S2-Episode 7: From high school to university: a young person’s perspective on digital privacy

Oct 03 2022

In today’s connected world, children and youth are growing up online, spending more time in front of screens than any generation before them. This episode explores how young people are using digital technologies, what they think about privacy, and how parents, teachers, and regulators can help them develop the skills they need to be informed digital citizens. Commissioner Kosseim speaks with Keith Baybayon, the former president of the Ontario Student Trustees Association, the largest student stakeholder group in Ontario representing over two million students.

 

Patricia Kosseim:

Hello, I’m Patricia Kosseim, Ontario’s information and privacy commissioner. And you’re listening to Info Matters, a podcast about people, privacy, and access to information. We dive into conversations with people from all walks of life and hear real stories about the access and privacy issues that matter most to them.

Hello listeners. Welcome to another episode of Info Matters. With the rapid adoption of technology, teens who’ve grown up in the digital world since an early age are connecting online more than ever, especially since the pandemic when many students suddenly found themselves stuck at home attending classes remotely. It’s estimated that global internet traffic grew by 40 to 60% during the spring of 2020 as schools and businesses closed their doors and moved online to slow the spread of COVID-19. A headline from The New York Times sums it up well, the virus changed the way we internet. As students spend more of their lives online doing homework, playing games, shopping and connecting with friends through social media, they leave a trail of data behind, a kind of digital footprint of personal information that can be collected and replicated by others without their knowledge or consent or used by algorithms to influence their buying decisions and attitudes.

The potential privacy risks are a lot for anyone to deal with, let alone for young people who may be less equipped for complex decision making and can’t always exercise their access and privacy rights in a fully informed manner. In this episode, we’ll get a young person’s perspective on how we can help youth develop the skills they need to survive and thrive as digital citizens. My guest is Keith Baybayon. Keith is the former president of the Ontario Student Trustees Association, an independent nonpartisan group of elected students representing Ontario’s 72 public school boards, giving voice to the concerns of over two million students. Last June, Keith graduated valedictorian of his class of 2022 and has just started his first year at McGill University. He’s also a member of my office’s strategic advisory council, providing valuable advice as we advance our strategic priorities to achieve real positive impact. Keith, welcome to the show.

Keith Baybayon:

Hi commissioner. Thank you so much for having me. I’m really honored to have been invited on this podcast and I can’t wait to share my perspective with you all.

PK:

Thank you. So why don’t I start by asking you to tell us a little bit more about yourself. What are you studying at McGill and how have you found the transition between high school and university so far?

KB:

McGill is quite a bit of a different story in regards to other universities because our first year is solely focused on being undeclared. So we have to take on different courses in different areas to really explore our different interests and what we possibly want to major in. For me personally, I want to major in possibly political science and religion at the end of my first year at McGill University and hopefully afterwards I can go towards law school. The transition between high school and university has been quite different in my opinion because it’s such a big change for me. I’ve been living in Toronto for over 10 years of my life and then suddenly I’m in a new city where French is spoken a lot with English. There’s so many new people I’ve met, new places I’ve been to, new cafes, restaurants is just such a new environment. I felt a little overwhelmed at first, but now I feel way more comfortable in my space.

PK:

Great. And you’re going to love it in Montreal at McGill. That’s my alma mater and I speak from experience and you’re going to have a great time. So enjoy this precious period of your life. In high school Keith, you were the head and official spokesperson for the Ontario Student Trustees Association. Tell me how did you get involved in student advocacy and why did you think it was so important to do so?

KB:

I got involved in student leadership and student advocacy at an early age, so it was actually back in elementary where I began my student leadership journey because my school board has a elementary student senate. So I got involved in that in aspects such as delivering petitions to the prime minister, attending monthly general assembly meetings with students across the board. And in high school I wanted to continue that passion for student leadership. So I continued joining student senate initiatives, which is basically the high school version of the elementary student senate. And I was able to find the opportunity of signing up for student trustee. A student trustee is basically the representative of all the students within a school board. And when I heard of this opportunity, I knew I had to take it because there was never a student trustee at my school before. I thought I could be the first.

