Case Studies on Privacy and Security

Case Study

(Dis)Respect for Boundaries

The Situation

Elizabeth was an outgoing 11-year-old with a lot of friends at school.  At sleepovers, she and her pals would take pictures of each other dancing, doing each other’s hair and makeup and generally other silly, but fun things, including one in front of Elizabeth’s house.

One of her friends shared some of the party photos with another student, who was not invited to the party. That student created a fake social media page with pictures of Elizabeth and her house and sent the link to some other kids at school who weren’t at the party either. On the fake page, some kids posted mean statements about Elizabeth and encouraged other students to prank her at home. By the next weekend, Elizabeth and her family found trash dumped in their yard, toilet paper strewn through their trees and eggs thrown at their front door.

Elizabeth found out about the fake social media page and told her parents who reached out to other school parents, alerted school authorities and notified the social media site that the page was a fake. Eventually, the pranks stopped and the page was taken down.

What Worked

Elizabeth’s parents reached out to other parents for help, alerted the school to potential bullying issues and informed the social media site that the page was unauthorized. This situation led the parents and the school’s authorities to host a session for the kids so they would learn that sharing photos with personal information, such as a street address, may have consequences.

What Didn’t Work

Elizabeth and her friends didn’t realize that personal information, such as a street address, was contained in the background of the photos. In addition, most general social media sites don’t allow kids under 13 years old to use their social media sites without parental consent. Unfortunately, some under 13 year old kids will pretend to be older so they may access social media sites.


Elizabeth’s story had a good ending. No real harm was done. But the story is a reminder that even the most fun digital content can lead to issues in the wrong hands. 

  • Privacy is an important concept that kids should learn to appreciate early in their digital lives. Kids who understand these issues early can help themselves and others avoid digital mistakes.
  • Set up family ground rules for what is OK to share and do (and not) on wireless devices.
  • Look for the tools and resources that wireless and online services, such as social media sites, offer to help enforce usage policies and prevent fraud.

Case Study II

Before Its Gone: The Stolen Phone

The Situation

Troy, an engaging 10-year-old, was given a smartphone by his parents. They instructed him to use it only to call home or send his babysitter a text so he could get Troy up after school. Before he downloaded a couple of games, he received permission from his parents. For a long time, everything was fine. One day, Troy was playing in the neighborhood park with some friends. By the time he was ready to leave, he realized that someone had stolen his backpack, which had his smartphone.

As soon as he arrived home, he told his parents, who called the carrier so the family would not be responsible for any unauthorized charges or usage that occurred since the phone had been stolen. Then, Troy’s parents filed a report with the police. They told the police that they had a remote tracking app that was working and could tell where the device was at that time. Armed with this information, the police were able to find the thieves and return the smartphone to Troy.

What Worked

When Troy realized the situation, he alerted his parents, who promptly told their carrier and the police.

Before Troy’s parents gave him his smartphone, they used the device’s features and apps so if it was ever lost or stolen, they could remote erase, locate and lock it. They also ensured the device was password protected, and contained very little sensitive information. Every week, his parents backed up his apps and phone numbers on the family’s home computer so that if the device was lost or stolen, they could easily add it to a new device.

What Didn’t Work

As with any other valuable item, Troy shouldn’t have left his backpack unattended in the park.


  • Just like any other valuable item, such as your laptop or purse/wallet, don’t leave your wireless devices unattended. 
  • Make sure you place PINs/passwords on your wireless device and use its features and apps so you can remotely lock, erase and track.
  • Periodically, have backup copies of the device’s information on your home computer.
  • If you (or your child) is prone to losing things, you may want to consider insurance through your carrier or a third party provider. Before you purchase the insurance, make sure you know what’s covered in that insurance policy, such as whether the company will pay for a replacement device.


Additional Resources

  • FCC Parents’ Place provides information about how to improve your children's safety in today's complex media landscape, and what the FCC is doing to help.
  • Federal Trade Commission is the nation’s consumer protection agency and offers information focused on protecting children’s privacy.
  • Future of Privacy Forum is a think tank that seeks to advance responsible data practices.
  • Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) represents the mobile marketing chain and provides a set of privacy policy guidelines for mobile apps.
  • OnGuardOnline.Gov is a coalition of federal government agencies and the tech industry that created Net Cetera, an online safety guidebook for parents to help communicate with their children about using their mobile phones safely and responsibly. 
  • The Wireless Foundation offers an innovative game app called “BeSeen” to raise cyber awareness and digital literacy in kids before they face the risks of cyberbullying, identity theft and privacy invasion and to guide them towards being responsible online citizens. “BeSeen” is available for Apple's iOS and Google's Android.
  • TrustE is an online privacy solutions provider that offers privacy services to help businesses gain trust through transparency of privacy policies, choices for consumers and accountability.
  • gives advice and resources to parents to help them control and monitor their child’s cell phone usage.