Illustration for "You Can't Escape" -- hand made up of ones and zeros reaching for running character

Teachers’ Resources, Module 9:

You can’t avoid having an information footprint by not going online

About This Lesson Module:

The lesson elements in this module teach students about the privacy principle “You can’t avoid having an information footprint by not going online”. They are designed to be independent and flexible, so you can incorporate them into any size lesson plan.

Summary of Learning Objectives: Students can enumerate ways their offline activities generate data that is stored and shared online; students can communicate effectively with others about everyone’s information-sharing preferences.

Target Age: High school, college undergraduate.

Learning Objectives
  1. Students can explain why abstaining from online activities is not an effective strategy for maintaining online privacy.
  2. Students can give examples of how someone’s information footprint could be impacted by the online activities of others, including how information about someone’s offline activities might end up online.
  3. Students can give examples of ways that information in someone’s digital footprint that was not created by them could still be used against them.
  4. Students can describe how they would apply privacy tools provided on social networking sites to minimize unwanted posts by others about their activities.
  5. Students can investigate what information is being shared about them online by devices and services they use and organizations they participate in, and use privacy settings or opt-out mechanisms to limit that sharing.
  6. Students can describe how they would approach discussing their privacy preferences with their friends and family to minimize unwanted information-sharing.
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:

  • 7.3.1G. Privacy and security concerns arise in the development and use of computational systems.

The following Essential Knowledge is also touched on:

  • Under Big Idea 3: Data and Information: 3.3.1F.
  • Under Big Idea 6: The Internet: 6.1.1A.
  • Under Big Idea 7: Global Impact: 7.1.1I, 7.1.1J, 7.1.1K, 7.1.1N, 7.3.1J, 7.3.1L.
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.1; CI.10.
  • Under Level 3, Course 3B: Computer Science Concepts and Practices: CI.2.
ACM Computer Science Curricula 2013 (CS2013) Guidelines (Undergraduate)

The following Learning Outcomes are touched on:

  • Under Social Issues and Professional Practice: Social Context 9; Privacy and Civil Liberties 3.

“Engage” Activities:

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

Quick Opening Questions (Whole-Class Mini-Discussion)

Estimated Time: 5-10 minutes.
What You’ll Need: Blackboard/whiteboard (optional).

Ignite Question

When did you start to have your own information footprint?

Example Answers, Depending on Age/Birth Year:

  • When your parents started posting or emailing pictures of you, or sending email/IMs about you (possibly before you were born);
  • Medical records (possibly birth records, depending when local medical centers computerized records);
  • Birth certificate registered with the county;
  • Parents’ online behavior changing (purchase patterns, searching for parenting info);
  • Parents’ credit-card purchase patterns changing (probably before you were born)….

Quick Knowledge Check

Is it possible to avoid having an information footprint by not going online?

Target Answer: No.

Follow-Up Prompts:

  • What “offline” activities might cause you to come into contact with individuals or companies that collect digital information about you?

    Example Answers: Going to school/work, walking in public areas (such as airports, malls, lobbies, banks, stores, roads, etc.) where security cameras or people with smartphones are present, shopping at stores, turning on the lights, drinking from the faucet, recording shows on DVRs….

  • What about transactions? Is it possible to avoid having an information footprint by not shopping online?

    Target Answer: No. Stores may keep records of customers’ purchases, if they use a credit card and/or have a store rewards card. Many stores use online services to process ATM/debit/credit cards.

News Stories You Can Use
The Quick Hook

Estimated Time: 5-7 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.

Alex From Target: The Other Side of Fame
  • Summary: Summary: Teenager working at Target is photographed by a girl who thinks he’s cute; within hours — even before his shift is over — he becomes famous online.
How Target Figured Out a Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did
  • Summary: Target uses statistical data-mining methods to predict whether or not a consumer has a baby on the way and target advertising mailers — catching one father of a pregnant teen by surprise.
  • Content Advisory: Involves teen pregnancy.
‘Mean’ Moms Create Facebook Group Bashing ‘Ugly’ Kids
  • Summary: A group of moms creates a Facebook page where they make fun of photos of other people’s children (uploaded by the children’s parents).
Optional Extension

Estimated Additional Time: 2-4 minutes per story.

