University of Maryland

What is SPE4K?

Security & Privacy Education 4 Kids (SPE4K) is an ongoing collaboration between researchers at the University of Maryland’s iSchool (PIs: Jessica Vitak and Tammy Clegg) and the University of Chicago’s Computer Science Department (PI: Marshini Chetty). Since 2016, we’ve been talking to elementary school teachers, students, and parents about privacy and security education. While many adults think elementary school is too early to start talking about these topics, we believe that if you’re willing to give your child a tablet or smartphone, they’re old enough to start learning about these topics. 

Three children look at a laptop together.

Photo by Lucélia Ribeiro (Flickr)

Through two Google Grants, we developed a framework for helping to understand the challenges in this space. This framework, known as the Connecting Contexts framework, focuses on building and reinforcing learning opportunities at school and home and using examples that children are likely to experience in their everyday lives, such as using a diary to talk about privacy or a door lock to talk about security.

On this website, we share results from our research. Thanks to funding from the National Science Foundation, we will be spending the next several years building and testing curriculum that can be easily integrated into existing lesson plans, and creating out-of-school materials that children can work on at home or could be integrated into after-school or library programs.

Project Updates

March 2023: The team had two papers accepted — a document analysis of privacy/security research with kids over the last decade (IDC) and an analysis of the challenges teachers and parents faced during emergency remote learning in the first year of the pandemic (CSCW). These papers will be added to the Publications page once they are finalized.

July 2022: Undergrad researcher Shriya Bansal published a short analysis of 5000 Android apps, finding that none are focused on educating children about privacy and security. Read more here.

Dec 2021: We published a white paper summarizing challenges teachers at our partner schools have when it comes to curriculum and training on privacy and security. Read it here.

Sept 2021: SPE4K welcomes two new PhD students to the project: Elana Blinder at UMD and Kelly Wagman at UChicago.

May 2021: Congrats to Priya Kumar, who graduated from UMD with her PhD! Priya is joining Penn State as an Assistant Professor this fall.

Nov 2020: Check out our latest publication on enhancing privacy literacy for children, published (open access) in Media & Communication.

Jan 2020: We were awarded a NSF SaTC EDU grant to continue our research.

NSF Disclosure

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number 1951688.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.