Let's Take the Digital License Quiz

This article in a London School of Economic blog touts the benefits of the digital driver’s licence created by the Alannah & Madeline Foundation in Australia, and notes that some 22% of Australian schools have registered for it.

Ultimately I thought the article was naive, failing to look at the actual content provided, and simply leaping to the conclusion that if it's about digital literacy it must be good. Far from it, as I discovered when I looked more deeply.

In particular, I took this quiz and got a failing grade, answering only 6 of 10 questions correctly. Since I don't think that my knowledge of the internet is badly flawed, I conclude that the test is.  Let's examine why.

Question 1

I got this question wrong. In the context of this question, I only two of the suggestions were positive: apologizing, and taking it down. One was obviously not positive: ignoring them. The other three have ambiguous degrees of positivity, and a viable suggestion was omitted entirely.

- Explain that you didn't mean it - this might be appropriate if you actually didn't mean it, but that's really a minority of cases. You probably actually did mean it. Which would mean this is a transparent lie, and would probably make the situation worse (it's also the goto strategy for the lulz crowd).

- Let the website operators know - this assumes you are not your own website operator. In some cases letting the operators know will be helpful, because they may be able to remove the post in cases where you can't. Typically no harm will result; they'll probably just ignore you.

- Reassure them that the post won't be visible for long - this represents an effort to mitigate the damage (assuming it's true) but may be of little comfort to the upset person. It's probably better than lying to them, though.

Of these unsatisfying alternatives, I chose 'let the website operators know' as the least bad. The correct answer was 'explain that you didn't mean it' - in other words, to lie to them. Terrible. As for the missing response, it was this:

- Stand by your post and explain your reasoning - a lot of the time you can't back down just because what you said is upsetting to someone (because everything you post is upsetting to someone). Making your reasoning clear won't make them less upset, but addresses third parties observing the dispute and shows that you weren't carelessly disrespectful, but considered what you said (and its possible impact) beforehand.


Question 2

The answer I chose, and the correct answer, was 'Too hard to say." It was a pretty obvious choice.

What would have made the choice a lot less obvious would have been to have an option of 'Forever'. This would especially be the case if the designers mean the same thing by 'posts' as I would (which I doubt). A 'post' is a type of message typically intended for persistence, so 'Forever' is a viable choice.

What people need to understand is that while posts might last a lot longer than they expect, up to and including 'forever', they often last less long than they expect, including 'not forever'. This is why people take screenshots of questionable or dubious content: that way there's evidence that it existed. This can be an important part of digital self-protection, but is completely overlooked here.

It says "A copy of your content will remain on the site." See, this is untrue. A copy of the post might remain on the website. If I delete your content from my website, it's gone. Or it might be in someone's cache, or screen-captured. Or it might have vanished forever. You just don't know.

Question 3

I've never heard of 'Zombie Blast', so I didn't pick this (though it might have been a stand-in for 'Games' such as Candy Crush, but I decided to interpret it literally).

Otherwise, it could be any of the remaining five. I've never bought a smartphone without Twitter pre-installed. My smartphones have also included a spell-checker (and word replace) which I find really annoying. They all have some sort of 'list' or 'todo' application. They all have a maps application. And of course they all have shopping, either directly from the OS (Apple store, Play store, etc), from the manufacturer (Samsung store), or third party applications.

So answering this question became a game of "what hazard are they trying to protect me from"? None of them is harmless, though. Each carries risks. 

So I selected 'Shopping'. It's the application with the biggest risk. You can easily accrue extra charges on your phone bill, run up credit card debts, lose your personal information, accidentally sign up for repeated billing, and more. People forget that their smartphone is primarily a marketing tool for providers. 

This was one of the questions I got wrong.

Ah! They were trying to warn me about geo-location.

Well - yeah - it can be kind of creepy that your phone tracks you and knows where you are. But there are two things wrong with this answer:

- First, you have to turn geo-location on. On my smartphones, at least, applications (including maps) actually ask permission before using geo-location, so I explicitly allow it to record my location. And in fact, I don't have any particular problem with this, and it could actually help rescuers if I ever got into a bad situation.

- Second, the maps program runs just fine even if you don't have geo-locator turned on. The only thing missing is the black dot identifying 'your location'. Everything else works just fine, because a map doesn't need to know where you are.

Prudence is a good thing to encourage in people. Paranoia isn't . This question caters to paranoia, and ignores a valuable occasion for prudence.

Question 4

I honestly have no idea why the Submit button uses a dollar sign as an icon. I gave up trying to figure out the association.

Each dropdown offers all four alternatives. I've displayed them in the order I selected. It seemed reasonable to me. But alas...

If I start in the morning, I can play all day before I get tired. But my thumbs get sore long before that (assuming I'm using a game controller; most games I play using the keyboard, which means my thumbs never get sore - but I digress).

