Ghostery goes to college: read about our University Partnership Program - Year 1, done!

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Jordanna Kalkhof April 24, 2019

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Dear Gen Z,

You’ve grown up in a world dominated by the internet. A world where new tech, targeted ads, and social media platforms reign. Because you are the “born-digital generation”, we began to wonder do you understand and accept the trade-off of privacy for personalized experiences and free web services, or does the lack of transparency about what goes on behind the curtain of the internet make it difficult for you to make an informed decision about your online privacy. This central question became the driving force behind the Ghostery Partnership Program.

The Stats

Born between 1996 and the mid-2000s, Generation Z makes up about 25% of the US population. Businesses want to know how they differ from those generations before them. Take internet usage behaviors, for example. Recent studies show that 98% of Gen Zers own a smartphone, of which 45% say they’re on their phone “almost constantly”. Additionally, 88% of Gen Zers report having access to a desktop or laptop computer at home. This constant ability to be online makes Gen Z the most connected generation ever, putting online shopping and social media usage at an all-time high. The many benefits of this level of connectedness also come with some very real downsides. “Almost three out of four (72 percent) of Gen Z worry that their online actions, including social media posts and past purchases, will affect job offers.” (ZDNet) Are they right to worry? Maybe. What we know for sure is they should be worried that this type of data, along with much more, is being collected, stored and sold.

The Partnership Program

Continuing in our pursuit to pull back the curtain of the invisible web and promote privacy, we decided to take our knowledge and experience on the road – traveling to universities across the country to give tech talks, real-time demos, and privacy workshops. The drive behind this program is to educate the next great product creators and industry leaders on the current state of the internet, with the hope that down the road, data privacy will become a forethought instead of an afterthought. So far this year, we have partnered with the University of Michigan, University of Iowa, University of Oklahoma, University of Alabama, University of Kentucky, and Ohio State University. Each visit has given us an insightful look at the way Gen Z interacts with the internet and how much they know about what’s happening in the background of some of their favorite sites and apps. Perhaps the most interesting trend we’ve noticed is the contrast in reactions between campus groups that are more tech focused and those that are not. When talking with more tech savvy groups, such as computer science majors and related clubs, the information we were sharing was less of a surprise; the concepts and code used in internet tracking were more widely known and understood. However, when we spoke with the other side of the ads and trackers coin – future marketers, advertisers, and data analysts – there was much more of a surprise factor. We found that many of these students were being taught about online marketing and advertising strategies and how to capitalize on them, without any explanation of where this data comes from and how it works. This is the knowledge gap we’re trying to fill. During the past few months, we’ve also seen other universities banding together for a similar cause (NY Times). We want to support universities that are fighting the good fight of building awareness around privacy and technology that supports the public good. If we can help your university/club/organization, please reach out. Let’s stand together.

Educational Tools

We’ve always believed that the key features and granularity provided in our products make them great educational tools. Using our free browser extension gives users the ability to see what trackers are on a page and how long it takes the page to load. This is helpful information when diving into the structure and privacy of a web page. To take it a step further, we are also planning to release a new tracker intelligence tool that will offer this type of information on an even deeper level. Currently in beta, Ghostery Insights will show users the number of tracker requests on a page, the tracker distribution, page latency, and page size. If you’re interested in beta testing this new product, you can sign up here.