Should data protection and user privacy be taught in schools?

Summary:Children are not aware of, or choose to ignore issues of data privacy and protection, in exchange for flashy free services like social networks.

Freedom of information, user privacy and data protection: three things most of the younger generation do not care about.

Those three things alone, in any sentence, even including the words "Harry Potter" and "Facebook", will all but guarantee to bore the trousers off anyone under the age of 18.

But these 'boring' considerations to our online lives are barely considered by younger people, who frivolously exchange their personal data to web services without knowing the possible consequences.

Last week, the UK's data protection agency, said that children should know about their rights regarding data protection and online privacy.

I couldn't agree more -- but it falls back down to poor education. Kids are being taught to write documents in Word and create flashy presentations in PowerPoint, and not about the crucial workings of the web that keeps most of the internet 'free'.

Ask yourself this: why are so many services free? What do they get out of it in return? Your personal data, which you own or generate through uploads and status updates, is the new world currency.

People nowadays, on the most part, do not realise the implications of handing over personally identifiable information. Your date of birth, for one, is a crucial marker to allow access to all kinds of accounts -- and will all but certainly be used by someone else for their phone password or bank account access code.

Data theft is one of the most common kinds of cybercrime and people can spend years rebuilding their lives after their identities have been stolen.

Personal data has been exposed, lost or stolen hundreds, if not thousands of times this year alone; only a small proportion of which are reported about in the press. This sensitive personally identifiable information can be used to exploit money or goods, and many simply shrug their shoulders and think, "so what?".

Generational parallels is apparent here, with older users being generally more aware of their data, but finding the increasing risk of online cybercrime something difficult to contend with. Yet, younger users are generally better equipped to understand the vast number of risks out there, but are foolhardy in handing out their personally identifiable data.

Teachers in schools, therefore, will struggle to teach a subject they only know half of, as they deal with the overlapping knowledge circles.

Teenagers and "tweens" today, who subscribe to email services to social networking sites, are openly handing their data to service providers and advertisers. From here, detailed metrics are being collected and examined to determine what people like, when they are most likely to want it, and pushed options to how to get it.

This alone on the face of it sounds like a 'helpful' invasion of privacy; something most of us would live with but only if we get something out of it. Of course, this diatribe could go on and on, discussing "surveillance society" and whatnot, but the salient facts remain.

Children and teenagers should be taught data protection rights and rules, to not only prevent lapses of their own security, but to maintain a sense of privacy for their own future.

Because, it will not be long before we as individuals begin to understand and fully visualise exactly how much data is held on us, and how damaging third-party providers could find this when the lawsuits start rolling in.

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Topics: Legal, Data Centers, Data Management, Storage

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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