Week 2 Workshop Report: What should the game teach? (part 2)

by Kate Raynes-Goldie

Another goal for the second week was to talk about different kinds of privacy – especially aspects of privacy that are perhaps not thought of as connected with online privacy. In my own research with 20-somethings and that of others (such as Zeynep Tufekci and Brandtzæg et al) that young people (college/university-age students) conceive of privacy in a different way than traditional legal conceptions which are based on the “right to be left alone” or total withdrawal. This sort of privacy usually revolves around protecting and managing information gathered about individuals by institutions, such as banks or law enforcement.  ”Institutional” privacy, as it can be called, had traditionally been what the world’s data protection and privacy commissioners have been concerned with. On the other hand, things like identity, reputation and context management (or “social” privacy) seems to be more of a pressing concern to 20-something social media users. This sort of disconnection of terms has probably what lead to misunderstandings that youth don’t know or don’t care about privacy at all. We wanted to explore this distinction with our younger co-designers. How did they conceive of privacy? What did they know about online privacy issues? Where they more concerned with institutional or social privacy, or something else? Through a number of exercises, our goal was to explore these questions and, co-construct a shared idea of what we (both adults and children) meant when we talked about privacy. To that end, and to avoid skewing results, we didn’t use actually the word “privacy” until later in the workshop. What we found was partially unexpected.

The first exercise was a drawing exercise where the children each picked one of the following and drew a picture about it:

  • Not being watched
  • Keeping secrets
  • Other people thinking true things about you
  • Being left alone
  • Knowing what is said about you

At the end, we asked “are any of these things connected to privacy?” Three said yes, three said no and one said maybe. What was also interesting was that the two pictures of “being left alone” described sad situations. Overall, it seemed that there is some confusion about what privacy actually means.

The final privacy exercise of the day was bringing together what we had talked about to get some ideas of what the privacy game we’re creating together should actually teach. Based on the advice of Sara Grimes, I told stories about different online privacy situations and then we discussed them. As Sara suggested, stories about other people would make it easier for everyone to feel comfortable sharing since it would be less personal. Coming out of this discussion was the somewhat unexpected part. All the children but one said that adults had told them to be concerned about their online privacy. And what they were usually told about (especially the girls) was worrying about strangers — a threat that has been shown time and time again as highly exaggerated. While this wasn’t surprising, what was surprising is that that they hadn’t been told about institutional privacy issues, such as how to make choices about when/if to trust websites or online games and the consequences of those choices. Despite this, they were all quite savvy that online games were “greedy” and that the agreements they were asked to sign when they joined weren’t there to protect children, rather they were there to protect the companies “from being sued.” Despite this knowledge, there seemed to be a bit of a disconnect between this knowledge and actual action — a problem adults have as well. I suspect, though, that the emphasis on “stranger danger” rather than institutional privacy and trust combined with a lack of education in that area underscores that disconnect. Making good privacy choices with respect to how companies might use your data is just not being framed as important.

Based on this, our co-creators wanted the game to help children make good choices around who to trust online, beyond strangers. One of them wanted to know how to figure out if someone else really was another kid or not. Another wanted to know more about viruses, spying and hacking. They were also curious about how to determine of an online game company would be “greedy” or not, and thus if they could be trusted.

The research supports this focus as well. Valerie Steeves, Trevor Milford and Ashley Butts notes in their best practices for educational initatives in their literature review on youth and online privacy, that children and youth should be encouraged to critically reflect on “the role of advertising, marketing, and consumerism as drivers of children’s online experiences.” This is exactly what our co-creators want to to know more about!