Marc Groman on Privacy: Their Own Devices Podcast
Hover has recently begun sponsoring Marc Groman’s podcast, “Their Own Devices” which is an exciting series that delves into the difficult issues parents face raising tech-savvy kids who are connected to the digital world 24/7. The goal of his podcast is to teach children and parents how to develop a healthy, safe and productive relationship with devices and interactive media so that kids can leverage all the amazing benefits of digital tech while managing the risks. Given Marc’s background, it’s not surprising that issues related to online privacy, digital identity and data security are a central theme of the podcast. In an era where privacy of the end-user seems to be constantly called into question and violated, this discussion is a relevant and important one. Hover values your privacy and knows you value your own privacy, as well. Learn how you can protect yourself and your family online, and why it matters, from privacy and security expert, Marc Groman.
Marc Groman, it’s great to connect with you! Thank you for doing this interview. Please introduce yourself to our audience.
Marc Groman: I am an expert in privacy, technology, and cyber security. My past professional roles include Senior Advisor for Privacy in the Obama White House, Chief Privacy Officer of the Federal Trade Commission, and President and CEO of the Network Advertising Initiative, a global association of the world’s leading tech and digital advertising companies. But more importantly, I’m happily married and a proud dad of a middle school student.
In 2018, I launched an original podcast, Their Own Devices. This weekly podcast tackles the diverse challenges MTV parents face raising YouTube kids. I’ve spent countless hours debating high profile and high-stakes tech issues around conference tables in the Pentagon, West Wing and White House Situation Room. But it often seems that the most challenging privacy and security debates take place at my kitchen table, discussing screen time, inappropriate content, and gaming with my teenage son. My experience with my son and his peers lead me to launch this podcast.
Why did you feel you needed to launch a podcast about the challenges parents and children face navigating digital technology and the online world?
MG: My professional background is in privacy, technology and cyber security. Even as an expert I’ve struggled raising a kid who is a “digital native.” My son and this entire generation of kids do not see a distinction between the digital world and the physical world or “IRL” – in real life. This new environment of “always connected” has an impact on kids and families. Our goal is to help parents raise responsible digital citizens who engage with technology in a safe, fun, healthy, and productive manner. I love technology, digital media and the Internet. Smartphones and other connected devices give our kids unprecedented educational, creative, and social value. But they also can trigger issues faster than we can combat them: anxiety, depression, fear of missing out or FOMO, sleep deprivation, privacy invasion, oversharing, and other questionable behavior. The rapid pace of technological change can be overwhelming for even the most engaged parents. We help parents understand these issues.
When did you first become interested in privacy?
MG: I first became interested in privacy in 2000 when I joined the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. In those days I was working on issues such as spyware, behavioral advertising, information security, identity theft, and spam. In 2006 the Chairman of the FTC appointed me the Agency’s first Chief Privacy Officer. I did not go to law school to become a privacy lawyer. Twenty years ago it wasn’t even a profession. It was my interest in the intersection between law, policy and technology that led me down this path.
Why should the end user care about their privacy?
MG: I would suggest that every person should understand the ramifications and potential consequences of sharing information online. That doesn’t mean everyone should be equally concerned. Whether or not you are concerned about the use of your personal information, the creation of detailed profiles about you, and the increasing use of algorithms to make assumptions and predictions about your future behavior is a personal decision. But I don’t think it is wise to ignore the issue, as more and more of our lives will require the use of digital technology and the collection of more and more personal data. For certain populations the issues regarding the collection and use of personal information may be more significant, and present a greater risk for potential harm or adverse consequences. This includes children.
Beyond that, the increasing number and type of sensors in mobile devices today are collecting more and more data about every user. This includes precise location data that can track your every movement and reveal sensitive data about your health status, religion, political views, sexual orientation, financial status, profession, gender, age, and other information. Real-time and historic location information has revealed very sensitive information that people assumed were private, including visits to abortion clinics, gay bars, hotels, prostitution, or otherwise proving that a person was not in a specific location at a time when the person claimed to be there.
With respect to pictures, information, or other content you may post, it is wise to carefully consider the potential adverse consequences of any post before you upload the information or hit submit. That includes adverse consequences for you, and for others. Once you post information on the Internet, it may be there forever and have unintended consequences in the future, when you least expect that data to surface. Too often people forget that what you do online, will have consequences offline and the information you post today, may come back to harm you or others way in the future. And remember that “delete” doesn’t mean “delete” on the Internet.
