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My Berkeley Externship Experience with the Common Sense Privacy Program

I learned much more than what I had originally assumed I would learn from this experience.

Iris Vold | February 1, 2019

Hi! My name is Iris Vold. Like many students at the University of California, Berkeley (we call it "Cal"), I tend to get a little stir crazy over the long month of winter break vacation. In anticipation of this restlessness, I decided to apply to Berkeley's Externship Program, hoping to find an externship that would give me an idea of what kind of career my studies at Cal and current interests could potentially lead to. Of course, I wasn't expecting anything that would fit perfectly with my passions -- so far I haven't met many other people specifically interested in pursuing law and its relation to technology or majoring in cognitive science and minoring in computer science and public policy.

During my time at Cal, I took classes and participated in all sorts of organizations trying to learn more about law and policy as well as technology, but it was always as separate fields. I had never been given the opportunity to study their intersection. Unfortunately, for me, it seemed like these interests just didn't overlap. Hence my pessimistic attitude toward finding a fitting externship for myself.

As I began scrolling through the list of externships on the Berkeley Career Center's website, I was shocked to find a lawyer working at Common Sense. The nonprofit's privacy counsel would be sponsoring an externship in nearby San Francisco! I’m not exaggerating when I say that I was absolutely elated to find such a perfect fit for an externship. I immediately applied and was soon accepted to extern at Common Sense.

I must admit, I had a pretty narrow mindset when I applied to the externship. I expected to learn about the overlap of technology and law, specifically gaining some insight into the tricky privacy and security risks technology poses. I wasn't that interested in educational technology (edtech) or how children are particularly affected. However, I’m happy to say my narrow perspective soon changed.

For my first day as an extern, the experience was everything I wanted it to be. I met and chatted with the other impressive and knowledgeable privacy group members and attended a talk on internet, mobile, and platform law in legalese I could barely understand (but still found super cool to listen to). At the end of the first day, I felt more passionately than ever before that protecting people's privacy is crucial and proud to be part of a nonprofit that was discussing, and partaking in ways to protect, that privacy.

On the second day of the externship, I was thrilled to partake in a part of the rating and reviewing process that Common Sense uses to evaluate different edtech tools. Not only did I feel like I was getting firsthand experience in something that involved both my interests, but I also felt that the work I was doing was valuable in that such a review of the product I was rating could help consumers make more informed decisions about the edtech tools they were using. It was at this time that I also began to realize the impact that Common Sense has as a whole, and I began to talk with more employees in other departments. Talking with some of the educational professionals and those who were more focused on Common Sense’s general mission than on only tech privacy, I learned much more about the importance of providing accurate information about all kinds of educational tools as well as media, like movies and video games, for an audience of kids who are quite susceptible to that media’s content.

By my third day of externing at CSM, I was meeting with the video director, editor, and managers, discussing in depth what it means to create valuable, informative content for not only kids but parents and teachers as well. The privacy and security involved with the technology we use in our everyday lives is clearly important for everyone -- an idea I felt very strongly about even before beginning this externship -- but kids are even more exposed. While many adults notice that kids seem to have an easier time navigating digital landscapes, this doesn't mean they're navigating more safely. It is for this very reason that Common Sense exists and works so hard to provide information and resources to give kids more protection -- something I hadn't thought much about before externing for Common Sense.

I'm happy to say these professionals taught me much more than what I had originally assumed I would learn from this experience. It was also through talking with these other professionals from such a wide array of backgrounds -- including education, business, and psychology as well as law -- that I realized how many opportunities are available on all kinds of different career paths. I believe a lot of university students assume that if you study education you’ll become a teacher, or if you study psychology you'll become a psychologist, and so on. Students -- myself included -- don’t realize how much more there is than something that directly relates to whatever you decided to study for four years as an undergrad and that the skill set you develop can prepare you for more than a single career. It was exciting and relieving to hear from so many professionals at Common Sense that there's a lot more flexibility in your career than undergrads generally anticipate in the workforce. Currently, I'm still interested in my original pursuit -- studying technology law -- but I've realized there's a lot more for me to consider that relates to this, including specific groups and how those groups are affected by technology and how I could support them if I pursue a career in law.