Created by Ruth Elliott

Welcome! Join me as I reflect on my learning journey with Web 2.0 tools. I'm sure I will find bandwagons to jump on along the way. Let's enjoy the trip.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Transparent and Professional Online

A few minutes ago I received one of those phone calls that delights and excites every teacher's heart. The mom of one of my former students called me up to tell me her daughter had been accepted into the College of Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan. Her daughter has also received a scholarship. As soon as this grade 12 student heard the news, she said, "Mrs. Elliott would be so happy." So her mom called me to share the good news.

What is so amazing about this is that I taught this student in grade 2 and again in grade 5 (a long time ago). I haven't seen her or her mom for four years (I did attend her grade 8 graduation). How did they track me down? It's not really too surprising. I always give out my home phone number with every group that I teach. I welcome phone calls at home and love to build a partnership with the parents of my students. That student's mom knew that I would welcome a phone call sharing this special news about her daughter's success.

I realize that this kind of openness about my contact information could backfire on me. However, I have chosen to be transparent and professional in my real-life dealings with parents and students. As I look at the topic of privacy online, I will grapple with some of the issues of being transparent and professional online as well.

What is privacy?

"Privacy is the ability of an individual or group to seclude themselves or information about themselves thereby revealing themselves selectively. The boundaries and content of what is considered private differ among cultures and individuals" (Working, 2009). The Australian Privacy Foundation (Australian, n.d.) describes four dimensions of privacy:

1. Privacy of the Person (physical)

2. Privacy of Personal Behaviour

"This is the interest that individuals have in being able to behave however they wish, without undue interference by other people and organisations. This relates to all aspects of behaviour, but especially to sensitive matters, such as sexual preferences and habits, political activities and religious practices, both in private and in public places. " (Australian, n.d.)

For the purposes of this blog post, I will highlight unjustified publication of personal data, web-usage surveillance and denial of anonymity as being three of the personal behaviour privacy parameters.

3. Privacy of Personal Communications

"This is the interest that individuals have in being able to communicate among themselves, using various media, without routine monitoring of their communications by other persons or organisations. This includes what is sometimes referred to as 'interception privacy'." (Australian, n.d.) This area would include the aspects of ISP-usage surveillance, email surveillance, e-chat surveillance, and denial of anonymity.

4.Privacy of Personal Data

"This is the interest that individuals have in data about themselves. People expect that data about them should not be automatically available to other individuals and organisations; and that, even where data is possessed by another party, the individual must be able to exercise a substantial degree of control over that data and its use." (Australian, n.d.) All of the aspects under this category connect with this blog post. I would encourage you to go to this link and scroll down to read through the list. Items like data handling, identification (biometrics, Google Streetview), and profiling occur under this topic.

Let's revisit each of these aspects of privacy and how it may relate to teachers and students.

1. Privacy of the Person (physical):

Location Based Services(LBS) are the latest occurrences in the online world. A chip in your cell phone is linked to the GPS which will allow people to know where your physical body is. (Anonymous, 2010) Can you imagine in the future that you will walk

into a clothing store carrying your cell phone? Within minutes the sales clerk has assembled clothing on a rack--everything in your size with the styles and colours that you prefer.

The store's LBS reader read your preferences one milli-second after you walked in the door. Now you may think you could fool the store by giving your friend your cellphone (as if you would ever do this). However, your LBS has also linked to the biometrics available on you.

2. Privacy of Personal Behaviour

People have moved beyond merely consuming information on the internet. They routinely create content on the internet. This may be through posting information, photos, and videos to Facebook or YouTube. Teachers, parents, and future employers can gain a large picture of your personal behaviour through what you post online. For a site such as Facebook, they have defaulted to public and you must take action to make your information private. Future employers will feel that if you have posted it online, it is acceptable for them to view or read it. (Shirky, 2007) One anonymous viewer of this video said, "I think that we are robbing young people the chance to live and make mistakes"(pienutty, 2009).

On a video (link) posted by the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, these questions are suggested about posting information online (Privacy, 2007):

  • What judgments or conclusions might others form with my information?
  • Are there some details about my life I would like to keep personal?
  • Who might view or purchase this information about me?
  • Will this information reflect well on me a year from now? Or fi ve years?
  • Would I want my best friend to know this?
  • Would I want my boss to know this?
  • Would I want my mom to know this
  • (I add: Would I want my children or grandchildren to know this?)

Nussbaum wrote a fascinating article on the topic of the younger generation and the end of privacy (2007). As she says, she grew up locking her diary with a real lock, so it has been interesting for her to interview people, like Xiyin, who are less concerned about keeping their lives private. She noticed three things:

Change 1: They think of themselves as having an audience.

"All sorts of opportunities—romantic, professional, creative—seem to Xiyin to be directly linked to her willingness to reveal herself a little." Our professor in this class said the same thing--that she has obtained jobs and established friendships through her willingness to be open online.

"In essence, every young person in America has become, in the literal sense, a public figure. And so they have adopted the skills that celebrities learn in order not to go crazy: enjoying the attention instead of fighting it—and doing their own publicity before somebody does it for them."

Change 2: They have archived their adolescence.

Change 3: Their skin is thicker than yours.

"What happens when a person who has archived her teens grows up? Will she regret her earlier decisions, or will she love the sturdy bridge she’s built to her younger self—not to mention the access to the past lives of friends, enemies, romantic partners? On a more pragmatic level, what does this do when you apply for a job or meet the person you’re going to marry? Will employers simply accept that everyone has a few videos of themselves trying to read the Bible while stoned? Will your kids watch those stoner Bible videos when they’re 16? Is there a point in the aging process when a person will want to pull back that curtain—or will the MySpace crowd maintain these flexible, cheerfully thick-skinned personae all the way into the nursing home?"

