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Celebration of Service

Privacy is more than just keeping your data safe

Teaching kids how to manage their personal online “brand”

Go ahead. Just tell a kid she needs to change her passwords in order to protect her privacy. Then watch while she rolls her eyes and makes another post on her Facebook page.

Kids are especially vulnerable to privacy concerns. And they are the ones least likely to understand—or care about—the long-term ramifications of the choices they make on the web and on social media sites practically every hour of every day.

In Germany, privacy concerns are a hot-button topic, and IBM Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs (CCCA) in Germany recently made privacy a top focus area. So it made a lot of sense to Peter Kusterer, who manages CCCA in Germany and has been with IBM for 27 years, to use the Celebration of Service to kick off an initiative to help make a meaningful change in how young people present themselves online.

“In Germany, many adults are skeptical about benefits of social networks. But it’s part of our youth’s reality, and we better help them cope with it, instead of trying to keep them away,” he says.

Rather than just try to tell children what they should or should not do around social networking—a sure way to lose practically any kid’s attention—he and his team decided to take a different approach. Working with Berufsverband der Datenschützer e.V. (BvD)—an association of professional privacy officers who work with organizations to protect privacy, establish data security and conform to privacy laws—they created a presentation called “Manage Your Identity!”

Making privacy concerns real to teenagers

IBM volunteers who have been trained to do the presentation go into classrooms around the country. Instead of only lecturing about changing passwords, they make it real. The presenter will start by doing a Bluetooth scan of the classroom—then greet the kids who have Bluetooth by name (a nice surprise that alerts them to an existing leak in their privacy). A 15-year-old who is desperate to get his driver’s license will probably listen when an Information Technology professional tells him that car insurers will definitely look at his Facebook page to determine if they are going to insure him. Suddenly, posting photos of a drunken party might not seem like such a great idea.

The presentation, which includes video clips and PowerPoint slides, then pushes the thinking further: If you have a poor online presence or even no presence at all, the people who are going to hire you in a few years won’t be all that excited about you. Why not manage your brand?

“We tell them: In five years your CV will be your trail on the web. Why not tweet about the cool project you are working on, or the fundraising event for your junior basketball team? That is going to have a lot more credibility than a piece of paper where you just put down a bulleted list of your achievements,” says Peter.

A huge success

The “Manage Your Identity!” initiative is already an enormous success in Germany. Word of the project went viral, and hundreds of IBM volunteers signed up to be trained.

“The volunteers are parents,” says Peter. “They want their own kids to have a good start in life, and know that schools really struggle with how to cope with new media and its impact. At the same time they are the best ambassadors you can think of – without their engagement the initiative would be meaningless.”

He says that by the end of the year they hope to have gone into 1,000 classrooms and reached 25,000 children. The IBM team in charge of “Manage Your Identity!” figures that by linking their program with other federal initiatives, it will be possible to eventually get the presentation into all 43,000 schools in Germany.

Peter says this is just the beginning. The plan is to make IBM a thought leader in privacy issues, to engage in new relationships and deepen existing partnerships in order to help the German education system and future generations safely take advantage of new media.

And since eye-rolling teenagers are as ubiquitous as the social media sites they use and misuse, other countries are already asking for the “Manage Your Identity!” presentation. Peter knows he and his team will be working on this initiative for quite some time.

“It can actually reach beyond Germany,” he says, “But that will need more work, as perception of privacy issues and laws are different in each country.”

IBM is marking its centennial year with a worldwide celebration of volunteer service. Throughout 2011, IBM invites everyone to join our global community of employees, retirees, families and friends as we support the communities where we work, live and learn together.