Illustration for "TITLE"

Teachers’ Resources, Module 3:

Information about you on the Internet will be used by somebody in their interest — including against you

About This Lesson Module:

The lesson elements in this module teach students about the privacy principle “Information about you on the Internet will be used by somebody in their interest — including against you”. They are designed to be independent and flexible, so you can incorporate them into any size lesson plan.

Summary of Learning Objectives: Students can give examples of how their data may be used to benefit others; students can investigate and evaluate how different online services use data, in order to make informed choices.

Target Age: High school, college undergraduate.

Learning Objectives
  1. Students can give examples of personal data that services or sites may share with other services or companies, and examples of how those “third parties” may use that data. Examples should include both information they explicitly post and supposedly hidden information.
  2. Students can give examples of how having their personal data might benefit any of the following: friends/family, acquaintances, businesses, institutions, governments, and cybercriminals.
  3. Students can explain the business model that allows companies that provide free or cheap online services to make money by selling consumer data to advertisers and/or data brokers.
  4. Students can explain the difference between “opt in” and “opt out” models for information sharing, and relate those models to the lack of comprehensive laws regulating data sharing by companies, institutions, or governments.
  5. Student can investigate how online services use data and who they share it with, and explain how they would use this information in choosing which services to use and which data to give those services access to.
  6. Students can identify potential consequences of choosing particular privacy settings on apps, sites, and devices, in terms of how their data could be used by the parties who can see it — and whether those uses would likely be beneficial, neutral, or detrimental to themselves.
Curriculum Standards Addressed

Lesson elements in this module can be used to address the following computer-science curricular standards.

AP Computer Science Principles Curriculum Framework

Elements substantially address the following Essential Knowledge under Big Idea 7, Global Impact:

  • 7.3.1H. Aggregation of information, such as geolocation, cookies, and browsing history, raises privacy and security concerns.
  • 7.3.1J. Technology enables the collection, use, and exploitation of information about, by, and for individuals, groups, and institutions.
  • 7.3.1L. Commercial and governmental curation of information may be exploited if privacy and other protections are ignored.

The following Essential Knowledge is also touched on:

  • Under Big Idea 3: Data and Information: 3.1.1E, 3.3.1F.
  • Under Big Idea 6: The Internet: 6.3.1D.
  • Under Big Idea 7: Global Impact: 7.1.1E, 7.1.1N, 7.2.1A, 7.2.1C, 7.3.1A, 7.3.1D, 7.3.1G, 7.3.1K, 7.3.1M.
CSTA K–12 Computer Science Standards (Level 3 — High School)

The following learning objectives are touched on:

  • Under Level 3, Course 3A: Computer Science in the Modern World: CI.4, CI.8, CI.10.
  • Under Level 3, Course 3B: Computer Science Concepts and Practices: CI.2.
ACM Computer Science Curricula 2013 (CS2013) Guidelines (Undergraduate)

Elements substantially address the following Learning Outcomes under Information Management:

  • Data Mining 2: Explain the value of finding associations in market basket data.

The following Learning Outcomes are also touched on:

  • Under Information Assurance and Security: Security Policy and Governance 2.
  • Under Information Management: Data Mining 1.
  • Under Networking and Communication: Social Networking 2.
  • Under Social Issues and Professional Practice: Privacy and Civil Liberties 3; Security Policies, Laws and Computer Crimes 3.

“Engage” Activities:

Use one or more of these lesson elements to introduce the topic and ignite students’ interest.

In-Class Whole-Group Activity: Dollars vs. Data

Estimated Time: 1-2 minutes.
What You’ll Need: A dollar and a piece of paper with information about you.

This activity catches students’ attention by directly comparing money and information.

  • Prepare a small slip of paper with a few pieces of information about you (e.g., name, age, school, position, favorite sports team, hobbies, etc.).
  • To open this lesson, hand one student a dollar and hand another student the slip of paper. Ask the student with the information to read it aloud. Then ask the class who got the better deal.

Target Answer: The student with the dollar got the better deal.

Details/Background for Teachers: The student with the information most likely doesn’t have a database to put it in nor a business in which that information would be relevant. But if the student with the information had other information to put it together with and customers to sell it to, it would be worth more. (See the Financial Times data calculator at for ideas on which characteristics you can list that would be worth the most.)

Optional Extension

Estimated Additional Time: 3-5 minutes.

Ask these follow-up questions:

  • Why is the dollar more valuable?
  • What circumstances would have to be different for the information to be worth more than a dollar? (In other words, how could the information be monetized effectively?)
Quick Opening Questions (Whole-Class Mini-Discussion)

Estimated Time: 10-15 minutes.
What You’ll Need: Blackboard/whiteboard (optional).

Quick Knowledge Check

How much is your personal information worth?

Follow-up Prompts:

  • Can your information be sold for money? How much?
  • Who would want to pay for it?
  • Which types of information do you think are most valuable?
  • Does your information have non-monetary value?

High-Level Answer: Information is very valuable, though the ways it can be used depend on the purposes and resources of the person or entity using it.

