Choose Privacy Week 2015: Creating a Digital Privacy Literacy Game to Create Safe and Secure Online Personas

Choose Privacy Week, Privacy

by Erin Berman and Jon Worona

Ready player one? Click “Start” to begin your quest. You will venture deep into the realm of online privacy where you’ll have to navigate through an ever shifting landscape, into pools of murky policies, and across tangled webs of surveillance networks. As you begin your journey you are filled with trepidation, anxiety, and fear. You think, “How can anyone live in peace and harmony here?” So much is unknown that it is hard to know whom to trust and where to start.

Moving cautiously on the path in front of you a box drops down from the sky. Carefully, you jump and hit it to unveil its contents. Words tumble down revealing information about social media and online sharing. Digesting the information makes you feel stronger and more confident. You run forward, filled with a new zeal, and leap up to open the next box. This time a question appears. It asks you about your online needs, wants, and desires. It asks how you want to share your information on social media sites and how you want to operate in this connected world.

After careful consideration, you select an answer and a bright pulsating icon activates above you. You click on it and a bag of holding opens and out tumbles several action items. The bag is packed with resources to help you create the online identity you most desire. Each item is tailored based on your needs; the more of the world you traverse, the more questions you answer, the bigger the bag becomes. Closing the bag, you continue on this privacy adventure, leveling up and becoming a privacy expert, armed with the confidence to live in this digital universe.

With such a tumultuous online environment, San Jose Public Library (SJPL) began exploring ways to empower its users; giving them the courage to use the Internet without fear. As we began our research we discovered that people have different definitions of privacy and a wide range of needs and desires for their online personas. A small business may want to share openly and widely, while another user may want to try and remain as anonymous as possible. There is no “one size fits all” privacy path. Armed with the appropriate tools, everyone can become privacy literate and share with confidence.

In order to give people access to these tools, SJPL sought to prototype a solution and secured a grant from the Knight News Foundation for this work. Since privacy can be an intimidating topic we looked for ways to present the information to people in a non-threatening, fun, and engaging way. Our brainstorming lead us to the “platform game,” similar in style to the classic Mario games. To ensure we provide the best possible content and resources, we partnered with a team from the International Computer Science Institute in Berkeley. They have been working on the Teaching Privacy project which “aims to empower K-12 students and college undergrads in making informed choices about privacy.” We also wanted to create an amazing gaming experience and are collaborating with students from San Jose State University’s Game Development Club to create a stellar platform educational game.

Everyone deserves to live a full and rich life online. While there are many things beyond our control, we do have the ability to share and connect safely and smartly. The only way to do this is to become educated and learn best practices which are suited to each of us individually. SJPL hopes that our game will provide an outlet for people to learn about online privacy, to become empowered, and continue a discussion about privacy with their family, friends, and coworkers. Ready player one? Click “Start” to begin your quest.


Erin Berman is the Community Programs Administrator for Technology and Innovation at San Jose Public Library and Jon Worona is the Division Manager for Technology and Innovation at San Jose Public Library. Their proposal to create an online privacy literacy prototype for San Jose Public Library users won a Knight News Challenge for Libraries grant.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.