“The average person would have to spend 76 working days reading all of the digital privacy policies they agree to in the span of a year. Reading Amazon’s terms and conditions alone out loud takes approximately nine hours.If no one reads the terms and conditions, how can they continue to be the legal backbone of the internet?” The New York Times
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
The legal fiction of consent is blatant in the privacy scandal du jour. Both Google and Facebook have been paying people — including minors as young as 13 — to download an app that tracks nearly all their phone activity and usage habits.
Facebook advertised their app on services beloved by teens, like Snapchat and Instagram, seeking participants between the ages of 13 and 35. The sign-up process required minors to get parental consent. (How rigorous? Users simply had to scroll down and click on a check box.) In exchange for participating in what Facebook called a research project, each user received $20 a month, plus referral bonuses.
Similarly, Google’s Screenwise Meter app harvested user information in exchange for money. Google was a little more careful than Facebook, barring minors unless they were participating as part of a larger household.
It’s unlikely these children understood what they gave up by agreeing to use the app. And even if they’d received proper parental consent, their parents may not have understood what they were giving away on their child’s behalf.
But it wasn’t the predatory nature of these programs that prompted Apple to disable them on iPhones and iPads. Rather, Apple objected to how Google and Facebook had used a loophole to transmit customer data without having to go through Apple first… People are often startled by what they wind up giving away by clicking on the “yes” button.
They are shocked to find when they connect their Spotify and Netflix accounts to their Facebook account that those streaming services gain access to their Facebook messages.
They are confused and outraged by Facebook’s uncanny ability to recommend “friends” that the company shouldn’t really know about — say, a social worker’s client or a woman’s father’s mistress. Data is powerful and can inform on us in unexpected ways. Companies learn all about you, but also all about your friends who haven’t signed up for these services.
Consumers’ confusion about this gives rise to conspiracy theories that phone microphones are secretly snooping on users. According to academics who have done the research, that’s probably just paranoia.
The likely truth is that all the other data you give away is enough to predict what you have said and will say in conversations… Legislation can mandate transparency about who has your data and can give users the right to stop it from being sold. New laws can lay down basic guarantees of privacy that won’t require you to wade through hundreds of thousands of words of legalese…Americans deserve strong privacy protections. Consent is not enough to replace them. It’s time to start seeing the ‘I agree’ button for what it really is.”
NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Predictions: Using a Pre-reading Organizer
Directions: Ask students to examine the title of the post and of the actual article they are about to read. Then, have them examine the photos. Ask students to write a paragraph describing what they think this article will discuss. Students can use a Pre-reading organizer for assistance.
II. While Reading Activities
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- The ‘I agree’ button should have long ago been renamed ‘Meh, whatever.’
- The legal fiction of consent is blatant in the privacy scandal du jour.
- Facebook advertised their app on services beloved by teens.
- Some claimed these programs were of a predatory nature.
- Data is powerful and can inform on us in unexpected ways.
- Many consumers feel that phone microphones are secretly snooping on users.
- There are countless conspiracy theories concerning apps that spy on consumers.
- Legislation can mandate transparency about who has your data.
- New laws can lay down basic guarantees of privacy.
Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage
Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical error. Students are to identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.
- Google were a little more careful.
- Two tech giants didn’t read the policy closely enough.
- People are often startled by what they wind up giving away.
- Facebook have the ability to recommend friends.
- Companies learn all about you.
- Americans deserve strong privacy protections.
- The sign-up process required minors to got parental consent.
- Users simply had to scroll down and click on a check box.
- Parents may not understand what they are giving away on their child’s behalf.
Discussion Questions for Comprehension /Writing
Directions: Place students in groups and have them discuss the following questions/statements. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the topics mentioned.
- When buying or signing up for apps do you read the digital privacy policies before hitting the “consent” button?
- Do you have Facebook or Instagram accounts? How is the service so far?
- The article states, “The likely truth is that all the other data you give away is enough to predict what you have said and will say in conversations. Countless devices and internet services now pervade daily life.” Do you give away personal data online? If so describe how (e.g., one of the social media sites).
- The article also states, “Legislation can mandate transparency about who has your data and can give users the right to stop it from being sold.”Rephrase this statement and provide an example of how this would work.
Directions: Allow students 5 minutes to write down three new ideas they’ve learned about the topic from the reading, two things they did not understand in the reading, and one thing they would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.