Privacy Advisor

Fordham Law Develops Privacy Curriculum for Middle Schoolers

A lawsuit settlement has funded a year-long project aimed at keeping kids safe online

October 30, 2013

By Angelique Carson, CIPP/US

Teenagers are tough to keep track of. After school, it’s on to sports practice and social lives and the rest. But one central place they can be found en masse is online. Not only are 93 percent of 12 to 17 year olds online, according to a recent study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, but they’re sharing more about themselves than ever before, including photos of themselves, school names, cities of residence and e-mail addresses.

It’s data like that that incited one New York law school to develop curriculum for middle school-aged kids, released to the public this month, aiming to teach them to use the privacy controls available to them online.

Fordham Law’s Center on Law and Information Policy (CLIP) was one of the recipients of NebuAd’s cy pres deal to settle a class-action lawsuit filed against the now-defunct company after it allegedly illegally snooped on web users. The company distributed $1.7 million to Internet privacy nonprofits. Joel Reidenberg, founding director at CLIP, was looking for a way for his students to do some good in the community via a public-service project for privacy education, and the cy pres funds allowed him to see that through.

Over the course of the school year, Fordham CLIP Privacy Fellow Jordon Kovnot, under Reidebenberg’s direction, developed a curriculum on privacy geared toward middle school kids. The aim was to develop a turnkey program that would engage the kids in classroom discussions with their schoolmates about their own privacy “rather than having some adult talk it to them,” Reidenberg said in an interview with The Privacy Advisor.

Students from Manhattan’s PS191 who participated in the privacy curriculum’s pilot program and (from left to right) their teacher, Shawn Mitchell, Fordham CLIP Director Joel Reidenberg, PS191 teacher Nichole Gagnon and Fordham law students who volunteered to teach the program. In the far back is Jordan Kovnot, the former CLIP privacy fellow who developed the curriculum.

The pilot program involved 30 students at Manhattan’s PS191 and was administered by Fordham law student volunteers last spring.

“The goal is really to help educate the kids that they should be thinking about privacy right at the point of time in their lives that they are beginning to use online tools,” Reidenberg said. “That’s where they are getting online for social networking sites, they’re using smartphones, the parental restrictions on the phone are less. The permanence of the kind of information they may disclose is something that, at that age, they aren’t going to be thinking about, and this was a way of helping them think about it,” said Reidenberg.

The curriculum aims “not to be preachy” but to influence kids to make sound decisions online at the early end of their interactions by introducing them to the tools available to protect their privacy. The hour-long sessions cover topics including privacy basics; how to deal with passwords and behavioral ads; navigating social media and tricky situations, and managing a digital reputation.

Students were asked to discuss with their peers whether they knew who can see their information, whether they knew where their privacy settings lived and if they had ever used them.

“You got some pretty good answers,” Reidenberg said. “That’s why it was really unique. As a peer program, there are going to be some kids who are really sophisticated and some kids who are totally not, and it’s one thing if a kid in the class is telling a classmate about a problem online versus an adult saying the same thing. The kid is going to retain more from the classmate than the adult. Then, if the kids have misunderstandings or misperceptions, that’s what the adult is there to correct.”

Initially intended for Fordham Law students participating in the service program, the curriculum has now been adopted by 13 law schools in the U.S., including Princeton, Yale, Berkeley, Tulane and Harvard.

“The idea is that this is a great way to have partnerships between law schools and their communities or bar associations and their community,” Reidenberg said.

In the name of wide-scale adaptation, the curriculum documents are open-sourced and available to any school or organization interested. You can find the materials here.

Read More by Angelique Carson:
LIBE Adopts Compromise Amendments; Sends Draft to Council
This Week in Breach Roundup
Baker: The Grandfather of Privacy Was A Fogey
Changing Tactics: The Rise of the Privacy Advocates