The Privacy Dilemma Lesson Plan

Level: Grades 9 - 12

Author: Matthew Johnson, Director of Education, MediaSmarts

This lesson was made possible with financial support from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

This lesson is part of USE, UNDERSTAND & ENGAGE: A Digital Media Literacy Framework for Canadian Schools.


In this lesson students learn the ways that the apps they use are designed to encourage them to share more information—both with other users and with the apps themselves. They are then introduced to the idea of persuasive design or “dark patterns” and investigate whether these are used to make it more difficult to opt out of data collection on popular apps. Finally, the class creates a “rogues’ gallery” to help them identify dark patterns when they encounter them.

Learning Outcomes

Know: Students will learn…

  • Reading media: Types and characteristics of “dark patterns” that influence sharing of personal information
  • Privacy & security: Technical measures to limit data collection, including where and how to turn off ad targeting and tracking on popular apps

Key vocabulary: Data, default, dark pattern

Understand: Students will understand the following key concepts/big ideas:

  • Media have commercial considerations: Personal information is valuable to the companies that own apps and websites
  • Digital media have unanticipated audiences: You may be giving away more of your personal information than you are aware of when using apps
  • Digital media experiences are shaped by the tools we use: Features and defaults of apps’ design and interface can lead us to share more than we otherwise would.

Do: Students will be able to…

  • Identify ways that apps encourage us to share personal information
  • Recognize and identify “dark patterns” that can influence how much personal information we share
  • Limit or turn off data collection and ad tracking on popular apps

This lesson and all associated documents (handouts, overheads, backgrounders) are available in an easy-print, pdf kit version.

Lesson Kit