The Privacy Paradox

This lesson teaches students to understand the impact of online actions on their personal privacy.
Grade Level


Students will be able to:

  • Understand how online communication affects privacy and security
  • Reflect on their own attitudes towards online privacy
Essential Questions
  • How does your online behavior affect your privacy and security?
  • How can you reconcile convenience with privacy?
  • How might our ideas about privacy change in the future?


Privacy [prīvəsē] (noun)—the state or condition of being free from being observed or disturbed by other people

Data [də] (noun)—facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis

Metadata [medə] (noun)—data about other data; in this context, surveillance data

Algorithm [alɡə riT͟Həm] (noun)—a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer

Capitalism [kapədl izəm] (noun)—a system in which private businesses or owners (and not the government) control production and trade for profit

Surveillance capitalism [sər vāl əns/ /kapədl izəm] (noun)—a system in which private businesses or owners use data acquired through surveillance to make a profit; for example, Google selling your click history to another company

NSA (noun)—stands for National Security Agency

Security [sə kyo͝orədē] (noun)—the state of being free from danger or threat

Source: Google Dictionary



This lesson teaches students to understand the impact of online actions on their personal privacy. Students will listen to or read through excerpts of an NPR podcast that explores the paradox of wanting to have an online presence and wanting to protect one’s privacy. After reflecting on their own attitudes towards privacy, students will debate the future of privacy in our society.



1. Ask students, “What is privacy?” Responses might include definitions such as, “something that no one else knows about,” “something just for yourself,” “a space where you can be yourself.” Collect student responses, then provide a formal definition.

2. Have students individually brainstorm in a T-chart what privacy means in person vs. on the internet.

3. Ask students to take the Digital Privacy Quiz individually. You may read the questions out loud while students pick their answers.

4. After all students have completed the quiz, ask them to share their responses with a partner and briefly reflect using the following guiding questions: Have I ever taken any steps to protect my privacy? Do I care about my privacy? How much do I trust that companies and organizations will protect or care about my privacy? Has my privacy ever been invaded or information misused?

5. Bring the class back together and read aloud the transcript of podcast excerpts. Make sure to pause at the places marked in the transcript to emphasize important points. You may also want to explain unfamliiar vocabulary or write vocabulary on board (see provided definitions).

6. Put students into small groups and ask them to discuss what they think the future of online privacy might be. You can post the following discussion questions to facilitate conversation:

  • Who should have access to our data?
  • Will/Should the government control how companies use our data?
  • What if your data is used for good? For finding cures to diseases, for example. Does that change your point of view?
  • Can anything online be private?

7. In class or for homework: Ask students to come up with next steps for themselves, either in groups or individually, by creating a list of five things they might do online in order to protect their privacy.


Alignment to Common Core State Standards


Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.


Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.


Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.


Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.


Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

Illustration of person holding and looking at laptop.

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