Some Thoughts On Digital Privacy

I have a FACEBOOK account and I apprecitate it, mostly.  It has been a way for me to reconnect with people whom I have not communicated with in many years and build an updated network of friends.  As someone living outside of their home country, it has been a great way to keep in touch with my family and close friends on a daily basis.  I am, however, always cautious regarding my postings to my wall and the wall of my friends.  I’m a fan of the Facebook message feature. 

It’s true that many people choose to post information about their private lives and it is up to the individual to safeguard their privacy, in so much as they can, whilst interacting online.   But how much do we really know about what is information is being collected about our online activities?  I just read an interesting article from The New York Times by Steve Lohr, “How Privacy Vanishes Online”.  This article reports that computer scientists and experts are determining that the information bytes that we submit about ourselves on social networking sites can be used to create a profile so specific that it could be used to determine an individual’s social security number. This “powerful data mining”, at the moment, is only being used in large university research projects according to the article. The article also points out that online privacy is no longer an individual issue, but connects to all of the friends/contacts within a person’s digital network. How much do you trust your friends? I agree that online privacy does not really exist. What you do online is basically public.

Case in point, also this week, in The New York Times, FACEBOOK Use of Cookies Raises German Regulators’ Suspicions, reported that Facebook my be using cookies to track online activity even after a subscriber has terminated their account.  The article alleges that cookies are created when a person opens a new account and then are maintained after the Facebook account has been closed.  This collection of data is not limited to Facebook but is carried on by many online businesses and advertisers.  Most users don’t realize that this information about them is being collected.  This raises questions and concerns for many.  Should governments become more involved in what information online entities are able to access, store , and use? In December of last year, The Federal Trade Commission  proposed a plan for websites to offer a “a simple, easy-to-use”, do not track mechanism that would give consumers control over what information is collected and stored on the internet.  Should this be within in the realm of federal legislation?  Will it work?  The New York Times Opinion Pages posted the article, Let Consumers See What’s Happening, by Jonathan Zittrain, a Harvard law and computer science professor and the author of The Future of the Internet — And How to Stop It.  It is a thought-provoking discussion of the feasibility of federal legislation and is annotated with dozens of comments regarding the pros and cons.  I believe that all online advertisers and businesses should be required to inform the consumer of any information that is collected about them.

That’s my general “digital privacy” food for thought in this week’s COETAIL blog.  Now, let me narrow the focus of this issue to how it relates to my students.  My students have been engaged in direct lessons and discussion that focus on how to protect your privacy and keep safe online.  The Brainpop video, Digital Privacy,  is a great resource for reminding students about what information needs to be kept private.  However, with so many of our students participating in social networking sites, texting, messaging, and photo tagging and sharing, it brings another dimension to this issue.  How can you insure that you are protecting the online privacy of others?  Common Sense Media, a resource out of Harvard’s graduate school of education which I have shared before, has an excellent lesson entitled “Secret Sharer”.  In this lesson, students review and analyze case studies in which individuals have compromised the privacy of others in some way, whether it be from tagging, sharing a copy of a photo or video, or sharing personal information online.  This is a serious issue that faces our students and their networks of friends and classmates and one that deserves direct instruction in our classrooms.


Digital Privacy Photo:


About Jamie

I am currently a middle school Language Arts and Social Studies teacher at The American School in Japan.
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3 Responses to Some Thoughts On Digital Privacy

  1. alexguenther says:

    Very interesting! The example you mention of the uncovering of Facebook’s “spy” cookies which tracked users even when not logged in is a great one for educators and students to share and be aware of. It’s a good example to me of the dangers of online behavior – but I see a silver lining. To me it’s also an example of the almost self-regulating nature of things like that these days. Facebook used their technology to gather data about users which the users wouldn’t want them to have, but – and it’s important to note this, I think – people used technology to figure the whole thing out, and used technology to write articles and blog posts about it, which caused Facebook to promise they’d change their behavior (not that I trust them). In other words, technology both makes it easier for people to track and trick us, but simultaneously makes it easier for individuals to be informed, organize, and advocate for fairness and transparency. I’m an optimist, I know (at least on this one topic).

  2. Jamie says:

    Regarding this, an optimist you are, Alex! I agree with your comment even though the idea had never occurred to me. It really is a two-way street. Still though, I’d like to be made aware when information about me is being collected. Thank you for taking time to read the post

  3. Kim Cofino says:

    Did you do the “Secret Sharer” lesson with your students? How did it turn out?

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