Details/Background for Teachers: We might not think that our information is valuable, because we don’t know how to monetize it. But online businesses compile lots of information about people, and make a profit from that combined information. In many cases, businesses will sell your information to each other, to advertisers, and to data aggregators who in turn sell it to advertisers and other businesses. In addition, data may have non-monetary value, to those who have some other interest in keeping tabs on your activities (from benign interests like friends wanting to know where you’re at to malicious interests like spying and stalking).

News Stories You Can Use
The Quick Hook

Estimated Time: 1.5 minutes per story.
What You’ll Need: Computer and projector (optional).

These news items can be used to illustrate the real-life consequences of privacy breaches. If you have a computer and projector, you can show the stories on a screen as you talk about them. If not, you can simply summarize them verbally.

OfficeMax Blames Data Broker for ‘Daughter Killed in Car Crash’ Letter
  • Summary: Parent of daughter killed in a car crash receives a mailer from OfficeMax mentioning the fact in the address field; OfficeMax says it was accidentally included from the listing they bought from a data broker.
NYPD Eyeing Rap Lyrics, Music Videos to Go After Gang Crime
  • Summary: The New York City police create a team to investigate and research rap-music videos that mention gang activity and violence; team uses lyrics as evidence in criminal investigations; artists protest that lyrics are often fictional.
Facebook Friday: Plan a Party, Good. Plan a Murder, Bad
  • Summary: A woman posts a status message on Facebook requesting that someone (anyone) assassinate the father of her child; the intended victim sees it on Facebook before the attempt and calls the police.
Optional Extension

Estimated Additional Time: 1.5 minutes per story.

For each news item, ask the students:

  • How was people’s information obtained?
  • How was the information originally meant to be used?
  • How was the information actually used?
  • Was that use beneficial, harmful, or neutral from the point of view of the person whose information it was?
  • How could the situation have been avoided?
Other Media Resources for "Engage"

Estimated Time: 5 minutes each (including questions).
What You’ll Need: Computer, projector, and speakers.

Either of these media resources can be used to open the lesson and engage students’ attention through humor.

Video: Cyber Life
  • Summary: A prospective student meets with a college admissions officer who has been looking at his not-so-squeaky-clean Facebook and Twitter posts. (Fiction.)
  • Content Advisory: Includes photos of underage drinking and a screenshot with the word “bitch”.

Optional Teaser Questions:

  • Before you show the video: When you post on social media, what “audience” do you aim your posts at?
  • After you show the video: Do you think this could really happen?

(Produced by the Community Healthcare Network of New York City.)

Video: CIA’s ‘Facebook’ Program Dramatically Cut Agency’s Costs (Alternative: Ad-Free Version)
  • Summary: Satirical “news” and commentary that refers to Facebook as an intelligence-gathering tool invented by the CIA. (Fiction.)
  • Note: It may be helpful to remind students that almost nothing in the piece is factually true.

Optional Teaser Questions:

  • Before you show the video: When you post about yourself online, who else do you think might be interested in it besides your friends and family?
  • After you show the video: Do you think social media could really be used this way? If they wanted to, could the CIA locate you based on your social-media profiles?

(Produced by the Onion News Network.)

“Explore” Activities:

Use one or more of these lesson elements to ground students’ learning in firsthand experience with how privacy works.

Worksheet Activity: How Much Is Your Data Worth?

Estimated Time: 15 minutes as an individual activity; 25 minutes for pairs or groups; 30 minutes as a whole-class activity.
What You’ll Need: Copies of the worksheet, computers or mobile devices.

This activity can be done separately, in pairs or groups, or as a class. Students answer questions as they experiment with an interactive calculator that shows the value of the personal information that data brokers sell to marketers.

Download Worksheet: “How Much is Your Data Worth?”

Personal Data Calculator:

  1. If you’re in a computer lab or students are allowed to have mobile devices in class, have them go through the calculator and answer the worksheet questions individually or in pairs.
  2. If students don’t each have their own computers/devices: Using a projector, go through the calculator as a class, calling on different students to answer each question any way they wish. Then discuss what made the biggest difference and why.
Whole-Class Brainstorm & Discussion: What Data Could They Use?

Estimated Time: 10-15 minutes.
What You’ll Need: Blackboard/whiteboard (optional).

Ask students to give examples of pieces of personal data about them that might be online. Examples can be written on the board.

Pick two or three interesting examples and ask:

  • Could this piece of information be valuable to others?
  • Who do you think could use that information?
    • Follow-Up Prompts: Institutions? Companies? The government? Your friends and family? Cybercriminals?
  • What could they use it for?
  • Would those ways of using your data help you? Hurt you? Neither?
    • Note: Students may disagree about this question, for example whether targeted advertising is beneficial; there is no right answer.

