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 a 2020 grant from the National Science Foundation, we’ve been spending 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

October 2023: Kelly Wagman presented our paper on the privacy and security challenges that emerged during emergency remote learning in the US at ACM CSCW. Visit the Publications page to access the paper or read our Medium post about the study here.

June 2023: Priya Kumar presented our systematic review of research on designing privacy and security interventions for children at ACM IDC. Visit the Publications page to read more.

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.