Internet Privacy
Time 1.4 hrs

Difficulty Intermediate
Prerequisites IT Policy
Departments Human Technologies
Authors Wren Merrett
Groupings Individual
Minimum Year Group None


One of the reasons we have an ICT policy is to get students to think about their relationship with technology. One aspect of this is privacy, and this unit will explain that in greater detail.


What is needed to run this unit?
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Cross-Curricular Links
Do not try and force this. What areas of other subjects might this reflect and/discuss language. For IB, links with ToK.
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Teacher Reflection
What was successful? What needs changing? Alternative Assessments and Lesson Ideas? What other Differentiation Ideas/Plans could be used?
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Any CC attribution, thanks, credit, etc.

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10 mins
Who can see you on the internet?

As the blurb of this unit states, it is important to think about privacy as an element of your relationship with technology and the internet. You've probably already learned some basic advice about not actively breaching your privacy on the internet, such as not giving out personal details, such as;

  • your real name
  • your address
  • your date of birth
  • your phone number
  • any credit card details

However, there's another side to digital privacy, and it's much more sinister. Every day, big companies like Google and Amazon observe your online behaviour and habits, taking data about you and using it to modify your internet experience. This unit will teach you how to be aware of these things, and protect yourself from them.

15 mins
Cookies from Strangers
(or, how Google knows what you want)

If you've spent too much time browsing the internet, you might have noticed that at some point, the advertisements you see in the margins of websites start to get a bit more... personal. This might seem a little strange, but there's a scary logic to it once you know how it works. In essence, it's all to do with cookies.

No, not that kind. A browser cookie, or HTTP cookie, is a piece of data that a website sends to your computer, that is stored in a file in your browser. Cookies can be sent back and forth, which is why they work - an advert counts as a website for the purposes of cookies, so the same ad on different sites can track your behaviour.

Here's what this has to do with Google. They are the biggest advertising agency on the internet, thanks to their AdSense system. Google also runs YouTube, allowing them to see what you watch, and operates Google Chrome, a massively popular web browser. As a result, they are able to use cookies and other data to build up a comprehensive picture of every one of their users. While they don't use this data for anything overtly sinister, they do use it to create targeted advertisements that are tailored to what they think your interests are.

20 mins
Plugging In
The danger of extensions

One browser extension that can really help you in the fight against being tracked online is AdBlock Plus. As the name suggests, AdBlock Plus allows you to block ads on websites, which makes them run faster, reduces visual annoyance, and prevents ad companies like Google from tracking you by using your data and cookies.

It looks a little something like this

However, a lot of plugins and extensions carry with them a hideous amount of risks when it comes to your privacy on the internet. Some seemingly innocuous extensions will be Trojan horses, carrying malware, spyware and other viruses that can harm your computer and steal your data. Some extensions are made by well-intentioned people, and carry none of these curses initially, but will be bought out by people with a lot of money and a desire to capitalise on a large user base by taking their data. As such, I wouldn't recommend that you install a large number of extensions in your browser, regardless of what browser you're using.

No bueno

15 mins
What can you do?
Don't be a fool

If the idea of targeted advertising and corporations storing masses of data about you scares you at all, don't worry! There are solutions to this problem.

The first and most recommended solution is to switch browsers. The browser widely regarded as the best for privacy and security is Firefox.

There are many reasons for this. First and foremost, Firefox is not run by a massive corporation like Google or Microsoft. The owners of Firefox, Mozilla, are a non-profit, independent company. Firefox also features strong privacy protection features, good security and regular updates to keep up with the evolving world of the internet. Once you have installed Firefox, there are many privacy settings you can tinker with and plugins you can install to make your browsing experience even more secure. Firefox is usually pre-installed on ICHK Mac laptops. If you want to go into more detail about how to secure Firefox, this article provides an in-depth analysis of many things you can do.

If you're on a Chromebook, don't despair! You can still secure your privacy by modifying settings in Google Chrome. You can find privacy settings under the Advanced Settings menu at the bottom of the Settings menu, shown here.

25 mins
Securing yourself

Now that you're a bit more familiar with the ways that companies can track and profile you on the internet, and some of the ways you can stop them from doing that, it's time to use them yourself. For your final evidence for this unit:

  • On Mac: load up Firefox on your computer (or install it if you don't already have it). Don't forget to update to the latest version! 
  • On Chromebook: modify your privacy settings in Chrome to your liking

Navigate to a site you use often and take a screenshot of it, preferably one that has several prominent ads in it. Then, install AdBlock Plus, and take a screenshot of the same website with the ad blocker active. Combine these two images in a Google Doc and upload the result, and you'll have completed this unit and come one step closer to securing your browsing!

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