Some examples you can start them off with:

  • Example Uses for Institutions (schools, churches…):
    • Data mining/statistics, location, keeping tabs on what you do, screening candidates for admission or employment
  • Example Uses for Companies:
    • Advertising, selling it to other companies, data mining/statistics, screening candidates for employment, determining risk for credit/insurance
  • Example Uses for the Government:
    • Investigating crimes/enforcing laws, spying (foreign and domestic), security, using data to improve programs, analyzing use of services, collecting taxes
  • Example Uses for Friends/Family:
    • Knowing where you are and what you’re doing (status), tracking your mood/emotions, tracking life changes, communication, gossip
  • Example Uses for Cybercriminals:
    • Stealing your identity, using credit cards, draining bank accounts, logging onto your personal accounts

“Explain” Activities:

Use one or more of these lesson elements to provide students with important facts and underlying concepts.

Slide Deck for "Information Is Valuable"

Estimated Time: 10-15 minutes.
What You’ll Need: Computer, projector, and speakers; copies of graphic organizer (optional).

These slides can be used for an overview lecture on the basic concepts underlying the principle “Information about you on the Internet will be used by somebody in their interest — including against you”. The slides are accompanied by Notes with details and examples to guide your lecture.

Access Slide Deck: “Information Is Valuable”

Use the custom Graphic Organizer to help students follow along and take notes.

Access Worksheet: Graphic Organizer for “Information Is Valuable” Presentation

Related Readings from Blown to Bits

The Blown to Bits textbook covers a wide spectrum of ideas related to Internet privacy, with a particular focus on the new, unique, ever-changing nature of the Internet.

Online Version: Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness After the Digital Explosion, by Hal Abelson, Ken Ledeen, and Harry Lewis

You can assign students all or parts of the following chapters for an in-depth but engaging exploration of the ideas covered in Module 5.

  • Chapter 3: Ghosts in the Machine: Secrets and Surprises of Electronic Documents — Excerpt
  • Chapter 4: Needles in the Haystack: Google and Other Brokers in the Bits Bazaar — Excerpt
  • Content Advisory: Blown to Bits refers to STI outbreaks and discusses the dangers of sending sexually explicit content online.

“Elaborate” Activities:

Use one or more of these lesson elements to go deeper into the underlying concepts and/or let students practice important privacy skills.

Worksheet Activity: The Social-Media Background Check

Estimated Time: 30 minutes or more.
What You’ll Need: Copies of worksheet; computers.

In this activity, students research how their favorite social-media platform uses (or potentially misuses) data mining. In other words, they run a background check on a social-media site!

Download Worksheet: “The Social-Media Background Check”

  • This activity works best if students collaborate in pairs or groups to complete the worksheet. However, it can also be used as an individual activity or as homework.
  • If they are working in pairs or groups, encourage students to discuss why they would or would not be okay with the data mining described in the articles.
  • To get a wider breadth of information, have the class come up with a list of social-media platforms they use and assign each group a platform. After they fill out the worksheet, have each group report their results to the class.
  • Students can also try searching for the phrases “privacy concerns”, “data misuse”, “privacy controversy”, etc.
Programming Exercise: What Can You Learn from Cross-Site Aggregation?

Estimated Time: 60-90 minutes.
What You’ll Need: Student computers that can access social media sites.
Programming Language: Python.
Prerequisite: Introductory Python lessons.

In this Python-based exercise, students use the Tumblr and Twitter APIs to extract posts for a fictional character, Kai Peroc, and view them in an array. They are then asked to brainstorm inferences they can draw by comparing the different information presented on the two sites by the same person, and how different entities could use the inferred information.

Download Programming Exercise (as Jupyter Notebook): What Can You Learn from Cross-Site Aggregation?

  1. Pair Programming: We recommend you have students do this exercise in pairs or groups. At least one student in each pair/group will need to have or create Tumblr and Twitter accounts. For tips on pair programming in the classroom, check out NCWIT’s pair programming kit.
  2. Brainstorming questions can be used for small-group or whole-class discussion or for individual writing.

Programming Concepts Taught:

  • Use APIs and programming languages together to extract and analyze data.
  • Use for loops to iterate actions over a dataset.
  • Use arrays to handle and combine text data.

Caveat: We use a fictional character to avoid the risk of embarrassing and potentially harmful revelations if students look at each other’s social media posts. (Even publicly-viewable posts may include information that students do not wish to have known.)

Of course, they may think of looking at each other’s feeds even if it is not part of the exercise. If you think this is a concern, you may want to begin the activity by reemphasizing your rules for a safe classroom.

Teachers: Find out how to access the Cross-Site Aggregation exercise solutions.

“Evaluate” Activities:

Use one or more of these lesson elements to assess students’ understanding of the material and development of new skills.

Review Questions for Module 3 (Quiz/Homework)

Estimated Time: 15-20 minutes.
What You’ll Need: Copies of review sheet; pens/pencils.

This learning assessment can be used as an in-class quiz or as homework.

Download Assessment: “Information Is Valuable: Review Questions”

Teachers: Find out how to access the answer key for the Module 3 review questions.

More for Teachers

Resources and background information to help you brush up on the technical nitty-gritty and be prepared for student questions.

Coming soon! In the meantime, check out the main web page for Information Is Valuable.

Other Recommended Classroom Resources for “Information Is Valuable”
Lesson Plan: What’s the Big Deal About Internet Privacy?

Contact us and let us know what you think!

4 + 12 =