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Year 2: The UC Berkeley Extern Experience

Topics:   Privacy Program

A College Student Walks Into the Common Sense Media Office and...

Jill Bronfman | January 22, 2020

Hi! I’m Julia M., a freshman at UC Berkeley. I haven’t declared a major but am fascinated with human behavior and psychology and how both are shaped by technological, digital, and legal factors.

A couple of months into my first semester at Cal, I discovered the Berkeley Externship Program that allows students to shadow alumni in a variety of career fields. As someone who hadn’t fully fleshed out her academic or vocational goals, this seemed like the perfect way to do a bit of exploring. When I saw that a privacy lawyer from Common Sense Media was sponsoring an extern, I jumped at the opportunity. The idea of influencing the technological and digital world to protect citizens’ privacy and online security seemed intriguing and was aligned with my interests. To my delight, I was accepted for the externship and arrived at the CSM office two months later.  

Right off the bat, I learned about how the privacy team at CSM reviews education technology (edtech) using the Basic Privacy Evaluation framework. It was fascinating to see the inner workings of this rating process and how the expertise of software engineers, lawyers, and others was leveraged to create and implement this tool. I even helped review an edtech product, which was a great hands-on experience. 

From my time talking to members of the privacy team and using their evaluation tool, I came to understand the importance of their work. Producing these reviews informs consumers about how well edtech products protect their privacy, puts pressure on companies to improve their privacy policies, and promotes digital safety within the classroom overall. I was amazed by the sheer scope of impact the privacy team’s work has on the public, and it was really exciting to learn about and contribute to such a meaningful project. 

In addition to shadowing the privacy team, I had the chance to meet other employees and learn about their different roles at CSM, which I loved. I learned how the curriculum is developed for the Digital Citizenship Program (an educational outreach initiative teaching students how to be safe in the online world), how videographers translate the company’s key messages into digestible and informative content for the public, and how editors use developmental psychology and the perspective of parents to inform their reviews of books and movies. Talking to these employees about their work was impressive; however, seeing how passionate and excited they were about their jobs was what truly stuck with me. Although the academic backgrounds and areas of expertise varied among employees, they all shared a similar passion to help kids and parents safely and smartly navigate the modern digital landscape. 

On a personal level, one major takeaway from my time at CSM was the importance of pursuing what you’re passionate about. This message was emphasized explicitly and implicitly throughout my externship: passion was evident in the work of the employees and their excitement in talking to me about it. I may not have a perfectly clear idea about what career I want to pursue, but I am reassured and motivated to know that listening to and following my passion is key. 

I also came away with a deeper appreciation for the work that CSM does. Social media and digital content saturate the modern world and our lives are inexorably tied to technology, and CSM’s efforts to develop standards that keep children safe in this evolving digital world is hugely important as a result. However, doing so is a balance: we must acknowledge and leverage the benefits of technology, such as using edtech tools and the internet as a huge source of information in the classroom, while also safeguarding children’s data and privacy from being compromised. My externship at CSM further solidified my desire to explore this nuanced and critical area. 

Externing at CSM has been an invaluable experience. I gained insight into the professional workplace and how an organization runs internally. Shadowing and talking to the members of the privacy team galvanized my interest in the intersection of law and technology, and I was inspired by employees’ passion and excitement for their jobs. In particular, I am grateful to my sponsor, Jill, for warmly welcoming me and introducing me to all that CSM does and offers. While I still haven’t fully clarified my academic goals, this experience has helped me become more focused, reassured, and excited about my college journey and future.