Who Is Watching You?


Created: March 2017

Last Updated: April 2020

This learning experience is part of a playlist — two or more learning experiences focused on specific areas of the digital world. You can find this playlist, Building and Protecting Your Online Presence, here. This particular learning experience is the fourth in a sequence of six. Learning experiences in a playlist build off of each other, but they were designed so that they can also be completed on their own!

Estimated time: 

30 minutes

  • [10 minutes] Activity
  • [20 minutes] Challenge
Group or individual activity:Individual
Ages:13-18 years old
Grades:Grades 8-12
Online / offline elements:This learning experience contains an offline activity and challenge

Main area: Privacy and Reputation

Additional areas: Data, Security

License:This learning experience has been created by Youth and Media and is licensed under a Creative Commons AttributionShareAlike 4.0 International license. For more information, please visit https://dcrp.berkman.harvard.edu/about

Learning Goal

Identify a situation where you think it is likely that you are currently under some type of online surveillance / monitoring and why you believe this surveillance / monitoring is happening.


  • [Optional] Computer or mobile device with Internet access

  • [Optional] Paper

  • [Optional] Pen or pencil



In spy movies, characters like James Bond travel the globe secretly collecting information in order to solve mysteries and stop criminal plots. While there are still spies going around the world exchanging secrets, a lot of information collection today happens through digital channels. The same kinds of data that are used to help personalize your content can also be used to track you. Some of this tracking happens automatically, powered by computers at companies and government organizations.

Even when data about you is anonymized, there are still ways to coordinate data and metadata to discern who you are (e.g., your age, location) and the activities you engage in online. This happens by collecting different pieces of data available about you and then piecing them together like a puzzle to tell a story about you and your interests.  

In some cases, this kind of data collection and coordination can be helpful. For instance, targeted surveillance can help the government apprehend criminals or allow businesses to make products that are catered toward our needs. Conversely, this data can be abused through mass surveillance programs by governments or through immoral or illegal corporate practices. 

It might be helpful to better understand when and why someone (e.g., a school, a parent, a company, a government) may be watching you online so you can figure out for yourself whether or not you want to keep engaging in the online activity that is being monitored.


Identify a real-life situation in which a teenager is likely to encounter online surveillance or monitoring and explain why this surveillance or monitoring is taking place. Then write a paragraph or two describing two pros and two cons of the surveillance or monitoring that you have identified. Also, explain whether or not you think it's worth being surveilled/monitored in order for a person to use the service or participate in the situation. 

If you have completed the “Collecting Personal Data” learning experience, which discusses corporate surveillance, try to think of other forms of surveillance this time. The use of data collection to understand the online activities of Internet users is widespread, so let’s try to figure out where else we can spot it.

Next Steps 

It’s awesome that you completed this challenge! We are sure that others would love to see what you learned! We encourage you to share your write-up with an educator, mentor, or advisor, or a family member or friend. You can also share your write-up with the Youth and Media team via email (youthandmedia@cyber.harvard.edu). Please specify the title of the learning experience in the subject line of the email. 


Individual vs. Group 
Release Date 
April, 2020