For each news item, ask the students:

  • What kind of online footprints were left by this person’s offline activities?
  • Did they know (or think about the fact that) they were leaving online footprints?
  • How was this person’s information exposed, and by whom?
  • How could they protect themselves better in the future?
  • In this situation, would avoiding the Internet have helped or hurt?

“Explore” Activities:

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

Whole-Class Brainstorm & Discussion: How Do Offline Activities Create Online Data?

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

Ask students to come up with a list of daily activities (online and offline) that could end up being used to gather information about them. Examples can be written on the board.

Some Examples to Get Them Started: Walking around somewhere, taking the bus or train, browsing the Internet, buying something from a store, driving to the mall, talking on the phone etc.

Pick two or three interesting examples of activities that are not obviously linked to online data and ask:

  • Does doing this activity involve you using some kind of technology or device? If so, what?
  • What kind of information can be gathered about you from this activity?

    Possible Answers: Location, credit card number, pictures, likes/dislikes, etc.
    Note: This could be a time to remind students that, in addition to the raw data, information can arise from patterns, like how frequently someone buys particular items.

  • Is this information captured or gathered about you without your direct consent? Without your knowledge?

    Possible Answers: Depends on the information. Security cameras may capture videos of you without you knowing. When you speed past a yellow light, a picture is taken of your car (and you). Stores don’t have to tell you they’re using an online service to process a charge to your credit card. Your location is tracked by your phone if you agree to have geolocation turned on in your phone — though depending on the phone and app, it may be opt-in or opt-out.

  • Do you think it would be legitimate to say you’ve given implied consent to have information gathered about you by participating in this activity?

    Note: This question may require some background about “implied consent”, so should be used only if you are planning to devote extra time to this activity.

Whole-Class Brainstorm & Discussion: How Do Other People Impact Your Privacy?

Estimated Time: 7-12 minutes.
What You’ll Need: Blackboard/whiteboard (optional).

Ask students to come up with examples of things their family and friends know about them, either because the students talk about those things (in person) or because it’s obvious. Examples can be written on the board.

Some Examples to Get Them Started: Daily schedule, hobbies, events they’ve attended or are planning to attend, birthday, grades, embarrassing childhood moments…

Pick a few interesting example and ask:

  • Who is likely to know this type of information about you?
  • What would you think if one of those people shared this information about you online?
    • Would it be okay, or would you rather not have that information shared online? Why/why not?
  • For information (some) students don’t want shared: What are some potential consequences if someone shared that information online, when the person it was about didn’t want them to?
    • How long would those consequences last?
    • Would there be a way for the sharer to fix any bad consequences?
  • Have any of you ever talked to your friends/family about whether you want them to share that type of information about you online? Why/why not?
  • Have any of you ever talked to your friends/family about whether they would be okay with you sharing that type of information about them online? Why/why not?

This activity will also allow students to identify who they need to talk to about online privacy, and about sharing information about them. (This is further explored in the “Sharing Preferences” activity in the Elaborate phase.)

In-Class Partners Activity: The Great Escape!

Estimated Time: 10-15 minutes.
What You’ll Need: Paper and pens OR computers with graphics or presentation software.

This partner brainstorming demonstrates that there is no cure-all solution for reducing the impact of one’s information footprint. It allows students to think through the ways in which they can be more privacy-conscious, while also reminding them that all strategies have shortcomings.

Have students partner up and tell them they’ll be creating an “escape plan” — like they just threw their hands up and decided they wanted to escape the Internet after what they’ve learned so far. On one side they put ways they think they could “escape” (reduce their their information footprint). On the other side, they play devil’s advocate and put reasons why that method might not work. Let partners work together, both coming up with ideas and roadblocks, as it can sometimes be challenging for one person to see where to go next. Have students start with little things and, if they choose, move to the more extreme (e.g., living in a cave). Students should aim for three things they might try to do, with a reason it won’t work for each.

Download Example Plan: “The Great Escape!”
  • Fast finishers can aim for four pairs of strategies and roadblocks.
  • For classes that have computers, the activity can be done using a drawing/graphics program or app or a presentation tool.

Important Points to Note

  • Even after content (images, posts, profiles) is deleted, it may still exist elsewhere. For instance, it may be saved on servers, other people may keep private copies, or you just may not have found every online copy.
  • Much of what we do offline can be seen, recorded, and saved online. Stepping into a store can be captured by cameras and saved online. Electrical usage can be collected, analyzed, and saved online. Purchases made with credit cards can be scrutinized, processed, and saved online.