Different people have different levels of concern with respect to the collection and use of their personal information. I respect that, and everyone’s opinion is valid. But I would respectfully suggest that the opinion should be based on an accurate understanding of the personal data that is collected and used as individuals engage more and more with online properties, digital content, mobile applications, and now the Internet of Things. Armed with that information, an individual can make informed choices about their online privacy, digital identity, and types of services they use. This isn’t about caring, it’s about being informed and knowledgable.
What are a few simple things a person can do online to protect themselves?
MG: This is a great question. There are many tools that consumers can use to help protect their privacy. Here are some of my top recommendations:
- Strong Passwords – always use strong passwords that are difficult for a human to guess or software to crack. This means that you should avoid your name, birthdate, pet’s name, mother’s maiden name, etc. and use complex passwords with numbers, letters, and characters.
- To the extent practical, do not reuse passwords. I encourage you to use a password manager to securely store and keep track of all of your online passwords. This is the most secure method of keeping track of dozens of different passwords for all of your online accounts, platforms, etc. I personally use 1Password but there are other excellent products.
- Use two-factor authentication when it’s available. It may be less convenient, but it’s very important.
- If you have a Smartphone such as an iPhone use all of your privacy settings. Through privacy settings, you can control the use of your location information, as well as what applications and services may access your contacts, calendar, camera, and other features on your device. I never allow an application to access my contacts – and I mean never!
There are many other tools, but hopefully this list is a good start.
What do you hope your listeners will take away from your podcast with regards to their privacy or the privacy of their children?
MG: There are many issues but the most important concept that I want children to understand is that everything they post online may be public and may be permanent. I constantly remind my own son to “think before you post” and don’t post anything online that you don’t want your grandmother to see. I also drive home the point that he should expect everything he posts online to become public and be permanent.
What is the most challenging thing about launching your own podcast?
MG: The most challenging thing is producing compelling, engaging and entertaining content for a weekly podcast. We really care about the show and our audience. We don’t want to disappoint them and even one bad episode can have a significant negative impact on a podcast. It’s fun, but stressful.
What is the most incredible thing you’ve been able to do or person you’ve been able to connect with thanks to your journey in privacy protection?
MG: I served as the Senior Advisor for Privacy in the Obama White House. That was an extraordinary professional experience and I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to work for a great President and serve the public. I personally found President Obama incredibly inspiring and deeply committed to doing the right thing for the American people. I know this sounds corny, but each night as I left my office after a ten or twelve hour work day, I would stare up at the façade of the White House, exhausted, but proud and humbled to be working in this historic building on issues that impact real people. I have never worked so hard, or enjoyed a job more.
What is the most intimidating thing you’ve had to do in the name of privacy?
MG: As the Senior Advisor for Privacy in the White House I often found myself at odds with other members of the White House staff or senior members of the Administration, including members of the President’s Cabinet. That was unfortunate, but protecting the privacy and civil liberties of individuals was my job and I took it very seriously. When you look at the portfolio of issues that crossed my desk it’s not surprising that there were disagreements at the highest levels. I worked one a wide range of cutting edge issues such as encryption, signals intelligence, cross-border data flows, precision medicine, and digital authentication. I was respectful, but I stood firm if I believed that the legitimate privacy interests or civil liberties of people were at stake. Some would say I was “too firm” but I’m very proud of what we accomplished.
What do you do to step away from work and relax?
MG: Stepping away from work generally involves activities with my son. It may be going to watch him play baseball or basketball or taking him to the movies or a major league sporting event. This past weekend I went to see him play soccer. We also went to a DC United game and then went to see End Game together. Over the past few weeks my son taught me to play Fortnite, although I don’t play to become an avid gamer. It’s about understanding his interests and how the gaming platform works.
What big, hairy goal do you hope to accomplish with your podcast?
MG: At a basic level, Their Own Devices is designed to produce engaging and relatable content for any parent, regardless of their fluency in tech. Through actionable, practical, and entertaining resources, I hope we can inspire parents, educators, and others to engage with children about their digital lives. I would like it to reach tens of thousands of parents and perhaps even ignite an international conversation about responsible approaches and strategies for introducing new digital technologies to children and teenager. Digital technology should enhance, but not control our children’s lives; rather, our children should be able to use technology to improve their lives. More than the health and wellbeing of our children, I believe this is about the future of our society.