How do youth allies promote young people’s critical thinking on privacy, in informal learning contexts in the Americas? This blog post is part of a series showcasing the work of different organizations at the intersection of youth development, digital rights, and online safety.
Who: Patricio Velasco from Derechos Digitales
What: Litigation, campaigning, research
Mission/vision: To defend, promote and develop human rights online, through advocacy in public policy and private practices, for a more egalitarian and just region.
Years of operation (as of February 2018): 13
Works in the field of: Privacy, data protection
Post summary: Derechos Digitales is a digital rights organization doing qualitative research on youth and privacy as part of its work to improve data privacy legislation in Chile.
Highlight quote from the interview: “Research like this shows interesting tensions in the narratives around youth: challenging the common framing of kids as people who are incapable of understanding the perils and threats of the internet and therefore should be controlled, by showing that, like everyone else, they can contemplate different threats and especially the practical skills needed to deal with them”.
Interview with Patricio Velasco, Derechos Digitales
Derechos Digitales is one of the first digital rights organizations in Latin America. With over a decade of work, countless publications and campaigns, many human rights organizations in the region point to them as one of the main references for privacy work in the Americas. Patricio Velasco is a researcher at Derechos Digitales and the lead author behind their report on children, youth and privacy in Latin America.
Patricio, a sociologist, has always been interested in the configuration of public space and the distinction between public and private. His research motivation for the report was to give a regional take on how youth and children today understand “privacy”, and to what extent it can be construed as a limit of the public sphere. The motivation for the organization, however, was a legislative debate that was sorely in need of different perspectives.
Chile is discussing its personal data legislation, and a common view is that its proposals are insufficient to protect the privacy of youth and children. Derechos Digitales’ question is: “if the protection that the State can give is not as good as the one we want, we need to see what’s happening on the other side: youth. What are the abilities of children and youth to effectively manage their internet resources?” They recognize that risks still exist, and adequate institutional protections are necessary, “but the context still begs the question”.
Why are youth at the center of this discussion? “Digital literacies vary by age. What interests me are the grey areas. What is happening with this intermediate generation [the parents of today] is that they have a conscience about the need for some control over their kids’ use of the internet, but kids have more skills than their parents and so their ability to exert control is less”.
Youth privacy, more broadly, is also “related to a bunch of problems we see today. Non-consensual image sharing is an extreme case of this; managing personal data in an environment of big data; bullying in online environments. For Derechos Digitales, it is a deeper concern that goes beyond specific cases or public discussions”.
Derechos Digitales’ report on child and youth privacy was born as a research project that intended to use regional data from Global Kids Online, an international research project that collects information on children’s use of the internet. Originally, they wanted to compare Global Kids Online data from three Latin American countries (Brazil, Argentina and Chile) with that of a benchmark country in Europe. However, Derechos Digitales was unable to secure access to regional data; they were only able to look at some data from Brazil on a published report, and compare it to Global Kids Online data from Turkey and Poland.
With regard to kids’ privacy practices, Global Kids Online data studies kids’ ability to delete web history, to block people with whom they do not want to speak, and to change their privacy settings on social networks. In their comparison, Derechos Digitales found a relation between privacy choices and the household income of different participants, and looked at other factors like class and gender.
“Research like this shows interesting tensions in the narratives around youth: challenging the common framing of kids as people who are incapable of understanding the perils and threats of the internet and therefore should be controlled, by showing that, like everyone else, they can contemplate different threats and especially the practical skills needed to deal with them”.
Derechos Digitales’ report on child and youth privacy (available here)
For Derechos Digitales, research is the first step that will then feed other forms of advocacy. Patricio thinks the organization might use this research to think of youth capacity building the way their research on gender has led them to develop special privacy workshops for women and journalists. For Derechos Digitales, capacity building requires to leave normative approaches aside.
“The organization has addressed topics like sex in the online environment, and the message has never been to say ‘you should not have sex online’. We have said that, if it’s a practice you are considering, there are some things you need to have in mind; talking about risks, thinking about the underlying social structures and individual agency, is essential for a truly free choice. Ultimately, the question we ask ourselves is how to enable everyone to control their privacy the way they desire, when not all of us have the same resources”.
This approach is consistent with the organization’s overall take on safety online, which is seen, for example, in their work on countersurveillance: “the logic of online protection presupposes more or less total knowledge of existing threats and best practices. Appealing to control relies on defined, limited situations that we get to know only from adult points of view. And it is an erroneous presupposition. To exert control over others tacitly implies that one is aware of all threats, and that aspiration seems laughable.” On the other hand, “data shows that youth do have consciousness of the potential threats”.
During the first semester of 2018, Derechos Digitales will be publishing more qualitative research on youth and privacy, carried out in collaboration with Chilean university students. “What we want to understand is what is it that end users —youth— consider in their own ways of thinking to be the limits of public and private. We have lots of work left to do in promoting those skills.”