Image Credits for the Sample Escape Plan:

“Explain” Activities:

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

Slide Deck for "You Can't Escape"

Estimated Time: 5-10 minutes.
What You’ll Need: Computer and projector.

These slides can be used for an overview lecture on the basic concepts underlying the principle “You can’t avoid having an information footprint by not going online”. The slides are accompanied by Notes with details and examples to guide your lecture.

Access Slide Deck: “You Can’t Escape”

Coming soon! We will be adding a graphic organizer to guide students’ notetaking.

“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.

Partner Worksheet Activity: Sharing Preferences Discussion

Estimated Time: 15 minutes.
What You’ll Need: Copies of worksheet; computer and projector (optional).

In this activity, students think about who is sharing the most information about them online and practice talking about their sharing preferences.

Download Worksheet: “Sharing Preferences: Build Your Own Discussion Guide”

  1. Students list the names of three people who share information about them the most online, via social-networking or photo-sharing sites, email, etc. (you can refer back to the brainstorming activity, “How Do Other People Impact Your Privacy?”). Students then answer questions about their preferences regarding the information shared by these people, and will reflect on their own habits of sharing about others.
  2. Have students get into pairs and practice conducting a discussion about online sharing preferences.

Encourage students to use the activity as a basis to have a real discussion with each of the people they listed on their worksheets. Students should understand that they can have some control over the information shared online about them by others if they are willing to discuss these preferences.

Worksheet Activity: Giving Up the Internet - Sneak Preview!

Estimated Time: 15-29 minutes.
What You’ll Need: Copies of worksheet; computer and projector (optional).

In this activity, students will reflect on the importance of the Internet in their lives. There are several common uses of the Internet listed on the given worksheet. For each one, students should list websites that they use for the given purpose and then name offline alternatives. For example, under “Shopping”, students could list as a relevant website, and then suggest going to the mall and trying shoes on as the offline alternative.

Download Sneak Preview of Worksheet: “Giving Up the Internet”

  1. Hand out worksheets and give students 8-12 minutes to fill them out. Students may discuss amongst themselves or work in pairs.
  2. Discuss students’ answers. Ask students if they think they could avoid using the Internet and use only the offline alternatives every day. Conclude by emphasizing the importance of the Internet in modern life and how this concept reinforces the need for safe Internet skills.
Making Connections: Small-Group Discussion Questions

Estimated Time: Depends on protocol chosen.
What You’ll Need: Blackboard/whiteboard (optional).

Use one or more of the following questions to help students digest the information presented in the lesson so far and personalize the content. The questions are compatible with many common classroom discussion protocols. We suggest Think-Pair-Share, Inside/Outside Circles, Chalk Talk, or Listening Dyads, but many others can be found on the NSRF’s protocol list.

  • Think of a time when you (or someone you know) shared information on social media about someone else who didn’t have a social media account. What did you share?

    Example to Get Them Started: Have you ever posted pictures about your family members?

    • Was the person aware you were sharing information about them? Did they ever object?
    • What can you do to be more aware of other people’s sharing preferences?
    • Extended Follow-Up: How is sharing information on social media similar to/different from gossiping?
    • Extended Follow-Up: Think of a time when someone shared information about you without your consent or without you knowing. How did you feel? Were you surprised? If so, why?
  • What are some of the pros and cons of being in such a technologically connected society, when it comes to sharing personal information online?
    • What are some online services you use often that you would find it difficult to live without?

      Example Answers: Online shopping, social media, email, school accounts, bank accounts, Google/search…

  • Have we passed the point where it is possible to disconnect? Why or why not?

    Answers may vary. Students should lean towards “yes” because online data about someone is constantly accumulating due to companies, institutions, friends, and family.

  • Now that you know “you can’t escape”, what is one thing you can do to maintain some control of your digital footprint?

“Evaluate” Activities:

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

Review Questions (Quiz/Homework)

Estimated Time: 10-15 minutes.
What You’ll Need: Copies of review sheet.

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

Download Assessment: “You Can’t Escape: Review Questions”

Teachers: Find out how to access the answer key for the Module 9 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 You Can’t Escape.

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