We're retiring teacher-created lesson plans. Please save copies for your records. Common Sense digital citizenship lessons are here to stay.
Teacher-Created Lesson Plan

How Data Is Collected As We Move Through Our Digital Life

See how computer algorithms and tracking devices and are used to collect digital data.
Rochelle G.
Technology coordinator
Reedy Creek Middle School
Cary, United States
Show More
My Subjects English Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies, Arts

1 You Are Being Followed On the Internet

Activity: Presenting

We're all being followed around the internet, and tracked through our mobile phones.

What personal data are companies and institutions collecting?

Why do they want this data?

Should we care?

Slide 1

Teacher comments: Today we are going to take a look at some of the companies and their methods for tracking us around the internet

Create a presentation to help present the information and control the flow of activities.

NOTE: This lesson is built upon CSM, Scope and Sequence 9-12, “Does It Matter Who Has Your Data?  The handouts for investigating the search results for Lola and Cole should be ready for your small groups.  Every group of 4 gets 2 Lola and 2 Cole and 1 discussion summary containing 3 questions.  From your data projector or on your whiteboard, you can put the summary grid for your group discussions

2 World Usage Data

Where are YOU in this picture? Print these questions and generalizations as you cannot display the graph and the questions.  You can write the questions on a whiteboard.

This slide is a placeholder for giving the teacher a time for launching the chart.


How many people in the world? What % live in Urban Areas?

What %  of the world are internet users?

What % of the world are mobile users?

Estimate what % of mobile users access social media?

Generalizations about the data:

Nearly everybody that uses social media has a mobile device of some type – smart phone, tablet, etc. And that is 34% of the world!

Why is this important????  Wait for student responses.

Mobile devices make an immediate impact on its users because they send and receive information instantaneously.

And, their postings are shared with an additional 3% using the internet on just a computer for social media.

Slide 2 

NOTE: Scroll down the webpage until you find the chart: Jan 2017 Global Digital Snapshot. This chart can be opened in its own tab by right clicking on the chart and using the menu that appears.  It can be expanded to whole screen.

NOTE: Again it is nice to have 

3 What Does It Mean To Be Tracked?

Activity: Presenting

What Does it Mean to Be Tracked

1. Information such as times, dates, places, and services can be collected even if you are not on a device but just passing a camera, for instance.

2. Specific points of data that are collected can be combined with other data points to create useful information.  In the next slide you will see how the cell phone usage and geo tracking of a government official in Switzerland is being combined to map his movements.

3. Open Data is a new trend in collecting information.  Many municipalities use Open Data to monitor traffic, water usage and more uses are coming.

Slide 3

NOTE: In a slideshow it is nice to have the 3 points enter the screen one at a time.

4 A Visual Example of the Use of Tracking

We can all be tracked!

Slide 4 

NOTE: This slide is a placeholder for launching the tracking website.

NOTE: This is an example of a member of the Swiss government being tracked via his cell phone on an Open Data platform.  You can see him move around while he is making calls - the red target is him and the calls display on the side. Sorry that the background map does not display - but you can still see the target move.

NOTES: How to Use the site.

The background map does not show when you access the website but the display is still valuable.

If you pick the 5000 speed (bottom left) you can see the “target” move as the calls show on the right side. 

Move to the Calendar and network tabs.  Click the “X” shaped expansion for full screen in the upper right hand corner and always select the speed at the bottom left for 5000 for best viewing.

In the calendar tab you can skip around the calendar dates – for instance, you can choose a date further on in his itinerary – so don’t have to watch in sequential order, day by day. 

Also, go to the Network page. Hover your mouse over the points and see who he emailed. 

Note to the students that open source data allows EVERYONE to see your data.

Next Site will be: https://myshadow.org/location-tracking

5 New Techniques inTracking

New technology helps trackers follow consumers' digital imprints .

