Privacy and Security

This domain covers the concepts of privacy, identity management and cyber security.

Whereas privacy concerns mainly the protection of one’s own information and that of others, identity management is being in control of our online profile, and security relates more to a person’s awareness of how online actions and behaviour can put both at risk. The privacy and security domain covers competences such as effectively managing information shared online and using tools (navigation filters, passwords, anti-virus and firewall software) to avoid dangerous or unpleasant situations or to retain some sense of anonymity.

Privacy and protection – two sides of the same coin

Privacy, data protection and security are intricately linked to rights, freedom and responsibility, and should be introduced to children from their very first steps on the internet. Users who are aware of the responsibilities and challenges are more able to detect and circumvent online risks and dangers, protect their data and digital identity, and maintain security measures that make their digital activities safe and sustainable for themselves and others. When online, everyone is entitled to safety and security, as well as respect for the ideas they share and fair treatment for the resources they create and disseminate. A right of access is inevitably accompanied by expectations and responsibilities, and schools and families have an essential role in preparing young people to shoulder these.

As technology progresses seamlessly into every corner of our daily life, privacy and protection are becoming inextricably entwined. Nowadays, internet security no longer only depends on how we, as digital citizens, manage our own security risks, but is also about making sure that our actions and behaviour do not put others at risk. Being a digital citizen therefore means learning how to protect access to our devices and handle with care anything that can threaten the privacy and security of ourselves or others. Educating children to be responsible stakeholders in the digital society and economy has to be a priority if the internet is to be an environment of trust, where fundamental human rights and civic mindedness prevail.

My privacy and yours

Protecting privacy online calls on a broad spectrum of competences. The very meaning of privacy is underpinned by knowledge and critical understanding of self and others, and a value for human dignity and human rights. This is not possible without a solid knowledge of how today’s powerful communication tools work, a critical understanding of the many ways that information can be used against us and how snippets of information or tagged photos can easily be put together to complete a far more detailed and possibly sensitive picture than was initially intended. Privacy is a culturally sensitive concept that calls for a solid understanding of cultural diversity, a respect for the beliefs, world view and practices of others and the motivation to protect such personal information from being spread across the internet.

We live in an age of big data, where private information is a currency in its own right. Citizens everywhere, and not just children and young people, have to keep in mind in their online activities, especially in social media and when using search engines, that they may be the consumer, but they are also the product. Both commercial sites and non-commercial sites and platforms customise the content they feed us on the basis of a profile that has been built from the footprints we have left online. Even national elections and referendums have purportedly been shaped through profiling voters and using big data in unscrupulous ways.

Although in today’s world it is an almost impossible feat for citizens to maintain full power over their personal data, education can go a long way by fostering the relevant skills. Understanding the terms and conditions of information service providers, for example, and the purpose of cookies before consenting to them, are essential in digital citizenship. Citizens must also be able to decide when to provide or not provide data that is being requested, verify the purpose and end use of data collection, and make sure they know how collected information will be processed. They have to know how, when and where to accept that personal data is accessed, refuse its collection without informed consent, have it corrected, delisted or erased.

Citizens need to know how to contact service providers and seek recourse from the national Data Protection Authority, a judge (depending on national legislation) or an advocacy group when their rights are breached.

Managing digital identity

It is important that children begin learning to manage their digital identity from the moment they step into the digital space, and quickly become aware of how easy it is to give away more information than intended. They need to critically understand which aspects of their data are private, what data can be safely shared and how this varies across contexts, for example, with family members, as a student or member of a sporting club, or when they visit a doctor or health service. When children start accessing online services independently, they need to be able to choose when it is safer, and legal, to use pseudonyms or different accounts, profiles or e-mail addresses to protect their identity. Another first step that can become a fun activity for even very young children is learning to create, change and manage passwords. This is all part of becoming competent in “digital identity management”, a fundamental digital citizenship skill that is based on a whole range of knowledge, values and attitudes.

Identity theft can happen when victims inadvertently leak private information, or voluntarily provide personal data as a result of a phishing attempt or a scam, and it can dangerously escalate. Losing control of a relatively unimportant online account such as access to an online forum can easily be remedied, but having a social media profile, a main e-mail account or an online banking identity hacked can have very serious consequences. Besides the economic and social cost for the victim, personal data and data on his/her online connections may be jeopardised. Just imagine if someone began using your account or credit card to order items online or impersonating you via your profile or e-mail!

Cybersecurity – a rapidly growing threat

Digital citizens today have a shared responsibility to contribute to maintaining a secure online environment. Hacking is a growing challenge; in 2017, it brought down extensive hospital, banking and shipping systems. Comparatively little is being done to make schoolchildren aware of the gravity of such anti-social behaviour which would certainly be fiercely criticised in an offline context.

