Research Team:
Mark Lipton (Associate Professor, University of Guelph)
Kenneth Werbin (Associate Professor, WLU, Digital Media and Journalism)
Judith Nicholson (Associate Professor, WLU, Department of Communication & Cultural Studies)
Leslie Regan Shade (Professor, UofT, Faculty of Information Studies)

Information privacy refers to the right of the user to determine how and to what extent information is shared. Advancements in digital technology come with increasing privacy concerns; personal information is at risk. Many call for increasing awareness & safeguarding of personal information, demanding transparent policies. Privacy policies inform users about service providers’ privacy practices and, in theory, help users make informed decisions. But everyone knows how confusing most privacy policies are. Most users tend to ignore digital policies, putting their privacy at risk. Confidential and/or privileged information is vulnerable to the market’s surveillance logics and its practices of commodifying personal data.

Canadians may be aware of surveillance dynamics & data ownership but remain largely unaware or do not care about the ways commodification exposes digital selves; in effect, breaching privacy and enabling widespread monitoring. A lack of concern makes young adults particularly vulnerable to implications of digital tracking, data ownership, and privacy policies. A study of the social media engagement practices of young adults aims to provide support and direction for policy-makers and educators.

Young people are by far the heaviest users of digital devices. These practices make them a crucial population to raise critical awareness amongst as well as ideal to engage in the development of learning interventions & tools. Many youth have not learned to think critically about their digital participation, yet they possess a level of familiarity, comfort, and expertise with digital media. Youth can provide insights into fostering critical awareness about information privacy, transparent policies, and privacy risks. Further, youth insights will help the development and deployment of any learning interventions or tools.

Graduate students at the Data Privacy Lab are working on a novel approach to assist users to evaluate privacy policies. They plan to apply artificial intelligence algorithms that analyze the context and content of legal documents to build an interactive web tool. By utilizing a machine-learning approach, this tool can understand the semantics residing in digital policies and extract key words. This (NSERC-funded) research may function as a valuable pedagogical tool if properly tested and scrutinized. Three focus groups (experts, stakeholders, young adults) will be organized in separate years of the study to assess and provide direction & feedback.

This proposed project also seeks to apply user-generated qualitative methods to learn young people’s responses to digital policy, online privacy, & data tracking. Students who self-select as competent digital creators produce a short digital story about their practices with digital media, online privacy, and possible alternatives to and/or subversions of the market’s surveillance logics. Why do people continually share personal data? By analyzing focus group data and digital stories, we identify consistencies and gaps in attitudes, awareness, and practices. Further, we aim to address young adults’ curricular and pedagogical needs and provide Canadians with a web resource to improve digital engagement and protect data ownership.

Objectives include: (1) to assess young adults’ knowledge, attitudes, and practices regarding online privacy, surveillance, & digital policy; (2) to scrutinize and help develop a web-based tool and co-create (with students) a series of related learning initiatives; & (3) to detect gaps in young adults’ knowledge and identify necessary values, practices, knowledge sets, and competencies for living in the digital age & disseminate results (pedagogical initiatives and theoretical insights) to key stakeholders.