This lesson focuses on the economic and
consumer concerns around apps and
websites that collect and track data about you in exchange
for providing you a service free of cost.
Often the quality of the service itself is dependent on
having access to data about many people and
their behavior. The main take-away of the lesson is that
students should be more informed consumers
of the technology around them. They should be able to
explain some of the tradeoffs between
maintaining personal privacy and using innovative
software free of cost.
Students will be able to:
Explain how and why personal data is exchanged for use of free software
Explain some of the privacy and economic tradeoffs involved in the collection and use of personal data
Describe the ways and reasons organizations collect information about individuals
Many consumers are unaware, or lack
a sophisticated understanding, of how
information about us is being collected and tracked by
the technology we use every day. This issue
goes beyond instances when data is stolen from companies
or organizations we willingly provide it
to. Instead, using computational tools, our movements
through the physical and virtual world are
being automatically tracked, stored, and analyzed.
Cookies in our browsers keep a record of our
movements on the Internet. Companies trade access
to free tools and apps for the rights to track
the data we upload to them. Advertisers develop personalized
profiles of potential customers to
better target advertising. Governments monitor traffic
across the Internet at scales unimaginable
without the use of computers. Yet we live in a world
that increasingly relies on these digital
tools, services and products. Most companies make
great efforts to balance the tradeoffs between
utility and privacy, but the issues can be tricky
and raise confounding ethical dilemmas. We must
now grapple with a question of just how much we
value our privacy, and whether it is even possible
to maintain in a digitized world.
After watching the following video, discuss with the students
about (1) if they think tracking is necessary and what are its benefits and drawbacks
(2) if they know how to find out what kind of data is tracked about them and by whom.
Ask the students to Write down 2 or 3 websites, web services, or apps that they use the most or rely on the most to stay connected to friends and family, or use for "productivity" like school work.
For each website / service / app, fill in the
following information - just what they know
off the top of their head from their own experience or memory:
Name of Website / Service
Do you have an account, or need to login?
What kinds of data does (or could) this site potentially collect about you?
Do you know if this data is shared with other people, companies or organizations? (If so, which ones?)
Do you know how you would find out what data is collected or how it's shared?
Activity 1: Wall Street Journal Article: Users Get as Much as They Give
Ask the students to open and read the WSJ article (in the Resources section) in the format of their choice. After reading, they should discuss what they've
learned and their thoughts with the teacher and any other students they may be working with. Ask them to think about
the following questions:
Right now, which way are you leaning? Too little privacy? Right amount?
you willing to give up some privacy (and potentially some security) to have free access to modern
innovative tools - do you trust companies to be good stewards of your data?
Are you concerned? Do
you think too much of your data is out of your control? Do you think too much personally
identifiable data is given over to someone else?
What other questions do you have?
Discuss the questions above as a class. Try to keep the conversation focused on economic terms and the central question of "What is the cost of 'free'?" It can be easy for this slip into a debate about privacy versus utility, in terms of government access to data, espionage, terrorism, etc. These are extremely important issues as well, but the conversation might get unwieldy. The focus of this lesson is about students becoming more informed consumers of the technology they use.
1: When you use most apps, websites, and social
networks, they are collecting information about you in exchange for providing you a service,
like connecting with your friends and sharing photos. Sometimes the service itself, like GPS,
needs to track you just to be a useful app. Other times, the data collected is useful to the
company for making money. Most of the companies that do track your data work hard to balance
the tradeoffs between providing you with a service for free and the inherent risks such data
collection poses to your personal privacy and security. But what do they actually collect, and
how do they use that data? Let's find out! Most of these companies and organizations (the
investigate and report back.
2: Open up the Activity Guide - Privacy Policies.
Pick one of the apps / websites that you chose at the beginning of class, and go find and read
3: Here is a synopsis of what's in the activity guide for students to research.
Students are asked to note what information the site says they collect, how they are using it,
and (hopefully) how they are protecting it. The actual activity guide provides a bit more
guidance for you about how to find answers to these questions. Choose a Website and find the
data? - What service or feature is enabled by the data they are collecting? Why are they
collecting it in the first place? - Who else is given access to that data? How are they using it? -
Can you get access to your own data? - Can you modify what is collected or used, or delete your
data if you wish? - On a scale of 1-4, rate how comfortable you are with this company's data
policy: 1 - very uncomfortable, 4 - very comfortable.
Get Ready: If possible, get into groups. Each group should share
the following four things for the policies reviewed by the group:
1. The names of the companies / organizations / websites reviewed by the group
2. Notable similarities and differences in the kinds of data collected
3. Just the number: How many privacy policies let you access, modify or delete your personal data?
4. Just the number(s): How did you rate the policies on how comfortable you were?
Activity: AP Practice - Justify the Score
Go over the following portion of the AP Explore Performance Task written response prompt 2d with students:
2d. Using specific details, describe at least one data storage concern, data privacy concern, or data security concern directly related to the computing innovation.
The following sample student response received a 0:
The FaceSnap app has permission to use many devices on your smartphone, including the camera. A data privacy concern that arises from this is that the company could access the camera to see what you're doing without your knowledge.
Discuss with the students why the student would NOT get a point for Row 6 and would likely NOT be awarded a point for Row 7 either. Moreover, make a suggestion(s) for how to modify the response so the student would get the point.
Discussion: Where do you stand?
Are you leaning toward more
privacy? Or the same/less as there is now?
This lesson is entitled "The Cost of Free." What does that mean to you now?
How would you explain "The Cost of Free" to a family member, or person you
just met, if you had only 60 seconds?
Which of the following statements is the LEAST TRUE about personal data that technology companies potentially collect about their users?
A.) Companies frequently offer services free of charge in exchange for access to data about their users
B.) Personal data about users may be saved by a company permanently, never to be deleted
C.) Companies can sell the personal information of users to advertisers or other businesses
D.) Companies are required by law to give users options to personalize what data they collect about them
AP Practice: Respond to both of those prompts in light of what you learned about data privacy policies in this lesson. The "innovation" you choose could be narrow, like a specific app, or if it makes sense broad, like an entire company.
Explain at least one beneficial effect and at least one harmful effect the computing innovation has had, or has the potential to have, on society, economy, or culture.
Using specific details, describe: at least one data storage concern, data privacy concern, or data security concern directly related to the computing innovation.
The main objectives of your response are to:
Name one benefit (or potential benefit)
Name one harmful effect (or potentially harmful)
Be specific about the data that (presumably) leads to the harmful effect
The links below are for the students who are interested in learning more about different perspectives of the privacy issue.