I am not sure the top option is even the result of playing a game too much. I can imagine a number of psychological disorders than might cause but, and I can imagine a person playing a game constantly without ever confusing it with reality. And sometimes, when reality resembles the game, it's not a bad thing (for example, when a real hockey game resembles a video hockey game).

And ultimately, after this first extreme case, I think the order is pretty arbitrary. The suggestion in all cases is that the game causes these symptoms, but absent this explicit causal relationship the four things listed aren't signs of playing too much at all.

The clue that this question is wrong-headed is found in the answer where it says "games can be outrageously addictive". Look at (professional) websites that offer people quizzes on whether they're addicted to this or that. They are very clear to ask people to look at what using the thing does, and often this has nothing to do with physical symptoms but rather 'inability to stop', 'making sacrifices', 'harming relationships', and 'taking risks', among others.

The options provided in this question have little or nothing to do with addition, which suggests that the content informing the question was simply made up, and not based on any research or evidence at all.

Question 5

OK, I got this right, but I still think it was a poor question.

The standard response to a question like this is "turn it off and then on again". However, this set of answers only allows the option to turn the monitor off and on. That's a bit weird; most computers (laptops and phones for example) don't even have the option to turn off a monitor. In any case, merely fiddling with the display will usually do nothing.

So, what, then? Saying a rude word won't work (not yet, at least - but I think it would be a popular sort of voice-activated command).

So that leaves us with two options: type some words, or close the program or process. But here's the problem: the computer is frozen. This means that nothing will happen if I try doing something.

Ultimately I picked the correct answer: close the program or process. This requires assuming that when they said 'the computer is frozen' they meant 'some application is frozen'. The usual solution is to hit Ctl-Alt-Delete for a windows computer (Cmd-Opt-Esc on a Mac) and select the frozen program. I don't think there's an equivalent on smartphones, so you're back to turning it off and on again.

After the computer freezes, of course, it's too late to save your work (unless you have one of those miracle freezes where you can still do things like type or close programs). Most programs have an 'auto-save' function. If you're working in the cloud the windows often save on update or changes. 'Saving your work' looks looks very different today than it did a decade ago.

Always have a backup. This is good advice even if your computer never freezes.

Question 6

Asking what IM apps may record is like asking what might go wrong, and the correct answer to such a question is: anything. Questions able what is possible are like that. Anything is possible, but what's really important is what is likely or probable.

This question ignores that, which tells me that what it's trying to warn you about is the instant messaging app itself. I'm not sure why, exactly.

So anyhow, I selected everything except 'None of these things' simply as a matter of pure logic. And I was right.

This response makes it clear that, yes, they're warning you about messaging apps generally.

I puzzled for a bit about what they meant by "record" exactly. Because, unless the messaging app actually has the information, you can't use any of these things. It would require a miracle to be able to share content without the app somehow recording that content.

So I think the sense the authors meant was 'secretly record and retain' or ';record without your permission' or some such thing. It's unclear.

I also wondered how apps without photo filters (which is almost all of them) record which photo filter you're using. But I decided that this test didn't worry about that level of detail.

As to the answer: there's no such thing as an applications "terms of privacy". They're called "terms of service" (or TOS) and while they usually include a section on privacy, experience suggests that most apps do whatever they want no matter what their terms say. I'm also unsure what "help" an adult is going to provide in such circumstances beyond saying "these apps spy on you".

Question 7

I don't think that yellow text on a yellow background was the best design choice here.

The actual reason a website appears first is "because it's an advertisement". After that, the order of results is based on the search engine algorithm. Unfortunately, neither of these appears as an answer to this question.

According to the logic of possibility, any of these may be a reason why a result ends up on the first page. So I chose everything, even some things that didn't make sense.

What didn't make sense? Well, this: "It's a common search term." But search terms, common or otherwise, are not "search engine results". They are search engine input. The best guess I have here for what the author meant is that the common search term produced a particular result. But that doesn't make much sense at all.

This also didn't make sense: "The webpage has lots of key words/terms." I think maybe the author meant "The web page has lots of keywords" but then decided "words" wasn't inclusive enough and so added "terms", and in so doing separated the word "key" from "words", which is now a totally different thing, but whatever. And then joined "web" and "page" into a single work, because hey, it's a free-for-all, amiright?

Anyhow, like I said, I selected everything, and not surprisingly, got it wrong. But not for the reason I was expecting.

I'm not exactly sure what to make of this non-explanation, but it looks at first blush that I was wrong because I included "It's the most relevant result to your search." Of course, the most likely reason something is on the first page (besides being an ad) is that it is what you were looking for, I tried selecting just that, and it was wrong also.

In fact, I tried about a dozen different combinations of answers (which requires running the entire slow-moving Flash animation from the beginning) and still don't know what the correct response was. Everything I selected was wrong. No single response it correct, so it's one magic combination of the responses (if the right answer exists at all).

I also learned three things while playing this game over and over and over:

- The audio icon (upper right) turns the spoken word version of the text off and on. But it does not turn the sound effects on or off. There's nothing you can do about the sound effects.

