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POSTED BY Hillary Cheng

In conjunction with the Rappaport Center, Suffolk Law Professor Jessica Silbey is organizing a program to teach online privacy to Boston-area middle schoolers with the help of law student volunteers.  The program’s curriculum was developed at Fordham Law School, a project funded by a cy pres award in a settlement.  The case that settled, Valentine et al v. NebuAd, Inc., involved claims that targeted online advertising violated the privacy of Internet users.

The fellow who helped develop the program, Jordan Kovnot, stated that he designed the program for middle schoolers because that is the age “when kids are starting to get online and us[ing] social media.”  The program is designed to inform and encourage the students to think about the consequences of having an online presence.

According to Professor Silbey, the program involves 5 modules: (1) introduction to privacy; (2) passwords and behavioral advertisement; (3) dealing with social media; (4) mobile technology, wifi, and facial recognition; and (5) reputation.  The educational program will involve worksheets, dialogue, surveying students’ responses to questions and discussing those answers, and visual displays and presentations.

The program is much-needed and timely considering the growing use of the Internet among young teens.  As reflected in our forthcoming JHTL issue, many young teens do not fully understand the consequences of using social media or technology, and some abuses may result in criminal charges.  Furthermore, online technology such as Google’s targeted advertisements are becoming industry norm, and this increased access of user data by commercial entities raises legitimate concerns about the use of this data.

When asked about the harms of the growing lack of online privacy beyond user discomfort, Professor Silbey suggested several possibilities for concern.  Among others, areas of concern include the overly stringent use of advertising profiles in assessing a user for various decisions such as granting a mortgage, insurance, or other discretionary evaluations, the potential inaccuracy of an online advertising profile, and the expressive harm of reduced exposure to products beyond your advertising profile.

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