Monday, March 22, 2010

Trust and Privacy in a Knowledge Based Economy

Setting the Stage

"The knowledge-based economy: Developed economies have traditionally relied on the production and sale of manufactured goods, like steel, cars and consumer goods. In the modern knowledge-based economy, it is the creation and management of technology and information that drives commerce and the creation of jobs." Canada’s Office of Consumer Affairs (OCA)

"There's an old saying. It's never the problem you see that gets you, it's the one you don't see. So it is with secondary uses of personal information. This hazard arises when information is collected for one legitimate and authorized purpose, and then later used for another, unauthorized or illegitimate purpose." Canada’s Office of Consumer Affairs (OCA)

"Privacy seems to come down to trust. Trust that the people in charge are considering my best interest." Dawnelai's Blog

Short Version
Living on the internet is like walking through a mall with a group of corporate execs and shady characters with notepads documenting everything you do. The business execs learn what they can so your next walk through their mall will be more fruitful for you and for them. Who knows what the shady characters are doing...they're shady. Thank heavens for the giant bouncer you are walking with (the government) as he/she is trying to make sure you and your info are okay.

Longer Version

Canada's Office of Consumer Affairs offers a lot of great information about how public our privacy actually is:
1) "When we make a phone call, use our bank machine, or make a purchase at the store, we leave an electronic record of our whereabouts and habits."
2) Modern technology allows all the digital pieces of our travels to be collected. This includes info from cell phones, faxes, answering machines, debit cards, credit cards, emails....the list goes on.
3) Almost anything I do online creates some sort of record on my computer and on my internet service provider's servers.
4) You can delete your trails on your computer but:
"every time you connect to the Internet, you create an electronic record -- a data shadow -- that shows every web site you have visited while on-line. This kind of shadow is temporarily recorded on your Internet service provider's (your "ISP's") computer. Whether it is deleted frequently, or kept permanently depends on your ISP. Now governments have asked service providers to keep that data, to help fight the war on crime and terrorism." (OCA)

5) Communicating online through emails can be risky. Your messages can be intercepted and even if you are at work your correspondence could be viewed by your employer. Encrypting your email is a good idea.
6) Data cookies may be advertised benign and nonspecific information but they do say something about you and they are used to influence your online experience. If someone gathered all these little pieces of info. they could get a fairly accurate picture of who you are.

Watch the following videos about cookies and privacy settings. They are informative. As you are watching, ask yourself whose interests are truly being served? Do I trust the information being offered from a corporate entity who exists to make money?

Now compare the above message to the message in the video below. Before you watch below...ask yourself "Are social networking tools designed for me to share or for others to learn about me?"

So What?

I really appreciated my colleague's posting on this issue entitled "Privacy…we just can’t hide.". Dawnelai directed me to a quote by Danah Boyd who is quickly becoming a digital mentor to me:

"People of all ages care deeply about privacy. And they care just as much about privacy online as they do offline. But what privacy means may not be what you think.

Fundamentally, privacy is about having control over how information flows. It's about being able to understand the social setting in order to behave appropriately. To do so, people must trust their interpretation of the context, including the people in the room and the architecture that defines the setting." Danah Boyd
I believe educators have the moral and ethical responsibility to teach students the critical components of trust. In Danah and Dawnelai's writings they reference trust. In the above quote, trust was linked to understanding and interpretation. If schools are going to spend millions of dollars on technology and in training librarians and teachers how to appropriate the strengths of web 2.0 then we need to equally focus on staff and students being critical consumers. Everything we do online leaves a trail. We trust the government and our ISP's to guard that trail and to make sure we have some measure of control over what is done with our information. We trust our friends and the friends of our friends to honour us by following unwritten codes of social conduct when it comes to our information. We trust businesses to protect our information as we believe they want to keep us as repeat customers.
The key words for me in Danah's quote are "interpretation and context". Schools need to become institutions filled with people who are professionals at critically interpreting immediate and broader contexts. For instance, it is important that we teach staff and students that the information they place on a social networking site actually may become the property of that site. This may not be a big deal if all people involved in the immediate context understand the rules of the game.

But what happens when the broader context changes like we are experiencing now? In order to protect us from terrorism and intellectual piracy, governments and corporations are changing how privacy and control are interpreted/experienced.

"In accordance with our conceptualization of the privacy of the act of reading, libraries have traditionally treated the privacy of readers as sacred. Privacy is a central, core value of libraries. This is the reason for librarians’ anger over provisions in the USA PATRIOT Act that can force libraries to reveal information about the reading habits of their patrons to the FBI and other government investigators."

"In 2007, the Conservative government amended copyright legislation. Under the new rules, making illegal movie recordings became a criminal offence punishable by six months in jail and a $25,000 fine.

Brand is concerned the enforcement of those piracy laws could violate Canada's privacy laws, because in order to monitor illegal uploads and downloads online, authorities would have to monitor a person's entire internet connection, he claims.

"Any prohibition on downloading works — that has a huge impact on the sort of privacy side of things. In order to know that I'm not downloading any works illegally, you have to monitor my internet connection. That's not the kind of society that I want to live in," Brand said"

This week was an eye opener for me. I am still pumped about teaching in the 21st Century. I was just reminded in a new way that we can't play school or hide our heads in the sand. If we take either of those options, our students may continue to express their fundamental freedoms online with no true understanding of what that may mean in an imperfect world full of rules, interpretations, corporate interests, and political contexts that are constantly in flux.