Stuck in the Middle With You

This week’s task regarding privacy is has a high potential for being mostly a generational problem. As a borderline Gen X’er, when I created my first Yahoo, and subsequently Hotmail, email accounts – not only would I give a fake name, but I also submitted a fake date of birth. My reason for doing this way back in 1997? Simple – I did not know who I was giving my details to, therefore I calculated that it was safer to give fake details – rather than have my real personal details out there.

Oh, how times have changed. Not only do I not use my yahoo email address anymore, but when I have conversations with my Gen Z students, they seem somewhat blasé to handing over these details. Conceivably this is because they are used to entering and uploading a whole host of personal information. It could be they just don’t think about it as much as I did- despite the fact that dat breaches/leaks/hacks appear in an almost weekly news cycle. So let’s try to find that desirable middle ground, and get out students sharing opening whilst protecting their privacy at the same time.

Photo by Willie Fineberg on Unsplash

Where is the Gap?

The Participatory Culture paper has more depth than a Game of Thrones episode, but reading through this week’s readings reminded me of when I taught in Cambodia…

I made a few Khmer friends over my three years there. And back when I used FB, they were also friends on there too. What I was initially curious about was what kind of things they decided to share on social media, such as (lots of) selfies, what they were eating and checking into, live streams of seemingly innocuous scenarios and so on – but meanwhile they seemed to be impervious of how many people had access to this information. All too often they just assumed that only their friends could see their posts, not friends of friends and so on. For me the gap here was not in the technology available to people in less well-off financial circumstances, but the boundaries in what could/should be shared and with whom, and how this created a digital footprint which had the potential to be permanent. They were so many gaps I didn’t know what to think or where to start.

Photo by Gustavo Belemmi on Unsplash
Photo by Gustavo Belemmi on Unsplash

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Always have done – so what did I do to maintain my students’ privacy and that of my own? Well for starters I got my students to create a website which would go on to serve as a repository and portfolio for their learning at school. They could upload their work from all of their subjects, choosing which pieces to upload. We used Google Sites for this, as it was simple and easy to use, and we could control who could see it. Next up I told them to add their first names only, no surnames, email addresses, home address and any other personal information. Finally they could upload a picture of themselves, but with a twist. I instructed my students to use Avatar Maker to create a fun picture of themselves. So in essence they were able to create a digital footprint, which allowed them to contribute authentically, whilst maintaining a sense of privacy, albeit playfully – not dishonestly.

I do practice what I preach. I have a website called Techned, on which you will find no personal information of mine. I do identify myself as a technology teacher, who teaches internationally. I also share resources and add review; of late it has been more dormant than an episode of Firefly. So I consider this a good example to use with my students on how to contribute.

Small Print

There really is some incredible, and sometimes downright scary, readings this week. Much of these have led me to think that we might not be doing enough to protect our students privacy. Sure, we have a school AUP and digital citizenship lessons – but there is room for improvement. The Eduator Toolkit is more readable than a menu from Burger King. It reminded me of something we do at school, which is to ask students to register and install apps – which in some cases prompt students to enter in their own personal information. For example Fusion 360 requires students to enter in their name, D.O.B., school name & address, plus graduation date! It is a lot. Much of the data is needed to verify the student is in fact eligible for a free account, but what else could the data be used for or passed onto?

Recently I used with some students in an after school club. They decided that they create a community board, where each club member’s picture would be displayed, against a background of their choice. Beforehand I had checked the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, and was relieved to find that any pictures uploaded to their servers would be deleted within the hour! The documents did take some time to digest, but given that we were uploading pictures it was important to know where they went – it pays to read the small print.

Image by Monika Schröder from Pixabay

Memorable Quotes

I do like some of George Soros’ quotes, particularly when I can find a way to relate to them. In January 2018 he said “Mining and oil companies exploit the physical environment; social media companies exploit the social environment.” This point seems to be echoed in the New York Times opinion piece when Zeynep Tufekci talks about the leaked article which describes how Facebook are predicting when young people were feeling insecure or worthless; just by monitoring their posts! Again, this prompted me to rethink my thinking on how to educate students to protect their information.

With or Without the Mask

Occasionally I despair at the actions of the tech and social media giants. I wonder what can we do as teachers? What can we do against this tidal wave of information? But then again I think that if we don’t do anything it will hardly makes things better. To begin with, we can act as guides, and light the way for our students and the next generation to change the nature of the internet into a more pleasant place. But there is a lot of work to do.

And then there is the question so purposefully posed by COETAIL “How do you contribute authentically while protecting privacy?” Ouch – now that is a good one.

Lets begin at the end… Charlie Warzel, New York Times, argues that we need to radically expand on the definition of privacy – I could not agree more if someone asked me did I want a 8 week holiday at the end of the school year. Once we educate both ourselves and our students in what privacy is, then we can start taking appropriate steps to protect it.

Now lets go back to the beginning – Authenticity. I know that for a lot of people – myself not included as I am holier than thou – prefer anonymity over authenticity – check out this Guardian article from a few years back. When we put on the mask, we adopt the devil may care attitude, we are more likely to take risks with our comments but only because we are free from being judged by our peers. In class I have played out this drama with Padlet. At first I created a Padlet, where the students had to login with their accounts before adding a comment; meaning that I could see who said what. Then, for a similar task, I changed the settings so that the students didn’t have to login, and therefore contribute anonoylselly. Predicatably the anonymous comments were more detailed than their named counterparts.

Definetly a lot more work to do.

Photo by Llanydd Lloyd on Unsplash
One comment to “Stuck in the Middle With You”
One comment to “Stuck in the Middle With You”
  1. First of all: – Wow, I’m gobsmacked! The hours I could have saved in Photoshop if that app had existed 20 years ago.

    So did you have fun reading some EULA’s? We should award you the purple eyeball for your suffering. Considering some researchers in 2012 estimated you’d need 76 days to read all of the EULA’s for all the apps you use each year. Yes, seven years ago. With all of the mobile apps we use (they’re just so quick and easy to install!), I’d be surprised if that length of time has grown any shorter.

    Sadly, the US is lagging behind Europe when it comes to protecting consumers’ online privacy, and countries like France haven’t been afraid to fine US tech giants like Google huge sums to punish violations of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulations, or GDPR (l

    “If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.” – Andrew Lewis, August 2010 (

    In some sense, I’ve been fatalistic about online privacy, especially when I’m signing up for a site’s services which are literally indispensable to my everyday life, most notably Google. I guess I trust them too much, but there are literally no real integrated alternatives.

    However, I’ve recently deleted my Facebook account and feel a lot of freedom as a result. I’m on Twitter and Instagram (yes, I know FB is Instagram’s parent company). I’m a big believer in revealing in layers and I locked down my FB profile to nearly everyone. I excluded people I only know professionally from viewing many of my posts. (I deleted my account over a philosophical disagreement FB has about doctored videos, specifically the Nancy Pelosi video from a few months back.)

    I don’t want to privacy and “ruining their lives for ever and ever” to be the boogeyman we try to frighten students with. Like you, I like the control Google Sites provides from the outside world. But we can’t completely protect them from mistakes and bad actors. We can only talk about how to cross the street by looking both ways and show them how to do it, but we can’t monitor them every minute of every day. They will make mistakes and there (hopefully) be graduated consequences.

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