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Privacy on the net

Privacy on the Internet

TELL your class the following story:

Our principal has hired a research company to collect information that will help us make the school better for you. Several observers will watch students and record where each of you goes, how many times you go there, and how long you stay there, including to the water fountain, the library the bathroom, the canteen, and to visit another student. You will be identified only by a number. At the end of the day, the research company will put all the data together and write a report for the principal.

ENCOURAGE students to think about what you just told them. In groups they could discuss questions or concerns they have, or think other students might have. Then have them share their thoughts with the class.

GUIDE students to consider the following questions:

Who else might see the information?
Can people’s identification numbers be linked to their name by the principal?
Do you think any of the information should remain private?
Do you think you will be allowed to review the data collected about you?
Are you satisfied with the explanation that the information is needed “to make the school better,” or do you want to know more about how the information will be used?

EXPLAIN that the story you told is not true; no one will be collecting information about them in the school. However, this is the kind of information that many websites collect whenever you visit them. Companies can learn all kinds of things about you, based on where you go and what you do when you’re online.

QUESTIONS: Now follow the link to complete the questions using the privacy policy of the listed sites.

PBS Kids:

How Stuff Works:


Harry Potter at

REVIEW the vocabulary word anonymous. Most people think no one knows who they are or what they do when they are online. Believing they are anonymous is why people sometimes do things online that they would not do face to face. However, it’s nearly impossible to be completely anonymous online.

Key Vocabulary
Anonymous: Someone who can’t be identified based on the information at hand
Cookies: Small computer text files placed in your computer by the sites you visit that collect information about your computer system and the webpages you view
Third Party: A person or company other than you and the owner of the website you visit
Privacy Options: Choices a website might give you about what it does with your information

Wrap Up & Assess

What kinds of information do you want to keep private in the real world? On the Internet?

Why do website owners want information about their visitors? They use the information to decide how to change the site, to decide how much to charge advertisers, and to customize a site for each visitor to encourage them to use the site more or, for commercial sites, to buy more. Without your knowledge, some sites may also share your information with others in exchange for more information about you or in exchange for money.

Why is anonymity an important feature of the Internet? If websites know students’ personal information, like their name and address, they can use it or sell it to third parties.

What is a cookie? A third party? A privacy policy? Privacy options? (See Key Vocabulary.)

REMIND students that they can always check a website’s privacy policy to find out what that site might do with their personal information. If they don’t feel comfortable with the policy, they can leave the site.
Adapted from material found on


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