Listen for any surprises …The podcast is 3:48 minutes

NOTE: On slide show reveal this information after listening to the audio file

1.What is new in tracking: fingerprints you leave from your installed fonts and extensions

2.What is new in tracking: following you from device to device through recognitions of the unique networks you attach to

3.What is new in tracking: tracking you from one device to another. 

4.  In general, tracking can occur including across devices — through browser settings, battery levels and other details

Slide 5

6 Trace Methods For Your Shadow Shown on This Site

Choose Your Own Devices and Trace Your Shadow

NOTE: This slide is a placeholder for launching the website that will be navigated

Slide 6

NOTE: Do one example. Don’t start by picking a computer – start with a mobile phone. Then add Android.  Click that off and Add IOS – any differences?

Highlight My Videos and My Photos to show what is being revealed.  Notice that the new “fingerprint” is being used. 

Flash cookies is another interesting one to open. 

Then try a different scenario maybe just home and internet and compare the number of traces to the mobile phone. 

Ensure that students have a voice in selections. Experiment with different scenarios

Some other outstanding pieces of information are in the popups for:

 “Flash Cookies, Local Storage and Web Beacons”

“My Apps”

“MAC address”

“My Videos”

General Observation: Emphasize that new types of tracking technologies continues to grow.

7 Major Players: Amazon

A Major Player

One of the first companies to track and target users online was Amazon.com. It created a technology algorithm that could match people’s preferences with other users whose buying habits were like their own, and make recommendations on that basis. This kind of targeting worked, and Amazon’s sales grew rapidly.

Slide 6

NOTE: Display the chart: Company Metrics- Figure One

NOTE: If you right click on the chart you can open the chart in its own window and point out the growth of third party sales 

Ask students - who are the 3rd parties and why are these 3rd parties important to Amazon? 

Ask Students to make some generalizations about the % increase in growth from 2011 to 2016? Was it steady growth?

8 Amazon's Growth and Tracking

More About Amazon

More recently, Amazon began to sell e-books. With e-books, the company can track information about what you read, what pages you skip, and what you highlight. Amazon then uses this information to figure out what books to recommend to you.

Amazon Prime is shoring up top line growth. Some 42% of US adults now have a Prime membership, and that figure rises to 55% among millennials.

Slide 7

NOTE: Re-acces the website used previously. Scroll down website to figure 5: US Ranking of Largest Retailers

Ask students who Amazon has knocked out of the market?  What does that say about US shopping preferences?


9 Netflix Tracking Algorithm


Netflix tries to determine your tastes and recommend products that reflect those tastes. Cable TV channels typically calculate their audiences based on how many viewers a TV show has.

Netflix comes at this from the opposite direction by focusing on how many movies or shows a viewer has watched.  The algorithm is called CineMatch

The algorithm analyzes 3 factors to make its recommendation:

1. Netflix’s catalog of movies

2. The ratings that individual subscribers have given to previously watched movies

3. The combined ratings of specific titles based on the ratings of all Netflix subscribers.

Launch the Chart and ask students to summarize the visualization:

A. How much greater is Netflix brand identity than Prime's or Hulu?

B. What is their own opinion about the popularity of Netflix?

Slide 8

10 How Does The Tracking Work?

This short animation is a good summary of the tracking process.

Things to watch for:

What information is picked up frame by frame as the people are tracked on the web?

A. Companies start to follow you and pick up demographic data - name, age, locations, employment

B. Search results

C. Purchases

D. Physical location

E. Then the people start to get targeted ads - different for each person - personalized

F. Result you see a different internet than other people - different information - missing other information

Is this a problem?

Slide 9

11 Beware the Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser

How Does The Online Tracking Affect Us?

There are researchers who are attempting to answer the questions raised in the tracking animation – What are the consequences of limiting the information you see based on your search history?

If we get trapped in "filter bubbles”, what are we in danger of losing?

Launch Video

What's your biggest takeways? 

