A Privacy Workshop with parents

Last Weekend we took the Privacy Workshop Project to a new level when we held our first workshop with parents.

We have been working with kids for a while, but we felt it was necessary to include parents in our efforts to strengthen children’s privacy education. So we invited parents from the school where we have been doing the two latest workshops. We are doing two workshops, one last Saturday and one next weekend, but it looks like we’ve been overestimating the interest in our lectures a little, so we were five workshop dudes and only four parents on Saturday.

We had decided to do a slim version of our regular workshop routine with the parents, which proved to make sense. After all, the kids are much more tech-savvy than the older generation, and thus faster in exploring new technologies.

For the parents, we started off with a version of the talk Christoph held at the Chaos Communication Congress last year. It had a clear message: The internet is great for communication, but we need to behave responsibly. Christoph likes to take the town square as a metaphor for the net: You can go there, meet people, communicate – but you should not run around naked, shouting the names of your sex partners and your credit card information.

That’s what I followed up on when I introduced the principle structure of social networks (indeed, none of the participants had a social network profile, which I tend to deem unusual even for my parents’ generation). Talking about privacy options in social networks, I made the point that it is important to strike a balance between openness and privacy. On the one hand, openness enables communication and social interaction, which I think of as basic human needs. On the other hand, being too open can damage children’s future prospects.

While we showcased some extreme examples of how not to behave on social networks, we also warned of indirect information hidden in profiles. The “gaydar algorithm” that’s modeled to out gay Facebook members by analyzing the sexual orientations of their networks of friends is a good example for that.

As usual, this theoretical introduction was complemented by a hands-on phase. We taught the parents how to use TrueCrypt for data encryption, which I think is the encryption software most useful to parents, too. As “digital immigrants”, our participants were not as fast in taking on the technology as the kids, but in the end everything worked out well.

It is obvious that when doing privacy workshops with parents, one has to strike a balance between addressing the challenges children are facing when using social web applications and taking up the parents at their own situation. I think we did quite well in pointing out dangers without spreading too much f.u.d. – fear, uncertainty, doubt. In the contrary, we are excited about the prospects of social media, and we want the kids to use it. That’s not going to work if we make the parents cyberpessimists – we have to educate them so that they can take up responsibility in guiding their kids.

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