Spam, phishing, viruses, malware and bots have far-reaching consequences too, and digital citizens can protect themselves from these threats if they know where to procure the right protective tools and how to apply them. Understanding and caring for our digital environment is as important as caring for our home and living environment, especially as the internet of things and the internet of toys make their way into our daily life. Sustainability, both online and offline, relies on knowledge and critical understanding, and a value of human rights and dignity, since the carelessness of one person can place the whole family, school or an entire network at risk. We teach young children to navigate the risks to their home, town or city, so should they not learn at the same time how to safely and securely navigate the online environment, for their own welfare and that of others around them?

Privacy and security is an important domain in digital citizenship education that has to be tended to by governments, educational authorities, families and children themselves. With a strong, well-implemented multistakeholder privacy and security policy in society and embedded in the school curriculum, children and young people can become digitally competent and empowered enough to enjoy their rights and respect their responsibilities as citizens in the digital age. Blockchain technology could also be added to the learning agenda, as it holds great promise for solving many of the dilemmas and challenges already discussed: privacy, data protection, digital identity management and cyber security.

How does it work?

As the concept of privacy varies broadly across cultures and across families, it should become an everyday topic for family discussion. Children learn from their parents’ example about what they can share and when, and their critical understanding of the world is built in part on knowing why certain information is private and why it is important to respect the data of others.

Targeted commercial ads, information and propaganda are unfortunately difficult to escape and can be especially harmful to young minds. Children and young people need to become aware of how tracking and profiling occur, and that they are leaving footprints when they use search engines, consult sites, make online purchases or “like” on social networks. They need to know that even their “likes” are monitored and used to map their profile so that ads can be customised and directed towards them. Cookies can be used as tracking and profiling tools too but, as they also play a “positive” role in facilitating access to favourite or most used sites, it is not always easy to refuse them. While the actual benefits of cookies are questionable, protecting yourself from unwanted tracking through third-party cookies is highly recommended. Regularly cleaning your navigation history is another way to reduce tracking and limit targeted ads.

To avoid falling prey to propaganda, unethical commercial practices and time-wasting information overload, digital citizens need to develop solid critical thinking and analysis skills. Filtering and ad-blocking tools exist, but they are rarely fully reliable, and it is helpful if young people create their own checklists of steps to take to avoid or rapidly delete unwanted content. This valuable learning activity is one stepping stone to building critical thinking skills.

Digital citizens have a civic responsibility to tackle cyber security on each of their own internet-connected devices, applying available privacy and security settings and installing anti-virus/spam/malware and other software for optimal security. Insufficient security makes it easier for spam to circulate, and spam is one of the most prevalent means of spreading false or fraudulent information and preying on the goodwill of recipients to gather information or gain pecuniary profit. Hundreds of new viruses and malware are emerging every day, so users need to be diligent about regularly updating their security whenever new versions or patches become available. Geolocation settings and Bluetooth should be switched off when not in use, because they provide easy access to intruders, and can give away far more

Educational and citizenship value

Children gain many of their early insights into how society works through learning about privacy, identity management and security. Privacy is closely linked to children’s earliest experiences of the world beyond their home and offers an ideal opportunity for them to learn about sharing, empathy, caution and the fact that once something is given it cannot be taken back. Defining their own profile and that of others around them will introduce children to the notions of diversity and inclusion, sharpen their capacity to listen and observe, foster an openness to cultural otherness and, if tackled pedagogically, can help build their self-esteem. Older children can learn important lessons about privacy if parents or teachers have them print their social media profile page from time to time and post it in a public space. Older students will rapidly become aware of double values with regard to privacy online and offline.

Figure 17: Privacy and security – Core digital citizenship competencesConscientious parents and teachers drill children on road safety, and ensure they are protected until they have developed the necessary capacity to become autonomous, yet very young children often roam freely in the online space which is far greater than any town or street. Self-protection, privacy and security can and should be taught through playful age-appropriate activities from the moment children first have access to an internet-connectable device. They can then progress one step at a time offline until they are cognitively ready to access the digital space.

Security is also about caring for others, and actively contributing to bringing about positive change to the environment in which we live. It is important that children and young people learn about the positive side of security, which enables us to trust and respect each other and take active steps to ensure the well-being of others.

Security is, moreover, a fast growing but long neglected area of employment for coming generations. Wi-Fi connected homes, toys and, in the very near future, automobiles and public transport are rapidly making security a very important facet of our lives, and one that is already offering promising study and professional opportunities. Security is an exciting topic for investigative learning at school and at home.

Figure 17: Privacy and security – Core digital citizenship competences