Slide 10

12 Your Turn to Investigate Differential Search Results

Activity: Investigating

What’s in Cole’s  and Lola’s Filter Bubble?

Both of them want to buy boots and are looking for discounts online.

Both of them have entered the word “boots” into a search engine.

The results that each one gets are listed in your handouts.

Your goal is to determine what information the search engine has gathered about these two people and how it might have been gathered that has resulted in such different results….look closely!

NOTE: In groups of 4 give each group two of Lola's Search Results and two of Cole's Search Results and one question sheet.

The handouts are from CSM Scope and Sequence Lesson Does It Matter Who Has Your Data?

Slide 11

13 Group Feedback Time

Activity: Conversing

1.Based on the search results and ads for Cole and Lola, what kind of demographic data do you think companies had collected about each one of them? What is your evidence? What kind of previous searches might they have done, or which sites might they have visited before searching for “boots”? 

2.Do you think it is fair for companies to return different search results for Cole than for Lola? How about for people in general?

Slide 12

NOTE: These questions can be displayed while students are examining the handouts and gathering evidence and stay up while discussion ensues when time is up.

NOTE: Teachers should refer to the teacher version of the scenario to prepare for the discussion.   Pages 2 and 3 of the teacher version.


14 Summarizing

Activity: Assessing

Answered as a class with notes taken on a whiteboard.

What are the benefits and risks for ourselves and for the community of Internet users in general when companies give different news, information, and ads to different people?


Class discussion. Copy chart on whiteboard to add information. Chart is found on page 3 of the Teacher Version of the CSM lesson along with suggested answers to help lead discussion.

Slide 13

15 Does It Matter to You?

Activity: Debating

Does It Matter To YOU - Who Has Your Data?

1. What information about your demographic group and online behavior might websites collect about you?

2. What are some good prevention and protection ideas?

NOTE:  Solicit opinions from students about this issue in question 1 and suggestions for prevention/protection in question 2

Slide 14

16 Prevention Steps

Activity: Presenting

Ways to prevent companies from collecting information about you.

What techniques were not on our list of preventions?

1. Do not provide email addresses to mailing lists unless you need to do so.

2. Limit the number of times you click on ads, no matter what they are for.

3. Avoid “too good to be true” products, deals, and opportunities. Once you have confirmed

your email address, they are likely to sell your email address to other companies.

4. Make sure you have antivirus software, and that it also protects against spyware, programs that secretly collect your data.

5. Change your privacy settings on your browser and websites you subscribe to.

6. Investigate computer applications that block pop-up ads.

7. Examine sites’ privacy policies before you reveal any information on the site; avoid using sites that will share your data with others.

Slide 15

17 Privacy Policies – Important but Unread!!

Lost in Small Print What did you actually "agree" to?

This source will highlight the words that we often miss.  What is revealed to us as we are guided through a few websites such as Twitter and Facebook?

NOTE: Choose a site like Twitter or Facebook.  Scroll through the long, long privacy policy and then click REVEAL to show the relevant sections – what privacy are they giving up?

18 Who is Responsible For Improving the Internet?

Activity: Assessing

Crossing the Line: Who is Responsible For Improving the Internet?

Students, you need to stand up and gather along a line at the perimeter of the room.

I will give you four different answer choices to a single question. You should step forward if you agree with an answer. You can agree with more than one answer.

You will be able to step back and re-join the group after several seconds.

As you move forward you are “crossing the Line.” You should be able to give a reason for stepping forward if asked.

NOTE: Read the following questions one at a time, noting the number who cross the line.  The results can be entered into a Google Sheet that can be shared with other classes for comparison.  Keep track of each classes opinions - present grand totals the next class in a warm up.


1. The Internet cannot be improved. (Step forward, count, record, step back)

2. Improving the Internet is the government’s responsibility. (same procedure)

3. Improving the Internet is the media industry’s responsibility.

4. Improving the Internet is the responsibility of Internet consumers.