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Protecting Youth Online, Because Every Day is Permanent

August 18, 2016

Screenshot of youthprivacyprotection.org homepage

Protecting Youth Online, Because Every Day is Permanent

Derogatory tweets. Inflammatory political posts. Risqué photos. Hate comments. There is no doubt that social media interactions can come back to haunt you; just take 18-year-old Miss Teen USA Karlie Hay for example. The pageant star stirred up headlines when Twitter users found old tweets using racial slurs from Hay’s personal account, dated from 2013 and 2014. Since the resurfacing of the controversial tweets, Hay has been scrambling to keep her previously unscathed character afloat. With news stories like these so prevalent, we are reminded that exchanging information online is permanent and that permanence may make consumers vulnerable.

Youth are increasingly using digital devices and 92 percent of teens 13 to 15 years of age report going online daily. COPPA, also known as the Child’s Online Privacy Protection Rule, helps protect the collection of data of youth under the age of 13. Yet, the reality is that kids younger than 13 years of age are online regularly and using social media sites assumed used by youth 13 years and older. This led CSUN marketing professors Kristen Walker, Ph.D. and Tina Kiesler, Ph.D., to explore the digital privacy behaviors of middle-school youth and determine how to increase awareness of the risks associated with exchanging information online to youth, their parents, and their teachers. As part of a 2015 grant from the Digital Trust Foundation, professors Walker and Kiesler worked with CSUN undergraduates and middle-school youth to create youth-driven privacy education campaigns. After extensive research of middle-school aged youth regarding their online behaviors and use of digital devices, the grant team created and produced educational marketing campaigns. Dr. Walker stated that the campaigns strive to educate youth that “when they are online, everything they post, click, search, and/or do is gathered, packaged, and sold. Every day is permanent.”

The Privacy Education for Youth grant from the Digital Trust Foundation funded multiple research assistants, who conducted youth focus groups, created and distributed a variety of surveys, and conducted interviews. Dr. Walker’s fall 2015 Social Media Marketing course (MKT 459) was assigned the task of creating integrated marketing communication plans around educating middle school youth (and indirectly, educate parents and teachers) about how the information they exchange online is packaged and sold. Three campaigns from the class were chosen for development and production. The added benefit of this project for undergraduates working on this project was that it enhanced their understanding as future business professionals about the risks of collecting and storing consumer information. Daniel Lawson, a student in the class whose campaign was chosen noted, “One thing that I learned from this grant project is how most people are unaware of the issue at hand, including myself before I started working on the campaigns.”

The three campaigns chosen from the MKT 459 course in fall ’15 include:

  • Be A Smart Cookie
  • The Privacy Game
  • Click, Click… Know Who’s There

The students, the grant team, and two talented animators worked diligently on the campaign development. The three campaigns each target a specific segment of the 10 to 12 age group, but all three campaigns were designed to engage and educate viewers about the risks associated with exchanging information online (i.e. databrokers, third parties, or affiliates, all gathering, packaging, and selling this information). Animator Nicole Munn described working on the campaigns, “I learned not only about the issues arising from sharing information via the internet, but also learned the effort that goes into creating an educational video that illustrates such an issue”.

As part of the grant, a website was created to showcase the campaigns and educational material: http://www.youthprivacyprotection.org. The website also highlights the project’s mission and vision: to increase awareness of the issue that what people post, search for, and do online is permanent. It contains helpful links and brochures for kids, parents, and teachers to enhance understanding of online information exchanges. Summer Malone, grant project coordinator, described the value of the website, “There is so much information out there about privacy online and children’s safety. We found and selected the best digital literacy resources, added some of our own findings, and put it in one place: youthprivacyprotection.org.”

During its last month of funding, YDIPEC will provide access to the campaigns for middle schools around the Los Angeles area, allowing for further testing, and continue to educate kids, parents, and teachers about the importance of youth privacy and the exchange of information aspect of digital literacy.