Computers, Privacy & the Constitution

Teaching Privacy in Primary Schools

-- By TalBenMoshe - 08 Mar 2020


As modern-day law students, we are faced with a choice when we enter law school: Lexis or Westlaw? Lexis hooks many students through gamification, a technique designed to tap into brain chemistry to make services addictive . This is one example which causes lock-in. In this narrow context, this practice may seem like a run of the mill commercial marketing strategy to ensure future customers.

However, lock-in is being used on a national scale in our public-school systems through “Googlification” of the classroom. Recently, New Mexico’s AG filed suit against Google alleging the company was tracking and monitoring school children without their consent. Of course, that would be alarming enough if true, but even if not true; even if Google was simply providing their apps and services for free and digitally shredding all of the data and metadata produced – New Mexico’s main contention is burying the lede.

Half of the children in the US’s public schools are being indoctrinated into a centralized ecosystem run by an advertising company. This will essentially lock them into services that collects their data before they understand the consequence or tradeoffs. This reveals only one major gap in our educational system that needs to be addressed.

Like lock-in, there are various other harms we are expose children to with no accompanying educational mechanism. Similar to how sexual education is taught in public schools, society has a vested interest in having a population that is informed about data centralization, social platform usage, and targeted misinformation. Our schools need to face this challenge head on in order to effectively teach in the 21st century.

The Societal Interest

Sexual education does not have a great track record in our public-school system, but that does not mean it cannot be done right. Further, much of the inadequacy regarding US sexual education is fraught with religious controversies – this is not the case for technology. Regardless, society benefits from teaching children about building relationships, obtaining consent, and fostering a safe sexual environment. But while we should be teaching children about the positive effects of sexual interactions, we also should be teaching them about sexual violence and STDs.

Similarly, democratic societies benefit from teaching children how to use the internet safely, how to gather research on the internet, and foster online communities. But we should also be teaching children about the dangers of the internet. Specifically, in terms of privacy and data which can be used to manipulate and cause fabricated internal societal strife. And in order to do so, we must do this in a practical and interactive way.

How Educators Can Educate


While lock-in assuredly makes it easier for data brokers to build more effective social graphs, brokers continually engage in the aggregation of social and demographic data between commercial providers. Today, save for complete decentralization, educators cannot eliminate the harm to their student’s privacy. Thus, the discussion below will focus on harm reduction rather than elimination.

Platformization and Data Centralization

Educators can assuredly teach children about alternatives to commercialized platforms and the easy ways of accessing them. But it would be a mistake for educators to strictly advocate for these alternatives without addressing the commercial platforms that pervade our society. This would be akin to teaching children ‘abstinence only’ in sexual education.

Instead, educators should use projects such as Mastodon : running an independent Mastodon instance within their classroom and allow their students to use it for a few weeks, a month, a year and students should intermittently be able to view the data amassed. This can demonstrate how each student’s social graph is built over time even within the small confines of a classroom.

Educators should also encourage students to realize how much information they are giving to the centralized admin (in this case, the teacher), and be confronted with their feelings about the information they gave away. For example, revealing every student’s best friend, what they did last weekend, their favorite bands, etc.

This should be a continual project which aims to graduate students with a better understanding of data hygiene. In more advance courses, educators can show how the social graph can reveal truly private information and details such as sexual identity, religious beliefs, and political affiliation.

Targeted Misinformation

Once educators can show what a social graph encompasses, they will be able to demonstrate how it can be used to manipulate social behavior. Many schools already possess the foundation for students to experiment with such data – specifically Model UN.

Using fabricated social graphs of each hypothetical country students should be allowed to try and manipulate the results of certain votes. These types of exercises should be taught alongside historical data leaks and misinformation campaigns such as Cambridge Analytics, Equifax, etc. This can further demonstrate the tradeoffs of the convenience afforded by using centralized platforms.


Some children are given access to smartphones before they can even walk. That is a parenting problem, and much can be written on what parents can be doing to educate their children about internet privacy. But this does not mean parents should be the only party at fault for a child’s deficiency in knowledge.

One can advocate for open source software and decentralization until they are blue in the face, but will still have to face the reality that, right now, children are using commercialized platforms and unwittingly giving away their private data. This is a societal issue, and one that is fundamental. We have already seen the damage done by big data companies. Why, if we have the resources to teach children about the realities of the internet, are we doing nothing? Why are local governments paying Google to sit in on half of the public schools in the US?

Administrations and educators will have to answer these questions. As society, we should be advocating for proper education – and any proper education necessarily entails teaching the reality of the world we live in.

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r2 - 08 Mar 2020 - 22:26:22 - TalBenMoshe
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