- The text in the answers is the same whether you get the answer correct or incorrect

- There are three dark-skinned characters, and all the rest are light-skinned. All three dark-skinned characters appear when the answer is incorrect, and the dark skinned characters never appear when the answer is correct.

Question 8

This was the first question I got when I tried this quiz for the first time and it made me smile. I liked the humour. The last two answers were obviously incorrect, but funny.

So the right answer is obviously 'Advertisements'. 

It could also have been either of the other two (they're pirates, so they're passing off the work as their own, right?) but only in very limited or unusual cases. So this was a very straightforward and easy answer. 

A dark skinned guy (south Asian from the look of him) pops up in the unlikely event that you get this one wrong.

This is dramatically overstated and in some respects blatantly wrong.

In fact both legitimate and illegitimate advertisements appear alongside pirated content. In fact, the content I have on YouTube that Google has flagged as 'copyrighted' runs alongside ads that pay royalties to the copyright owners - they have chosen to monetize the content rather than demand that I remove it. It's a trade I can live with even though their contribution is sometimes small or nonexistent, and well within the bounds of fair use.

Additionally, many free download sites for movies and music are quite benign and have no malicious advertisements or malware at all. Creative Commons, Internet Archive, Jamendo and even YouTube are quite safe to use. Moreover, the advertisements on legitimate sites - like, say Forbes, which requires that you remove ad-block to see them - can also contain spyware or malware.

Question 9

Which Emojis are happy and which emojis are sad? Not that hard to tell: pick out the three smiling enojis. Easy peasy.

I thought it would be more interesting had the question included some more ambiguous emojis, including (say):

- smiling and laughing with tears
- skull and crossbones
- thumbs up
- wrapped gift
- smiling pile of poo

An opportunity lost, I thought.

So, yes, I got this question right.

But the answer page struck me as odd. The answer was so obvious it was impossible to get wrong. But the answer page speaks about how emojis can be confusing and misinterpreted, which is exactly the opposite message we get from the question. 

Maybe it's because simply sending nothing but an emoji back in response to a birthday party invitation would be vague and confusing in any circumstance. A smile could mean "thanks for the invitation", "yes I will come", or "I'm going to get you" (I had a manager who smiled whenever he thought I was saying something wrong or making a mistake, something I realized only after the fact -  talk about confusing).

The better message here is: say what you mean. 

Question 10

Again, each dropdown allows all four options, and I've displayed them in the order I selected. I thought of it as a matter of simple probabilities, and as it turned out I was right.

The first and the last are quite obvious. The interesting question for me was regarding the order of the second and third option. I decided as a matter of pure numbers that record producers probably won't see your video. Too many videos, too few producers.

This response suggests the opposite order for the middle two options, however. Whether a video goes viral has nothing to do with whether a record producer sees it. It also doesn't have very much to do with fame (do you remember who uploaded Star Wars boy? the dancing dog? horse attacks alligator? No - the subject of the video may become famous, but the creator often does not).

Whether a video goes viral has everything to do with whether it is shared. No shares, no viral. And in general, the odds of people watching a video are far greater than the odds of people sharing the video. So this response suggests that I should rank 'Your video will get shared' lower than I did. 


The Alannah and Madeline Foundation is a national charity in Australia committed to protecting children from violence. It was established in memory of Alannah and Madeline Mikac, aged 6 and 3, who, with their mother and 32 others, were killed in a mass shooting at Port Arthur, Tasmania on 28 April 1996. So I have nothing but good things to say about the aims and objectives of the foundation.

I also applaud the objectives of the project, mostly. "children need to be educated on what to do if they are exposed to age-inappropriate content; encounter cyber bullying; or when they might be putting their privacy at risk." Yes. But they also need to be away of other scams and dangers, including misleading advertising, exaggeration of dangers, falsehoods and disingenuous language, racism and stereotyping, and more.

I couldn't examine the resources at all because they're locked behind a paywall (which to me is prima facie evidence that they don't stand on their own merits. The only resource I was able to find was, in my view, riddled with errors and inaccuracies. It seemed to me to be created by a person or people with no direct experience with these topics, but rather by people who were working on the basis of what they had read or been told.

The LSE article links to a bit more information, such as this Top 10 Cyber Safety Tips list which leaves out some really important things. For example, the following appear nowhere:

- a lot of the content you read on the web is false, even if it looks like news content

- online advertising of often harmful and will track you from site to site, so use ad-blocking software when you browse

- don't use the same password on every site, and consider using a password manager and/or, for important sites, two-factor authentication

- games and websites will try to get you to buy credits, coins, lives, etc. - don't fall for it

- sharing is great, but remember that sharing with one person can result in your having shared with everyone

- block users who annoy you, and if they persist, report them to a parent or teacher

There are more things, but you get the idea. They are principles that encourage an open-eyed realism and healthy caution for all things digital, but not one that exaggerates threats and not one that encourages fear and helplessness.


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