Sunday, March 15, 2009

Privately at odds with Privacy Issues

I gave my privacy away the day I became a mother. No matter where I am in the house, one of my 3 boys finds me. I never imagined washing my hair with a 5 year old on the other side of the shower curtain telling me all the details of his Star Wars Transformer. But, it has happened, and it seems like I'm never alone. And yes, someone is always watching me or listening to what I say.
This week's topic about Privacy has made me realize that I am also being watched on-line. Everything I do on-line is being recorded somewhere. But in the grand scheme of things, does it really matter?

After watching the video Does what happens in the Facebook stay in the Facebook? I was a little shocked that Facebook wants all rights to anything I post there. It doesn't seem very socially polite of them, if you catch my drift (I'm a firm believer in social netiquette). I was also extremely interested in the negative comments regarding this video. One of the cleanest comments (there were several with profanities that I came across) reads as follows:

. . . what exactly does this person put on their facebook that they don't want
other companies to see? For that matter, what does ANYONE put on their facebook
that they don't want others to see? God forbid that they give away the pictures
of her at her college reunion! The only thing anybody would want with your
information is surveys. Do you care that people you don't know know you read
Harry Potter? (Comment posted by nommayomnom 2 weeks ago)

This got me thinking:

Do I care if my information is used in surveys? No. It's a little creepy to think my information is being shared without my knowledge, but I don't post information that I want to keep private anyway, so why does it matter?

Do I care if people know what I read? No. If I post a book on Shelfari that I've read, I'm aware that it's out there for people to see. If I did care, I wouldn't mention it.

Would I care if they gave my photos of my children away? This is where I do care. I believe it's common courtesy to be asked before photos are used elsewhere. I would probably get a little upset if I saw pictures of my children published without my consent. I have to weigh the possibilities of this happening with the joy of sharing with friends and family.

Should I share this knowledge about privacy with staff and students? Probably. I think that it is good to help others be aware of what rights they are giving up while using social networking sites like Facebook, but I think we have to realize that a lot of them simply don't care.

So, why is it a non-issue for some, while others feel so strongly against the lack of privacy that they refuse to use Facebook and such? I realized earlier today while muddling through this issue that there is a lack of urgency for many youth regarding on-line privacy. Look at their privacy role models - Paris Hilton is the one star who comes to mind with regards to their privacy being violated on-line. And look what happened to her - fame. Ms. Hilton has not been jumping on the privacy bandwagon as a result of this experience. As far as I can tell, she hasn't been asked to do school visits to spread the word about protecting your privacy on-line.

Deeper Reasons for Protecting our Privacy Rights

I think we can all agree that there are more serious issues on-line than simple marketing surveys.

In the video clip, Facebook Killed the Private Life, Clay Shirky (author of Here Comes Everybody) asks us to comtemplate: "what are we going to say as a society about looking into other people's lives?" Is it right for employers and schools to search out information about you on Facebook and Myspace?

The most relevant piece of information about privacy that stood out for me from this interview was Shirky's comment about the effects of technology on ones private life:

"What the technology makes possible is colliding with our social sense of this
kind of semi public, semi-private sphere - that's what is being contested,that's
what being fought over. The most serious negative consequence of this is: if we
don't carve out some space for documented personal action that's okay, then we
will really have robbed young people of something they won't even know they're
missing because they never leave the web of surrveillance. "
When it comes right down to the bottom line - there is no bottom line. We have never experienced such a blurring of private and public life before - so we don't know all the answers.
For me, I've been witnessing 2 types of response:

1. Engage in a knee-jerk reaction saying to avoid Facebook and Myspace - such as the recent warning from B.C. College of Teachers (see, Warning for teachers: Facebook can kill career).

2. A proceed with caution approach- and with an awareness that whatever you post can be viewed by anyone, and possibly misunderstood or misinterpreted.

As an educator, I definitely think we should be engaging in these conversations with our staff and students. I also believe this is just the beginning. As a parent I will continue to educate my own children as they grow up with this "web of surveillance" (Shirky) using Doug Johnson's sage advice as presented in Lighting Lamps:

  • Write assuming your boss is reading
  • Gripe Globally; praise locally
  • Write for edited publications.
  • Write out of goodness.

I appreciate Johnson's straight-forward manner, and his words are quite wise. These guiding principals to on-line writing could easily be shared with staff, students, and probably pre-service teachers as well.

If we traverse the web of surveillance with knowledge and awareness, and follow guiding principles like Johnson's, I believe many of us can enjoy the benefits of on-line writing and sharing, while at the same time model the public/private balancing act for our students and children.

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