I thought this opportunity could be great for me and great for my peers at the same time. And eventually I ran for the election and won. I was able to represent my students at a board level by raising the pride flag acknowledging June as Pride Month and I knew that my leadership could be taken up a notch at the provincial level with OSTA-AECO. The Ontario Student Trustees Association was an amazing organization that has been fighting for student rights since 2000 and becoming president was obviously a dream of mine ever since entering the organization. And ever since then I was able to partake in governmental decisions, attend ministry round tables with the Ministry of Education, and I was very involved in the education world of Ontario and I was grateful for the opportunities presented to me.

PK:

Wow, you’re very, very impressive, Keith. I’m in awe of your passion and your energy at such a young age. Looking back on your experience, can you tell us about a day in the life of a connected high school student? Which devices did you use in high school and what activities were you typically doing online?

KB:

So the devices I use mainly in high school, probably my computer and my phone the most because I would always take it to school with me. So I would always, even when I woke up I would check my phone. It’s just a habit of mine that I can’t really get rid of. So it’s just, have to check my messages to check on my social media, to check my emails specifically because I’ve always received tons of emails in high school.

And when I did get to school, I would open up my computer to turn on Google Drive or Microsoft to use whatever softwares I needed to use for my school work because everything that I did for my school was mainly digital. I wanted to be more eco-friendly, so I wanted to keep most of my files digitally so everything was stored mainly on my computer. So day in the life, I always use both those devices. Sometimes my iPad. I always felt connected to most of my friends through digitally, like whenever I’m not with them in person. So I thought it was a great way for me to continuously be connected to everyone else.

PK:

And what age did you start going online and would you say you were ahead or behind your peer group when you started?

KB:

I’d say I started going online when I was about the age of 10. That’s when I got my first ever iPad. I was an iPad kid. I’d say I was pretty much ahead of my peers in regards to having that iPad because I was able to search up questions online whenever I felt curious about a certain topic. I had social media at an early age, so I was able to message my friends at a very early age back when Instagram was at first very new to the environment and to the community. So I felt very much more engaged to the internet compared to all of my friends at that time.

PK:

As the president of the Ontario Student Trustees Association, what were some of the online privacy related issues you were dealing with and advocating for at the time?

KB:

At the time, as my term as president for OSTA-AECO I think latest challenges in regards to data privacy, especially during our times of COVID would be Zoom privacy because students were often forced to actually turn on the cameras whenever it was class time. And that may not be a safe case for many students, whether that be, it’s not a good environment for them to show, it’s not something they’re comfortable with. So I feel a lot of students had actually reached out to me, especially within my school board and even the student trustees within OSTA-AECO. We saw that as an issue and we wanted to combat that through the different platforms that we were about to put out, especially our student platform, the Student Blueprint. And we also had different sort of initiatives in the past with OSTA-AECO in terms of technology use and technology rules for school boards. We even released a platform called the eLearning document in terms of eLearning for Ontario. So there were many different issues that we saw within Ontario’s education system that we believe could have been fixed, but we weren’t just listened to in time.

PK:

Did you at the time know where you could reach out for help on some of these issues? Was it obvious to you where to go?

KB:

At the time I was not aware of the resources or supports that could have been available to me. Well, they were available, but we weren’t aware of it. The issue at hand is that we’re not informed enough of everything that’s really right in front of us. That’s such a core issue that’s been faced within many students that they’re not seeing the different supports or accessibility that school boards would provide them and also the province itself.

PK:

So maybe we as an office should do a better job reaching out as the Information Privacy Commissioner’s office to students and particularly high school students. So that’s a good lesson for us to hear, Keith. Thanks for that. Young people, as you know, they’re among the heaviest users of social media sharing a variety of personal information and posts and photos. In your opinion, do websites and social media platforms do a good enough job of explaining what they do with users information? How aware do you think young people are about the fact that sensitive data about them are being collected behind the scenes?

