Online Privacy

Online Privacy



Digital Media Literacy (Lesson 2)



60 minutes

Online Privacy

Student Pre-Work

Assigned in ‘Media in Everyday Life’

Take note of 5 advertisements you are served while browsing the internet this week. What products, services, websites or other items are they trying to bring to your attention? How often do you see the same ads? Bring your list with you to next class.


Discussion (5 mins.)

Ask 3-4 students to share items from their advertisement lists, asking:

  • Did the ads surprise you?
  • Do you share a computer with other users whose preferences may have influenced the results?
  • Where do you think the indicator came from that initiated that ad? (For example, some activity they ‘like’ on Facebook, or a purchase recently made)
  • Do you consider this personalised ad-serving to be an invasion of your privacy?
  • Do you ever long for more privacy or feel too exposed online?

Class Activities

What is Privacy? (5 mins.)


What are the first words that pop into your head when you hear the word privacy?

Does the meaning change between the real world and the online world?

What are some of the ways in which people’s privacy can be compromised? (Most students will probably comment on privacy in their offline lives in terms of being unobserved by their parents, teachers, siblings and peers.)

Is it a good thing for society if people believe their behaviour is being monitored?

When Do We Give Up Our Privacy? (15 mins.)


Ask student to write down 5 times in a typical week when they think they give up some of their privacy. Give 5-10 minutes to complete the diary

Ask students for some examples that they have written down and note these on the board. These might be include situations like:

  • pass a security camera
  • give out information such as name, phone number, email address
  • download or upload a computer file
  • sign into a website
  • visit a site that uses cookies (do they know whether a site uses cookies?)
  • turn on a cell phone (this sends a signal to the nearest tower, letting the network know where you are)
  • send an email, instant message or text message (in the U.S., the National Security Agency is said to monitor all of these)
  • fan/follow/like something on a social network like Facebook, or create a profile on a site like this

Do Not Track (20 mins.)

Watch: Do Not Track – Episode 3

Teachers, please watch this interactive documentary yourself before using it with your class. As you’ll see, the user needs to sign in via Facebook. Information is then extrapolated to show what can be surmised about a person using this information. It will show age, gender and personality traits onscreen. Teachers may want to show this using their own Facebook account on a projection screen, assemble students into groups with one volunteer in each group, or have students work through the video themselves, but to do this they will need headphones.

  • Did anything in this film surprise you?
  • Were the analyses of your personality accurate?
  • Do you think we are likely to see industries like banking and insurance taking up this type of observation in the future?
  • What will the implications of this be?
  • Who else might use your social media activity as an indicator of your personality?

Who Benefits? (10 mins.)

What are the ‘Benefits’ to you?

Websites insert cookies into your computer, that track you as you move across the web, noting which sites you click on, what you buy etc. – You can adjust your browser privacy settings to prevent some of this. It is the cause of the personalized advertisements you discovered.

searches can be focused on your particular interests, helping you find info faster

ie. Chrome shows a visited link in search results even if that search happened long ago.

Google shows you things it thinks you will like most. (filter bubble)

ads are targeted based on your needs (ie if you have searched for flights to Paris, you may see ads for Paris hotels), or if you buy frequently from a company it may offer you promotions through ads.

Watch: KLM Surprise (2:53)

  • How would you respond if a company approached you this way?
    Are the benefits of giving-up some of your privacy a fair trade-off?

What are the Benefits’ to companies?

How does Google make its money? How does Facebook make its money? — Advertising

  • Google made around $66B in 2014
  • Facebook $12.4B in revenue. (85 – 100% of this is advertising)
  • For other companies, serving behaviourally targeted advertisements are more likely to result in a purchase

Closing Response

Free Writing (5 mins.)

  • How do you respond to the online privacy concerns raised in this lesson, and those you have heard about in the media?
  • Is it only something to worry about for those with something to hide?
  • How would you feel if you found out that a friend, your parents, your employer, your government had access to your online activity?
  • Would knowing that you were being monitored change your behaviour?


This is used as preparation for the Lesson Plan: Traditional vs. Emerging Media. If not using this lesson in the following class, disregard.

Conduct a short interview (10 mins.) about life before mobile phones, internet, email, eBooks and other emerging technologies, with someone who is in a different age bracket than you: a parent, grandparent, younger sibling etc.

Ask them:

  • Where do you get your news?
  • Which types of emerging technology do you use most?
  • What is better about your life today as a result of technology? What is worse?
  • Do you think people have changed?
  • Are there some technologies you purposely avoid? Why?

Make notes and bring these to next class.


Communication, Media Studies


Digital Media Literacy (Lesson 2)


Key Stage 5, Undergraduate


60 minutes

Curriculum Points:

Materials & Preparation


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