Welcome Outcome from Forum on the Privacy Concerns of New Internet Users

Consumers need greater education, choices and protection in order to address their privacy concerns, particularly those who are more recent adopters such as African Americans and other people of color, seniors, and low-income populations was the consensus opinion at the The New Digital Profile: Managing Privacy in an Evolving, Mobile Internet forum hosted by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

“This forum comes at a moment in time when people of color are increasing their use of broadband applications and services, but also when privacy concerns appear to be of utmost concern to those who have moved online only recently,” said Ralph B. Everett, President and CEO of the Joint Center. “With broadband having such enormous potential to boost opportunity in communities of color, it becomes even more important to include new adopters of technology in the conversation on privacy and how to address these concerns.”

How we achieve this goal however is less clear. Panel members underscored the critical need for greater education to raise awareness and transparency about data collection, but consumers are facing a double threat to this education:

  1. School funding has been slashed as a result of the economic morass the country finds itself in, while at the same time districts are being measured more tightly against test scores.
    1. Unfortunately, technology isn’t a test subject so funding shortfalls have cut heavily on tech teachers and computer labs.

Learn more about the state of technology in schools in my recent posts U.S. Far behind in Integrating Technology in Schools and Educators Lack Training; Don’t Teach Online Safety.

To understand the dire straits schools are in, check out the text boxes in this article. These are requests for funds shown on the DonorsChoose website. (DonorsChoose is an online charity connecting potential donors and classrooms in need and I highly recommend their work).

Exactly how are schools that are priced out of technology supposed to step up to the panel’s recommendation of greater education?

  1. Corporate funding to nonprofits has also been slashed due to economic struggles. This means that not only are schools unable to train teachers, and maintain robust computer access, nonprofits cannot step in to fill the void.

Right to transparency and privacy

The other key outcome from the conference was addressing consumers’ concerns and right to privacy.

Citing a 2010 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) study, forum panelists agreed that online privacy policies should be more accessible to consumers, even on mobile devices, and companies should be more transparent in the data being collected.

The referenced FCC study found nearly 100 million Americans do not use broadband (1/3rd of the population), and the reason nearly half of these non-broadband adopters remain offline in part because they fear “all the bad things that can happen on the Internet”.  (To learn more about the FCC’s study, see my article Broadband Adoption Jumps to 75 Percent of US Consumers).

“Concerns about privacy can potentially prohibit broadband adoption among people living in the communities that can benefit most from what broadband can do to advance learning, opportunity, and quality of life,” said Dr. Nicol Turner-Lee, Vice President and Director of the Joint Center. “How we address these concerns needs to align technology innovation, consumer trust and education, especially to assure new Internet users and non-adopters that the web is a safe space.”

Danny Sepulveda, Senior Advisor to U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) added to these comments saying, “Regardless of how and what you access, you should have the right to know what is being collected, and for what purpose. At the end of the day, we need a comprehensive code of conduct.”

Again, how to achieve these goals was less clear. While many legislators see legislation as the solution, industry leaders are less enamored with a code of conduct preferring to use ‘industry norms and ground rules”.

As a longtime online safety, security, privacy and technology advocate, I just happen to have a couple of solutions :-0.


There is no getting around the need for computers, laptops, handhelds, and other technology tools in schools, and I can only encourage the federal government, states, school districts and the public to make technology adoption a priority. Once those technologies are in place, the second hurdle, as outlined in Educators Lack Training; Don’t Teach Online Safety, is getting quality teaching about technology into schools.

To drive this forward we created the LOOKBOTHWAYS Foundation whose sole mission is to deliver an expert driven, top quality, interactive curriculum called NetSkills4Life that is free of charge to every school, organization, family and individual. There are three lessons per grade, and no hoops to jump through to use the curriculum; and because it is immersive, parents, teachers, students all have the same experience.

While it is nice if teachers have the skills to expand on the lessons (and we provide additional resources and suggestions for them to do so) we built the lessons knowing that most teachers and parents lack the skills needed so the lessons are created to independently deliver the learning needed.

The caveat to this is that we are building out the lessons as quickly as funding makes possible. The first lessons are created using earmarked funds targeting the 6-8th grades, so to check out the lessons, look in the 5th and 6th and the 7th -9th  grade sections. We will have the first 6 lessons complete in October. If you wish to help fund additional lessons, by all means, contact us!

Consumer rights

For longtime followers, you know I have been championing a ‘bill of rights’ for consumers online for many years. Over time these have morphed slightly to meet new technology needs, and to be more palatable to industry members.

The latest version (below) was crafted in 2010 while I was president of the Safe Internet Alliance. We undertook at that time to bring the industry players to a common understanding of best practices for safeguarding consumers and their privacy. That initiative did not bear fruit, but I remain convinced that consumers will not have the safety and transparency they need to make informed choices until these are adopted, or mandated. Frankly I’d rather see them adopted without mandates/regulations coming into play:

Consumer Internet Safety and Privacy Rights – A Standard for Respectful Companies

ALL Internet users have the expectation of a safe Internet experience, and respectful companies strive to provide quality safety and privacy options that are easily discovered and used by consumers.  Your safety and privacy, as well as the safety and privacy of your family on the Internet should be core elements of online product and service design.

In a nutshell, online consumers should demand these rights:

  1. Establishing safety and privacy settings should be an element in the registration, or activation of a specific feature’s, process.  This includes informing you in easily understood language about the potential consequences of your choices. This allows, and requires, you to make your own choices, rather than being pushed into hidden, default settings.
  2. During the registration or activation process, articles of the terms and conditions, and privacy policy, that might affect your privacy or safety, or that of a minor in your care, should be presented to you in easy to understand language, not in a long, complicated legal document in small font.
  3. You should expect complete, easily understood information and age appropriate recommendations about every safety and privacy feature in a product or service.
  4. You should expect to easily report abuse of the products or abuse through the products of you or someone in your care.
  5. You should expect a notice or alert if a significant safety or privacy risk is discovered in an online product or service you or someone in your care is using.
  6. The provider needs to publish on a regular basis statistics demonstrating how well the company enforces its policies.  Such statistics should include; the number and types of abuse reports, number of investigations conducted, and number and type of corrective actions taken by the provider.
  7. When services or products are upgraded, you have the right to be informed of new features or changes to existing features and their impact on your – or your child’s – safety or privacy in advance of the rollout.
  8. When the terms of use or privacy policy of any provider are about to change, you have the right to be informed in advance of the changes and their impact on your – or your child’s – safety and privacy.
  9. When a provider informs you of changes to their features, privacy policy, or terms and conditions, they should provide you with a clearly discoverable, way to either opt out, or block the change, or to terminate your account.
  10. When terminating an account, your provider should enable you to remove permanently and completely all of your personal information, posts, photos, and any other personal content you may have provided or uploaded, or that has been collected by the provider about you.



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