For four years, nearly 200 high school students in Dallas voluntarily allowed every text, email, and IM to be monitored. That these youth would sign off on such an invasion of privacy, especially in light of the content that was discovered within their communication, shows how much the next generation has changed their views on privacy. Students allowed a team of researchers to capture all of their messaging, whether it was completely innocent or contained swearing, sexual references, and even drug deals, to the tune of 500,000 texts per month in exchange for a free BlackBerry!
With a $3.4 million grant from the NIH, Dr. Marion Underwood from the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at The University of Texas-Dallas embarked on the study with the goal of investigating the formation and maintenance of friendships as well as the dynamics of social and physical aggression. The students signed up in 2003 as 4th graders (with their parents consent) for the research, which at the time was named “The Friendship Project.”
For the next four years, students and parents would be interviewed and would self report about friendships, but valuable information about relationships and social interactions is lost when relying only on self reporting and interviewing. But in 2007, with the students one year away from entering high school, Dr. Underwood got a BlackBerry and saw the potential for tracking all of the students’ communication.
The study was then transformed into the more ominously titled “The BlackBerry Project.”
To continue to participate in the study, students agreed to have all of their electronic communication stored in a database. Those who did received a new BlackBerry complete with unlimited messaging, a data plan, and voice minutes. Every year through high school, the students have been given a new BlackBerry, and now as seniors, they have produced an enormous amount of data, a virtual window into the lives of teens. It’s clear that the researchers will be crunching on the data for a long time.
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