3. Privacy of Personal Communications

This would encompass the use of Facebook to communicate with friends. Here's a video about how to configure your privacy settings in Facebook.

Video on How to Configure Privacy Settings in Facebook

Another aspect of privacy in personal communication is the prevalence of cloud computing. "Rather than running software on a desktop computer or server, Internet users are now able to use the 'cloud'--a networked collection of servers, storage systems, and devices--to combine software, data, and computing power scattered in multiple locations across the network" (Cavoukian, p. 5). Read about some of the privacy issues related to cloud computing here (

4. Privacy of Personal Data

Every time you do a Google search, data is collected. They collect what your search query is and the IP address for your computer. They leave a cookie on your computer which is a small file that helps them with future searches (e.g. English used). They keep a file about your search. Watch this video (link) to learn more about their privacy principles. The Google privacy principles are listed below. (For a Google engineer's perspective on privacy watch this video.)
  • Use information to provide our users with valuable products and services.
  • Develop products that reflect strong privacy standards and practices.
  • Make the collection of personal information transpare nt.
  • Give users meaningful choices to protect their privacy.
  • Be a responsible steward of the information we hold.
Some people see this collection and use of our data as our payment for online services. You may receive targeted advertising based on your searches. It will be assumed that your friends may like the same things as you so your friends may receive directed advertising as well.

"The problem with buying things with your privacy is you really don't know how much you're paying. With money, five bucks is five bucks. But what is the value of your list of friends? If it's not worth much, your membership on Facebook may be the deal of a lifetime. If it's incredibly valuable, you're getting massively ripped off. Only the techies know how much your info is worth, and they're not telling. But the fact that they'd rather get your data than your dollars tells you all you need to know." (Lyons, 2010)

Through this type of data-mining, "computer scientists and policy experts say that such seemingly innocuous bits of self-revelation can increasingly be collected and reassembled by computers to help create a picture of a person’s identity, sometimes down to the Social Security number." (Lohr, 2010)

Given the status of privacy in our world, what are the implications for educators and for our students.

Implications for Educators

At the beginning of this blog post, I shared the story of a phone contact with a parent which was welcomed because I share my home phone number with parents. However, in my online class, with students from all across Canada, some are not comfortable with sharing a home phone number with parents while others have even accepted their students as friends on Facebook. I think each educator, after weighing up the options for communication with parents and students, must choose those options that they are most comfortable with. For some, giving out an email address may be the best way to maintain their boundaries between their public and private selves. Last week many in the education technology community had a Twitter discussion about how best to communicate with parents. You can follow the tweets here.

If you are interested in using Facebook as a tool for classroom communication, read this blog post with tips about how to use Facebook as a teacher. (link) You could also visit this wiki-page with additional resources about using Facebook or other social networking sites in education.

If you are interested in checking out your privacy settings on various applications, visit Google Dashboard. In one location, it shows you all of the Google services that you have interacted with and makes it easy to change the privacy controls. You could read this blog post about Google Dashboard and watch a video as well. (link)

The last piece of advice for educators is to begin to use Open ID for log-ins and password protection for all new applications that you join. Read an explanation of OpenID here.

Resources to use with Students

I found so many great resources to use with students that I will just list them here. Educators and parents need to inform students about the pitfalls of being unaware of privacy needs online.

At the bottom of the blog post, I would like to share two of the winning videos in this year's My Privacy and Me video contest. These videos were uploaded earlier this month.

Before the videos, I would like to give the last word to a very wise 15 year old who made this comment on a blog post about privacy, "there's a simple rule I like to follow, that being if you're worried about the whole world seeing it, just don't show it. Simple as that." (Jourdy288, 2010)

Take care out there and (as Red Green would say), keep your stick on the ice. Keep track of what's happening to your digital image and your privacy.

Think Before You Click Video (One of the winners in the contest this year)

The Spanish Lottery Video (A winner in the junior category in the contest this year)


Anonymous. (2010, March 6). Follow me; Location-based services on mobile phones. The Economist, 394, 8672, p. 85. ProQuest Journals. Retrieved from

Australian Privacy Foundation. (n.d.) Dimensions of privacy. Retrieved from

Cavoukian, Ann. (2009). Privacy in the Clouds: A white paper on privacy and digital identity: Implications for the internet. Toronto, Canada: Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario. Retrieved from

Jourdy288. (2010, March 15) Comment on Caroline Knor blogpost. You're not as private as you think. Message posted on

Lohr, Steve. (2010, March 16). How privacy vanishes online. New York Times. Retrieved from

Lyons, Daniel. (2010, March 1). Google's Orwell Moment: On the Web, privacy has its price. Newsweek, 155, 9. ProQuest Journals. Retrieved from

Nussbaum, Emily. (2007, February 12). Say everything: Kids, the internet, and the end of privacy: The greatest generation gap since rock and roll. New York Magazine. Retrieved from

pienutty. (May 2009) Comment on Shirky, Clay. (2007, November 6). Facebook killed the private life. (YouTube video) Retrieved from

Privacy Commissioner. (2007, November 7). What does a friend of a friend of a friend know about you? (Video, 2:41). Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. Retrieved from

Shirky, Clay. (2007, November 6). Facebook killed the private life. (YouTube video) Retrieved from

Working Group. (2009). There ought to be a law: Protecting children's online privacy in the 21st century. (Discussion Paper) Canadian Privacy Commissioners and Child and Youth Advocates. Retrieved from

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Ruth! Great story about your former student who wanted to share her exciting news with you! Thanks for bringing up the very important idea of transparency and how that relates to privacy in this digital world. This is an important piece of the puzzle! Great post!