A parent/author/tech pundit’s view on how to teach kids privacy

By Anne Collier

By blocking social media in schools and monitoring our kids at home, we’ve been falling down on the job – our job of educating them about how to protect their own privacy in an increasingly networked world. Blocking and monitoring has taught them to develop workarounds, not good privacy practices.

“We want our kids to fight isolation with networks,” said father and pundit Cory Doctorow in this brief talk at The Observer’s recent UK TEDx conference about privacy in a networked world – a world that he says is training us to forgo privacy “in service to a business model” that capitalizes on our social lives. But “we don’t want kids to stop social networking online,” he adds.

Teach them to protect anonymity, not abuse it

“We want them to [socialize online] in a way where pseudonymity and anonymity are a piece of what they do” and where that socializing is “not characterized by a default position of irrevocable disclosure.” And what’s the best way? Not monitoring and blocking, which sends children the message that Big Brother is not only ok, but protective!
Education in Big Brother avoidance and privacy best practices is the answer, Doctorow says. What I hear as he details what that education looks like is that we need to teach our kids how to use social media rather than all the downsides or it and rather than block or monitor their every move in social media.

By, as he puts it, “routinely deploying surveillance technology in the name of keeping our kids safe,” we’re not only not educating them, we’re sending them exactly the wrong message. “It trains kids to believe surveillance of our every move on the Internet is the legitimate thing for authority figures to do. It teaches them to systematically undervalue their privacy – years before they reach Facebook. It in fact grooms them to accept total involuntary disclosure of their social and intellectual life as normal and good.”

Teach privacy best practices

So what should we do? Teach by example, he suggests: “Let’s turn our libraries, schools, and other learning institutions into islands of networked privacy best practices. Let’s teach our kids to encrypt everything they do on the Net, let’s teach them to jailbreak every device they can handle, to choose the best products for their privacy…. teach them to bust every censor wall because every censor wall harvests a record of what they look at, spoof every form they’re asked to put their info into.”

Doctorow concludes that “this won’t automatically make Facebook start selling on privacy, but it will legitimize the use of privacy tools and lay the ground for a future where ‘Why do you need to know this?’ is the default position when someone asks our kids to disclose information over the network.” This will also spill over into teaching and learning online safety and reputation best practices too. [See also “Cory Doctorow’s radical proposition for libraries” at YouthPrivacy.ALA.org.]

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