Kids’ Online Privacy: SOUPS Conference Keynote

Last week I went to the SOUPS conference in Ottawa. As a first-time attendee, it was a good opportunity to connect with some members of the academic usable-security community. One of the highlights was keynote speaker Valerie Steeves.

Steeves, sharing findings from her Young Canadians in a Wired World research, reported results of an in-depth study of 5,436 Canadians in Grades 4-11. Based on a survey and in-person discussions, she shared sobering findings that kids’ expectations of online privacy are not being met. Alarmingly, 68% of respondents agreed with the incorrect statement that “If a website has a privacy policy, that means it will not share my personal information with others.”

Young Canadiana Life Online

2013 Summary of Young Canadians’ Online Behaviors, from http://mediasmarts.ca/ycww

Steeves also explained specific ways that the corporate, for-profit internet is harmful to children. She particularly called out commercial surveillance – for example, Club Penguin’s rules for policing other community members – as harmful for reinforcing gendered stereotypes and setting kids up for conflict with each other.

Using quotes, she captured the frustration young people felt at being forced to agree to consent to privacy behaviors they don’t want in order to participate with their friends.

“If we had a choice to say no, I would chose no. We can’t, or else we can’t go on the thing…” – Young Canadians in a Wired World study participant on agreeing to undesirable website terms.

Being able to spend time online with friends is tremendously important, so the participants were repeatedly willing to make privacy compromises to be able to participate.

The qualitative research shared in this presentation is a powerful motivator for giving people more control over their privacy and has an important role in informing design directions.

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