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The Privacy Advisor | For Groman, privacy's as important at his house as it was at Obama's Related reading: The Privacy Advisor's top 10 stories of 2018

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Marc Groman has had a pretty illustrious career as a privacy professional. Most recently, he held the top privacy post at the White House as senior privacy advisor at the Office of Management and Budget under the Obama administration. Before that, he was president and CEO of the Network Advertising Initiative. But it's his current and most long-term role, that of "dad," that has him grappling with privacy policies more than ever before. 

Groman and his husband David Reitman, a medical doctor who treats adolescents, know well the risks kids face as they're living their lives online, growing up in an unprecedented age of data-sharing opportunities on social media platforms and with a number of devices on their persons at any time to facilitate that sharing. The problem, of course, is that young kids often don't understand the permanence of their choices about what details of their lives to share and with whom. 

It's with that in mind that Groman and Reitman have launched a podcast called "Their Own Devices," aimed at helping parents sort through the challenges of parenting in the 21st century. The podcast, born out of Reitman and Groman's own experiences raising their 13-year-old boy, features "candid discussions and helpful tips about screen time, social media, sexting, privacy, online gaming, and other challenges facing parents today."

The idea for the project really came out of discussions Groman and Reitman were having with parents like themselves, as well as Reitman's experiences with his young patients, who often exhibit signs of anxiety, sleep deprivation and depression all or partly based on their social media experiences. The pair had concerns about their son and how to guide him to make the right choices, and it turned out they weren't alone. They were asked to give a talk at a local Parent/Teacher Association meeting, and it went so well they decided to take the show on the virtual road. 

At the IAPP's Global Privacy Summit in March, Groman and Reitman recorded a live episode of The Privacy Advisor Podcast with host Angelique Carson (full disclosure, that's me), and the feedback was overwhelming. 

"That podcast got several thousand downloads, and we received incredibly positive feedback around that presentation from all kinds of different people, parents of all different ages and even people who didn't have kids yet," Groman said. 

The response led Groman to contact a producer in New York City, Matt Silverman, to see if he'd be up for taking on a new project, and "Their Own Devices" was birthed. The team has recorded eight episodes so far. The first, for example, was a conversation with a 17-year-old high school student. 

"She said privacy has become increasingly important to her now that she's 17, and she's realizing the impact of posting things widely, and so she does use privacy settings," Groman said. "The term 'privacy' doesn't resonate so much, but when she talks about how she limits sharing and when she posts what, it is privacy, and she cares about it a lot. But she also believes that kids who are 14, 15, 16 don't appreciate it, don't understand what the consequences are of what they're doing." 

Groman said that while he brings his experience as a privacy professional to parenting — for example, when his son asked for an account on Instagram, he told him he could have an account "right after you read the privacy policy and explain it to me" — but also, being a parent has influenced his view of the profession. 

"That's been illuminating," he said. "After I left the White House, where I had been working 80 hours a week, and then came home and watched how my own teen was engaging online and really how his peers were engaging online — the apps they were using, the kinds of games they were playing — suddenly that, more than anything, got me interested in privacy and technology and kids." 

Based on his early talks for the podcast, Groman said the key to a healthy give-and-take relationship with your child on regulating their online privacy boils down to "engagement and communication." In Groman's own experience, for example, he instituted a contract with his son covering his responsibilities as a child with an iPhone and a Play Station 4 and a tablet and an iPod. 

"It talks about use, meaning screen time as well as the kind of content that's appropriate," Groman said of the contract. "It talks about if you wouldn't do it offline you shouldn't do it online. And like all good contracts it also talks about consequences for violating the rules, and that's generally that a device gets taken away." However, he adds, "Unfortunately, since I'm a privacy lawyer, there are different consequences for different violations." 

Groman said one parent he spoke to for the podcast said she would never negotiate; that she sets the rules. "But for us the contract was a way to have that conversation, a way to have an ongoing conversation," Groman said, who's also a signatory to the contract.

In the end, the project is a product of Groman's belief that "parents must engage on these issues and that parents should understand the tech our children use given the rapid pace of innovation and technology," he said. "The goal here is, sure, we're experts. But we're learning, we don't do everything right. It's going to be a discussion, and I'm hoping it'll feel like we're all sitting around our kitchen table sharing ideas and hopefully laughing a lot along the way." 

"Their Own Devices" is available on all podcast platforms.

photo credit: The White House Press Office

1 Comment

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  • comment Justin Snow • Nov 28, 2018
    The 17 year-old high school student is wise beyond her years!  Her quote reminded me of my own experience.  In 2008, I was 13 years old, and I had just created a Facebook account.  One really fun, seemingly innocuous feature was, personality quizzes -- "take this quiz to find out which superhero you are!"  My friends and I would take the quiz, but before we could see our results, we'd be prompted: "You must share your posts, comments, photos, friends, and biography (pretty much every single data point on your profile) with 'Page X' to view your results."  Unfortunately, I probably took a couple dozen of these quizzes from ages 13-16 and 'consented' to share all of my data with many questionable individuals and companies.  It wasn't until I was 17-18 when I really understood just what the heck was going on!  Needless to say, I stopped taking these quizzes and deleted the quiz pages from my account, but at that point, I'm afraid the damage was already done.