoting song lyrics to convey a message to friends.

They’re securing their personal information in surprising ways:

  • By de-activating social media profiles when they're not in use, preventing anyone from accessing information or photos they've previously posted. Once they're ready to use the service again, they reactivate the account and everything pops back into place.

Many say that privacy is about control—what you as a person choose to share about yourself, and with whom.

One way to understand how young people seek privacy online is that they’re making a place of their own, away from the prying eyes of parents and authority figures.

It’s the idea of the closed bedroom door. You have an idea of what they’re up to behind that door, but you’re not privy to exactly what’s going on.

Kids need space to experiment with ideas and identities, to try on different personas. It’s part of growing up.

Where adults see an apparent contradiction, youth see an opportunity. Online media is a key place for identity play, social connectedness, and self-validation.

Another important factor in privacy-seeking behaviour by young people is managing reputation.

This is especially true for teens, and I’m sure this doesn’t come as a surprise to you. How they’re perceived by others in their social circles—both online and off—is so important to them.

As a result, many young people are very aware and cautious about how they are viewed online and want more control over their information.

While we should be encouraged by these actions, we also have to recognize the gaps in knowledge and skills.

While youth may be sophisticated users of online services, they don’t necessarily understand how the technology works or the business models that support it.

Just to be clear, I’m talking about those “free” services in exchange for your personal information. You know the ones—those free games, social media sites and mobile apps aren’t really free. They are making a profit off of the personal information that we give up by using these services without even taking the time to read those permissions we just click through quickly. And I think we need to acknowledge here that it’s not just youth — it’s us too! But there’s a need to understand the economics of personal information and the tradeoff that occurs when we use these things.

I think that’s why we sometimes see a misalignment between young people’s concerns about privacy and their actions in the online environment.

For example, 40% of teens say they are “very” or “somewhat” concerned that the information they share on social networking sites might be accessed by third parties, like advertisers or businesses, without their knowledge.

Yet 65% of students have never had a privacy policy or terms of use agreement explained to them, and 68% mistakenly believe that “if a website has a privacy policy, that means it will not share my personal information with anyone.”

Like an iceberg, there is so much happening under the surface that young people might not understand, let alone know about.

How can young people take steps to protect themselves, if they don’t understand that the personal information they’re giving up is in exchange for using online services?

And if they do know information exchange is happening—but they don’t have the skills to evaluate those activities and their implications for privacy—how can they make informed choices?

This is why young people count on those closest to them to help them navigate the unknowns—parents especially, but also friends, and of course teachers.

After engaging with children and youth, parents, librarians, educators and youth-serving organizations, our Office recognizes that we need to do more to make ourselves, and the resources we produce, more readily available.

To reach parents, we have started exhibiting and distributing resources at events like the Parent and Child Expo, and Teenfest in Western Canada, and we’ve been writing articles for parent-focused media.

We’ve reached out to a number of youth-serving organizations, like Scouts Canada and Big Brothers and Big Sisters, to see how we can work more closely with them to develop digital literacy and privacy skills among their young members.

And we’re making an effort to get out to speak to teachers to better connect with you, and let you know about the resources we’ve created that can help you in the classroom.

Let me give you just a few examples of some resources we’ve created that you might find useful.

Our most popular publication to date by far has been our graphic novel, Social Smarts.

The graphic novel tells the story of a brother and sister who learn about the privacy risks related to social networking, mobile devices and texting, and online gaming.

We wanted readers to see how valuable their personal information is, how companies are using it, and what they can do to protect themselves.

To make sure we were hitting the right notes, we got feedback from kids in Grades 6 and 9 when the comic was in the development stages. We also “road-tested” an early version with teachers in the Ottawa and Gatineau regions to make sure it was relevant and useful as a classroom resource.

We've heard that the comic is a helpful resource for engaging young people in a discussion about their online activities, and how those activities can positively or negative affect their reputation online and offline.

We have since developed a discussion guide to help direct conversations with students in a classroom setting.

It’s been around for a few years now, so we’re hoping to have young people look at it to let us know whether it’s worth updating or whether we should develop a new one, to add to the collection. We’ve put a copy in the conference bags—so feel free to reach out to us with any feedback you might have.

We’ve also recently relaunched our video on reputation management for teenagers. We’ve totally redone the graphics and have modernized it in order to appeal to young people today. I’d like to show a quick clip of it to give you an idea… This is available on our YouTube account and on our website, so feel free to take a look.

Another resource we’re working on is new presentation packages for youth—specifically grades 4-6, 7-8, and 9-12. I can show a bit of a preview here, but you’ll have to wait for us to publish the final versions on our website later this year.

Last year, we launched an interactive tool on our website for families, called House Rules for Online Privacy.

This tool encourages parents and kids to first talk about how they spend their time online, then discuss the ways they can protect their privacy while still communicating, exploring, learning, and playing in that space.

The tool essentially customizes rules to each family’s unique situation, and pumps them out so that they can be posted on the fridge or alongside the computer.

We ran a campaign encouraging parents to use our House Rules online tool to spark a discussion about their kids’ online activities and we continue to try to promote it actively. We have also featured it on the new OPC Facebook page we launched in March. Our page is geared more towards parents and sharing resources that they can use to talk to their kids about privacy, but I’d encourage you to take a look at it too, if you’d like, because we’re putting some good content on there.

On another note, there are also some exciting new partnerships on the horizon.

Privacy commissioners at the federal, provincial and territorial levels agree that focusing on youth privacy education and awareness is extremely important. So, we struck a committee to devote some of our collective energies toward this effort.

We have since engaged Media Smarts to help us produce new resources to improve privacy skills among youth—in particular, some free lesson plans for schools.

The first lesson plan will accompany a video we recently created.

You’ve heard the saying, “a picture says a thousand words”, so we developed a short video to help kids learn about the permanence of online posts, and the implications for privacy and reputation. Essentially, how difficult it is to get the toothpaste back in the tube.

Privacy education isn’t just an issue for Canada, either. Recently, privacy education was also spotlighted at the international level.

Last fall, Privacy Commissioners from around the world met in Marrakech, where they passed a resolution endorsing a set of learning principles for privacy education.

We were happy to see this resolution adopted—because it will help make privacy education a priority around the world.

The document recognizes that educators have a key role to play in the digital education of citizens, and this guide, intended for educators, outlines the framework’s nine foundational principles for privacy education. Some of those are:

  • Privacy and civil liberties
  • Controlling one's use of personal information
  • Online safety; and
  • Becoming a digital citizen

Each principle has a list of detailed skill and knowledge outcomes, framed as “I understand” and “I can” statements for learners.

For example:

  • I understand the concept of privacy, the right to privacy, and the need to have these rights recognized and protected;
  • I understand the terms and conditions of use relative to online services
  • I can express myself online while taking into account the nature of the space in which I am posting—be it private, public, related to school, with family and friends
  • I can participate in an online debate with respect for others

While it is still early days, this is a very exciting development for us, and one we hope gets us further along the path of better articulating and describing the essential privacy skills young people need to learn.

In closing, I’m not just here to plug our office’s work.

I want to hear from you, too!

I welcome your feedback, opinions, recommendations on what we’ve already created, but also on what you’d like to see and what would be useful in your classroom.

We’re currently refreshing our multi-year youth outreach strategy—so the timing for this conversation is really great. This is an opportunity to incorporate your comments and feedback into the planning.

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