KB:

I definitely don’t think young people are aware enough of how their data is being processed through the social media and the different websites that they use. They often just click on a social media app. They just go on it, talk with their friends and act like nothing is happening in the background because that isn’t the case, as we all know it. Data is being collected, data is being utilized behind a person’s back, which is often dangerous in some sort of cases. I believe students aren’t aware of the dangers that could possibly happen when they give away their information so lightly. Whether that be just entering an email, whether that be entering just an address, it could be accessed by so many organizations, so many companies, and they’re unaware of the dangers itself generally.

PK:

People say that young people don’t care about privacy anymore, and I want to know what you think of that. Do you think privacy is really dead among young people or is it just that young people have a different understanding or knowledge about privacy?

KB:

I think young people are just not aware of how data could work against them because it’s their personal information. So they’re not aware that their information is being just sorted out. It’s being tracked, it’s being utilized in many forms, and I think that leads to the sort of ignorance that they have when it comes to privacy. They don’t know what they don’t know. So when it comes to privacy, they’re just acting like they can put all their passwords, all their usernames in like a Notes app and think they’re safe. But that’s not the case because they utilize so many social medias, so many websites and so many online platforms that their data is actually being collected through all of that. Yet they are not aware of their safety being jeopardized in that sense because they don’t have the knowledge and they weren’t brought the knowledge within schools itself.

PK:

So they do care about privacy, but as you say, they just don’t know what they don’t know.

KB:

Yeah. Exactly.

PK:

That’s a good point. We’re all familiar with terms of service documents, those long documents that companies will have you click to accept before you can use their services. What do you think about this concept of putting the burden of understanding on data users like this, the kind of take it or leave it approach?

KB:

I don’t think it’s fair enough because it is very long documents that people who are unknowledgeable in terms of data privacy may not be able to understand. It could be language that they see and not be able to comprehend. So they’re not really understanding when they press agree. They’re just speeding up time in a way because they want to get to whatever platform that they want to use. So I think the burden shouldn’t be left on the person that’s unknowledgeable on the content itself. I think it should be simplified in a way that they can understand the language, that they understand what they’re getting themselves into and what they’re agreeing to at the same time.

PK:

Very wise. At our privacy day event last year, Keith, you spoke about the need for young people to have a voice at the table. And that comment has really stuck with me ever since. My office is going to be inviting young people to become involved in our new youth advisory council to share their unique views on the work that our office does. As someone who’s volunteered on youth councils before, and as you said since elementary school, you’ve been involved, what’s your advice for someone who might be thinking of getting involved? Why should they apply to become a member of our Youth Advisory Council?

KB:

I’d say that students should get involved in different groups, different student advocacy, and even organizations such as the IPC because they should be passionate about the topic at hand. You shouldn’t be joining something that you’re not passionate about but simply filling in your resume. But it’s something that you’re generally interested in, something you’re generally want to get more involved in. For me specifically, I loved and honed student leadership to my best ability, and that’s why I was so involved in my high school and elementary years with my student senate and different student groups across Toronto, and that’s what I wanted to continue in Montreal. So if you’re a young person that is ambitious and wants to work with organizations, especially when it comes to data privacy and cybersecurity, then I think this is an amazing opportunity for you to get involved and to really develop upon your skills and your experiences. And it’s also a great way to network with other like-minded leaders and to really hone in on what you’re really passionate about.

PK:

That passion comes through loud and clear in your voice, Keith. So that’s very, very sound advice. Thank you for that. As you know, my office has adopted children and youth in a digital world as a key strategic priority to focus our work and our goal in this area is to champion the access and privacy rights of Ontario’s children and youth by promoting their digital literacy and the expansion of their digital rights, while also holding public institutions like schools and school boards accountable for protecting the children and youth that they serve. Now you’re aware, of course, because you’re involved on our strategic advisory council as a member in helping us implement that priority work. So let me ask you, what’s your advice for our office? What challenges do you see ahead of us and how can we make headway in advancing our goal in this priority area of children and youth?

