University of Maryland

Kids and Privacy Online at CSCW 2018

December 6th, 2017 by

Below we share findings and recommendations from our paper on elementary school-aged children and privacy online that will be presented at the 2018 ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing (CSCW).

What did we do? Children under age 12 increasingly go online, but few studies examine how children perceive and address privacy and security concerns. Using a privacy framework known as contextual integrity to guide our analysis, we interviewed children and their parents to understand how children conceptualize privacy and security online, what strategies they use to address any risks they perceive, and how their parents support them when it comes to privacy and security online.

How did we do it? We interviewed 26 children ages 5-11 and 23 parents from 18 families in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. We also walked through a series of hypothetical scenarios with children, which we framed as a game. For example, we asked children how they imagined another child would respond when receiving a message from an unknown person online.

What did we find? Children recognized how some components of privacy and security play out online, but those ages 5-7 had gaps in their knowledge. For example, younger children did not seem to recognize that sharing information online makes it visible in ways that differ from sharing information face-to-face. Children largely relied on their parents for support, but parents generally did not feel their children were exposed to privacy and security concerns. They felt such concerns would arise when children were older, had their own smartphones, and spent more time on social media.

What are the implications of this work? As the lines between offline and online increasingly blur, it is important for everyone, including children, to recognize (and remember) that use of smartphones, tablets, laptops, and in-home digital assistants can raise privacy and security concerns. Children absorb some lessons through everyday use of these devices, but parents have an opportunity to scaffold their children’s learning. Younger children may also be more willing to accept advice from their parents compared to teenagers. Parents would benefit from the creation of educational resources or apps that focus on teaching these concepts to younger children. The paper explains how the contextual integrity framework can inform the development of such resources.

Read the CSCW 2018 paper for more details!

This was cross-posted with the Princeton HCI blog.

  • News

    July 2021: Vitak (along with Sarah Gilbert and Katie Shilton) published “Measuring Americans’ Comfort With Research Uses of Their Social Media Data” in the journal Social Media + Society.

    June 2021: Vitak and Zimmer had an extended abstract summarizing their workplace surveillance & COVID-19 work accepted to AoIR 2021.

    October 2020: Vitak and Zimmer published a study in First Monday on privacy concerns associated with the adoption of contact tracing apps.

    August 2020: Vitak & Zimmer were awarded a Rapid Response grant from SSRC to study how workplace surveillance is evolving due to COVID-19.

    January 2020: Vitak, Clegg, and Chetty were awarded a NSF Small grant for their work on developing privacy & security curriculum for elementary school children.

    May 2019: PhD student Kumar presented research from our kids’ safety project at CHI. The paper discusses how educators consider privacy and security when using digital technologies in the classroom. More info is here.

    March 2019: We won the Lee Dirks Award for Best Full Paper at the iConference! PhD student Liao was the lead author on the paper presenting survey results from our IPA study.