Online privacy is a matter that we take pretty seriously, particularly when it comes to our kids, though we don’t all agree on where to draw the line. For example, some of us on GeekDad don’t use pictures of our own kids at all, or only use photos where the faces are obscured. Others feel comfortable sharing photos and names; many of us fall somewhere in the middle. We’ve had some posts from various folks at the Center for Democracy and Technology, from tips on raising an Internet-savvy kid to handling Facebook privacy settings. Most of this information is targeted at the parents—it’s what we do as we train our kids.
Privacy Activism, in conjunction with NBM Publishing, has taken a different approach—teaching kids about privacy issues through comics. Privacy Activism is a non-profit organization helping people to be informed about their choices. It’s important to “make the discussion more concrete and relevant by helping people understand the ramifications of the choices that they make in everyday life,” and they’re using comics, videos and games as part of the process.
Networked: Carabella on the Run, written by Gerard Jones and illustrated by Mark Badger, is a comic book about online privacy, targeted at teens and college students and using a sci-fi action story to raise awareness of some of the risks involved. It’s an interesting approach, but does it work?
Carabella is a blue-skinned college girl who is very concerned about her privacy, at least at first. (Executive Director Deborah Pierce explained that Carabella was created several years ago and has been featured in a few of their games—”She was blue long before Avatar.”) Then she meets Nick, an engineering student working on some interactive, electronically-monitored shoes. They hit it off and she becomes his model—but when he manages to get hold of some advanced technology and incorporates them into his prototypes, things really take off. The story incorporates these “Soul Shoes,” the secret behind Carabella’s blue skin, and an inter-dimensional conspiracy to spark dialogue about the importance of privacy.
NBM sent me a copy of the trade paperback, which was just released this month. I read through it and I have mixed opinions about it. The story is a creative way to teach privacy issues, but isn’t the greatest on its own merits and took a little time to warm up. Then, once the action started, it got pretty melodramatic—it often felt like characters were overreacting, going from calm to completely outraged in no time. (And there’s a lot of smashing.) Also, the artwork is a little uneven, a bit too sketchy for my tastes.
Still, I applaud what Privacy Activism is doing, and I think (like the American Physical Society’s ventures into comics) reading a book like Networked is still a lot more interesting than reading a textbook or a bunch of legalese, hokey plot or not. If you want to get a teen to think about how they use the Internet, you could do worse than to hand them a comic book. Privacy Activism is also at work on a teacher’s guide which will include vocabulary, discussion questions, and various activities of different time lengths to fit into your schedule. That could be a pretty handy resource and would make Networked more valuable, too.
Visit the Privacy Activism website to read most of Networked online—sections of it are released every week, and it uses some motion and different framing so it’s not exactly like the paper version. You can also try out the earlier Carabella games and read about Privacy Activism’s mission. It’s important to note that Privacy Activism isn’t just about keeping everything secret; as Pierce mentioned, “too much privacy isn’t necessarily a good thing.” It’s about understanding how your personal information can be collected and how it’s used, and then deciding for yourself how much to share.
Wired: Privacy is taught using a sci-fi action-filled comic book instead of boring legal terms; might actually get teens to think about some important issues.
Tired: The comic itself isn’t spectacular, so it’s not a book teens will probably just pick up on their own.