KB:

I think there could be many challenges that were set face, especially because our perspective is much older than those of children who are currently just being children and just living their lives out and not worrying about whatever data privacy may be, because that’s not even part of their vocabulary just yet. So it’s our job to ensure that whatever they’re experiencing, we’re very mindful and putting it on the table and to really hone in on what their troubles may be in regards to data privacy, especially at an early age, because it’s not something we can target like demographically because we don’t have five year olds joining organizations already. They’re too young. So it’s our mission to really hone in on what’s happening to them, what we can do to help them, and strategic ways to possibly get them involved in some way, whether that be just asking them simple questions that they can understand or even releasing sort of simple surveys that they can fill out in ways that we could get their voices involved and not just hiding the fact that we’re advocating for them but not having them at the table.

PK:

Again, very wise advice. Thank you, Keith. I’m very curious. I’d love to read your valedictorian speech.

KB:

It was 12 minutes long.

PK:

I was valedictorian as well. I have long lost my speech, but I would’ve loved to reread it and compare it to yours decades later to see the kinds of different issues we’re dealing with across generations. But this has been a fascinating discussion Keith. Thank you so much for joining us today. I think you’ve really provided a fresh perspective on how young people are using digital technologies nowadays, and you’ve given us really good insights. I think that can help parents, teachers, but also privacy regulators like myself to better understand what it’s like to grow up in a digital world. That voice of the five year old, as you say, you’re much closer to that five year old than I am, and I think some of your advice on how to reach out to the younger demographic is really valuable.

KB:

Thank you so much for having me.

PK:

For listeners who want to learn more about the work my office is doing to champion the access and privacy rights of Ontario’s children and youth, I encourage you to visit our website at ipc.on.ca. Our website also includes general information about privacy and access rights under Ontario’s laws. If you have questions, you can call or email our office for assistance and general information. And if you’re interested in hearing more of our Info Matters Podcasts, we have more than 15 episodes so far, covering a variety of access and privacy topics. You can access them on all major streaming services. Thank you, Keith. Again, thank you everyone for listening, and until next time.

I’m Patricia Kosseim Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, and this has been Info Matters. If you enjoyed the podcast, leave us a rating or review. If there’s an access or privacy topic you’d like us to explore on a future episode, we’d love to hear from you. Send us a tweet at IPC info privacy or email us at podcast@ipc.on.ca. Thanks for listening and please join us again for more conversations about people, privacy and access to information. If it matters to you, it matters to me.

Keith Baybayon is a first-year student at McGill University and the former president of the Ontario Student Trustees Association, the largest student stakeholder group in Ontario. He’s also a member of the IPC’s Strategic Advisory Council.

  • Becoming a student leader and advocate [3:53]
  • A day in the life of a connected high school student [5:55]
  • Using technology in elementary school [7:17]
  • Privacy and the use of cameras in online learning environments [8:12]
  • The need for greater awareness by students of where to turn for help with privacy issues [9:12]
  • Personal data collection behind the scenes [9:56]
  • Do young people care about privacy anymore? [11:23]
  • Lengthy and hard to understand terms of service documents [12:31]
  • Getting involved in student advocacy on digital literacy and privacy issues [13:35]
  • The challenge of teaching young people about privacy from an early age [15:11]

Resources:

Info Matters is a podcast about people, privacy, and access to information hosted by Patricia Kosseim, Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario. We dive into conversations with people from all walks of life and hear stories about the access and privacy issues that matter most to them.

If you enjoyed the podcast, leave us a rating or a review.

Have an access to information or privacy topic you want to learn more about? Interested in being a guest on the show? Send us a tweet @IPCinfoprivacy or email us at podcast@ipc.on.ca.

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