How Online Communication Affects Privacy and Security

In this lesson, students will examine their digital footprints, discuss the positives and negatives of having a footprint, and determine how they can most safely manage their footprints.
Grade Level


Students will be able to:

  • Identify their digital footprint
  • Practice techniques for safe digital communication
  • Develop effective strategies for managing their digital footprint 
Essential Questions
  • Why is it important to know the extent of my digital footprint?
  • Why is it important to protect my personal information online? 


digital footprint [dij-i-tl foo t-print] (noun) The information about a particular person that exists on the internet as a result of their online activity

cookie [koo k-ee] (noun) A small piece of data sent from a website and stored on a user’s computer by the user’s web browser while the user is browsing

privacy policy [prahy-vuh-see pol-uh-see] (noun) A document that explains how an organization handles any customer, client or employee information gathered in its operations

hacker [hak-er] (noun) A person who circumvents security and breaks into a network, computer, file, etc., usually with malicious intent

database [dey-tuh-beys] (noun) A comprehensive collection of related data organized for convenient access, generally in a computer

Sources: dictionary.com, techtarget.com 


Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will examine their digital footprints, discuss the positives and negatives of having a footprint, and determine how they can most safely manage their footprints.



1. Open this lesson by asking students what they might be able to tell about a person based on the physical footprint they leave behind. Then ask students if they know what a digital footprint is. How might a digital footprint—something that reveals your online activity—tell other people about who you are or what interests you?

2. Tell students that digital footprints are as permanent as physical footprints set in cement. When students publish on social media, communicate via email, browse websites, and like and share items, they are leaving virtual footprints of their communications and personal information.

3. Distribute the How Your Personal Information Is Tracked, Collected and Used handout, and have students review it. Ask them what surprises them about how their personal information is tracked, collected and used. How does such exposure make them feel?

4. Explain to students that our online activities are tracked using a digital tool called a cookie. The term was derived from fortune cookie because of its embedded message. Cookies are data sent from websites we visit and stored on a user’s web browser. Normally, they help the website remember the user so they can forgo signing in. Cookies also help computers receive information more efficiently. But they also can track searches, cataloging the words used and the sites visited. You can see cookies working when you have shopped online for something and then see ads for the same item on search engines, social media sites or email.

5. Inform students that privacy policies can only protect some personal information from being tracked, collected and used by others. Some companies implement and enforce their privacy policies while some do not. Some online companies don’t even have privacy policies. There are also hackers who can break into secure systems and steal information from emails and databases. Ask students if, given all this information, they feel protecting their personal information is their responsibility. Why or why not? How can making smart decisions help reduce the chance of unwanted exposure?

6. Move the conversation into a brief discussion on privacy and its importance to students. What information about them is OK to share with others, and what information should remain private? List student responses on the front board in two columns labeled “Private” and “Public.” Ask students to consider if any of the items in the private column can be collected from information they see in the handout.

7. Next, distribute the What’s in Your Digital Footprint? handout to all students. Explain that the handout is a profile of Camila Ortiz (a fictitious person), who has used several social media accounts for the past three years. As an alternative, you can have your students create their own digital footprint profiles by going to social media sites and searching their first and last name. They can also put in the city where they live or the name of their school to narrow down the search. On a blank chart similar to the table filled out by Camila Ortiz, have students indicate whether they were able to find themselves and make notes on anything the sites said about them. (This part of the lesson can be assigned as homework.)

8. Organize students into think-pair-share groups and ask them what Camila found online about herself (or what your students found about themselves). What surprised them about what Camila or they found? How is the information on the sites similar or different? Was all of the information from the “public” list you created as a class, or was some information from the “private” list? Ask students if they think Camila would want any of her footprint to be changed or eliminated. Or, if they tracked their own footprints, see if students wish they could remove aspects of those footprints. If so, what? Ask students how they would go about doing this.

9. Distribute the Ways to Protect Your Digital Footprint handout. Have students review the different suggestions for protecting their privacy. Discuss which suggestions make sense and why. Are there any that seem difficult or unnecessary? Why?

10. Have students select one of the more advanced suggestions. Using what they have learned, have them test out the suggestion(s) on their own digital footprint. Students can share their results in fliers, class presentations, a class blog or a website.


Alignment to Common Core State Standards

CCSS 9-10


Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.


Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.


CCSS 11-12


Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.


Determine two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to provide a complex analysis; provide an objective summary of the text.


Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.

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