Protecting Children’s Data Privacy in the Smart City

Just posted this essay on Medium –

“Protecting Children’s Data Privacy in the Smart City”

The material here is a small fraction of a larger research inquiry into how major tech platforms and media conglomerates are / are not adhering to children’s privacy regulations. Primarily, COPPA in the US, Office of the Privacy Commissioner guidelines in Canada, then relevant legislation and activities in Europe pre & post GDPR, and activities in Mexico & India.

Given PM Trudeau’s commitment to a Digital Charter in Canada to halt hate speech on social media and online platforms, children’s data privacy should be at the forefront of this discussion.

From my essay:

“The devices that we use have unique identifiers. With cross-browser fingerprinting, the data we generate as users isn’t as anonymized as we believe it is. The tracking of our online activity is extensive, comprehensive and persistent, and generates marketable data shadowsthat do not need our personal information in order to target us as consumers.

This should be a significant concern regarding today’s children and youth, who have extremely detailed data profiles that they will carry into adulthood, creating what Google’s Eric Schmidt termed an “indelible record.”

What is key to note here is that these instances of alleged violations of children’s privacy have occurred in the private realm, where regulations exist as to how this data should be handled. As smart city projects like Sidewalk Toronto’s Quayside project grow in profile and popularity, they have yet to identify what will happen to data generated in public by minors. Because Sidewalk Toronto may set precedents shaping future smart city planning, children’s privacy in the private and public spheres should be recognized as a national issue.


Sidewalk Toronto is a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent company, with several concerning precedents regarding tracking and collecting the data of minors. The findings reported here are an extension of a longer paper as to how tech and media giants are observation privacy needs of minors. “Data Science, Disney, and The Future of Children’s Entertainment” will be published in The Palgrave Handbook of Children’s Film and Television (July 2019).

Minors can’t consent

Children today face unique challenges because they will be targeted by business intelligence, and shaped by this targeting to a degree that we cannot fathom. There are legal protections for minors under 13 as stated by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) and Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA) in the United States. Children and youth are recognized as vulnerable and deserving of special considerations: they cannot make informed decisions as to what they are agreeing to. This makes the data tracking and mining of children under 13 a federal issue….”

Feature image: Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash

Prufrock Descending: A Collaborative Class Experiment in Reading

Prufrock Descending documents an investigation of mood shifts in T.S. Eliot’s modernist poem, “The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock.” This interactive website is the result of a collaborative investigation in reading moods undertaken as a class project (150 students!) in ENG 287 The Digital Text (University of Toronto). We engaged in passionate debates re. tagging moods via phrases, lines, and stanzas, and wrestled with the subjective nature of literary analysis (training & expertise be damned!). The interactive poem offers three version reflecting more expansive and more fine-grained readings as there was no way to arrive a definitive single reading.

From the site:

From Conrad Aiken’s early 1916 review, Eliot’s dramatic monologue has had almost a century of being read as a psychological character study exploring the fluent mutability of an anxious, indecisive self-consciousness. Key to this interpretative approach is the dynamic interplay and range of emotions that Prufrock voices and which are readily discernible to both the scholarly and common reader (to borrow Virginia Woolf’s term). Undertaken as a collaborative TEI encoding project by the students in The Digital Text, a second year English course (University of Toronto, Fall 2014), our initial question approaching this text was whether we could map the moods articulated in the poem as we as readers perceived them? What would the aggregate of our collective readings look like? Would we see a marked convergence of opinion in our close readings? Or would we see striking divergences? What we discovered was both. Remarkably, as we dove deeper into our project, what was increasingly foregrounded was the ambiguity of reading and the instability of literary analysis as a methodological process. To paraphrase one student’s response, ‘the whole poem could be defined as expressing a single mood and then the TEI process challenges the reader to parse the nuances.’ The collaborative class process of deciding on a list of mood terms became an investigation of the rationales for individual close readings and a realization that there is no way to determine or argue for a definitive reading of mood and meaning in Eliot’s poem.

“Psychogeography as Social Activism in Kat Cizek’s Highrise:The 1000th Tower and Out My Window

An academic essay written 2011, now available here:

http://lisa.revues.org/5703

“This research looks at the National Film Board of Canada’s multi-year, multi-platform interactive documentary project, Highrise/The 1000th Tower and Out My Window. This ongoing series of innovative documentaries is considered in terms of how emergent Web 2.0 technologies and platforms are providing new tools for documentary expression and for connecting with audiences as participatory content creators. The NFB Highrise project is also placed in historical context to an earlier NFB social change documentary project, Challenge for Change. By examining the methodologies of the contemporary award-winning projects, this research highlights the potential of web-based, interactive projects to support community agency and expression.”