Privacy – Please Adjust Your Settings

“Privacy is the right or opportunity to decide who has access to your personal information and how that information should be used.” Teen Privacy Online

We now live in an age where this is becoming the expectation for public exposure, and people seem to be quite willing to accept it:


Privacy, health fears over airport X-ray

Despite the fact that Airport body scans reveal all, apparently 99% of passengers have chosen these over the traditional body-search-via-wand-and sometimes-pat-down technique most commonly used. Is this a real choice in terms of maintaining personal dignity and privacy? I think not.

As technology advances it seems that privacy becomes more and more difficult to maintain. Some say that our attitudes towards privacy are changing as online social networking becomes more popular. The problem is that, as with airport screening, we allow our choices to be determined by the technology, and unwanted public exposure is the result.

While we may not have control over security measures at airports, we most certainly do have control over online exposure. As educators we must understand how and why to exert control over our personas and privacy online, and we must share that knowledge with our students.

Making Private Matters Public

This video from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada frames social networking from the site owner’s point of view.


There are plenty of examples of the perils of online ignorance and stupidity on social networking sites. Some are due to careless or negligent of users; some are due to the shortcomings or negligence of technology providers, and some are due to criminal intent.

 Social networking comes with a price  says, “According to the most recent data from comScore Inc., nearly 17 million Canadians have a Facebook profile, 4.5 million are on MySpace, 14.5 million visit YouTube every month, 3.6 million upload photos to the sharing site”  Many of these people risk identity theft, permanent damage to their reputations, and may even court personal harm by leaving profiles open to all.  Reporters collected detailed and specific information (phone number, address, maps to workplaces and homes) and photographs, some sexually explicit, about 12 Canadians, including several under 18, by looking at their public profiles.

When Social Media Bites cites several “online acts of idiocy,” such as the burglar who checked his Facebook profile in mid-crime and the woman who applied for a job, used the company name in a tweet to friends about how she’d hate the work, then was surprised that a company employee read her tweet.

Some sites make it almost impossible for users to maintain privacy. Privacy complaint filed against Edmonton-based social-networking site details issues with Nexopia, where “users can upload a variety of information from age and interests, to e-mail addresses and photos, all of which then becomes searchable. Privacy settings can later be set to hide personal information, however, four details — username, sex, location and age — can never be changed or deleted.”

In addition, unscrupulous scammers capitalize on our privacy fears.  Who’s watching you really? shares that just two phishing sites collected Facebook log-in information from 350,000+ people so eager to find out ‘who was “spying” on their profile (there’s been a lot of media about insurance companies accessing social media sites as a way to deny claims), that they fell for the bait – hook, line and sinker.’

Please do adjust your set

Please do adjust your set


In Making Sense of Privacy and Publicity, danah boyd points out that with many social networking sites , “the conversation is public by default, private through effort.” For many users it isn’t always easy to figure out how and when it’s appropriate to set the mode to private.

Watch Social Media Risks below for a much more detailed look at the issues.



What can we as educators do?

While our government is moving to protect online privacy for us and for our children, we need to be pro-active with our students. There are many resources available to help us teach our students (and their parents) about privacy and social networking.  

danah boyd provides excellent advice on how to begin. She says,

“Rather than approaching teens and telling them how things should be, why they shouldn’t be putting material online, please consider the value of opening up a dialogue. You have a lot to learn from what teens are trying to do; you once had to make sense of public life too. The difference is that they are doing it in the new environment. Take what you know and then actively listen to teens. Through their struggles, you can see what is new and different.

The key to guiding teens – and for that matter, yourselves – is to start by asking questions. What are you trying to achieve? Who do you think you’re talking to? How would you feel if someone else was looking? What if what you said could be misinterpreted? Start these conversations when your children are young and help them learn how to evolve. There’s no formula for them either.”

What works for me…: Owning Your Digital Identity – Start by investigating/cleaning up your own online presence. Establish your online identity, reputation, and persona, and protect it with these invaluable guide. Then teach these techniques to your students.

Educate yourself, your colleagues, and your students with these Google videos:

Data Privacy Day provides a variety of resources for teens, young adults, parents, and teachers.

Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada – My Privacy, My Choice, My Life – site for young people about protecting one’s privacy, including videos created by teens such as this one.


Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada is a huge site with a wealth of resources about privacy

In Your I !, a Canadian site, provides a unit on privacy education for teens, with videos, scenarios, discussion guides and much more.

The Media Awareness Network provides Privacy and Internet Life (gr. 7-8) and The Privacy Dilemma (gr. 9-12) .

 Check out bNetS@vvy with articles such as Not Your Parents’ Internet: Understanding “Web 2.0″ Safety by lawyer and educator Nancy Willard.

 Common Sense Media provides extensive resources for parents, educators, and children. Check out the Facebook Privacy Settings: What Parents Need to Know .

And let’s not become so desensitized to our privacy that this also becomes the norm:



Social Networking 2: It’s All About the Face Time

As I was working on this week’s assigned blog entry, I realized that I was writing two separate pieces. While I spent a lot of time reading and thinking about students (and my grandniece, Lauren) using social networking services (see Social Networking 1), I also have been trying some out myself. I’ll share some of what I discovered here.

For a long while I got caught up in the technology, frustrated with making my pages look and work the way I wanted them to. Then I had a light bulb moment – actually, several of them. Two of them happened live online, and I’ll tell you about those later. The others happened as I was reading.

The first was when I reread Stephen Downes’ article, Seven Habits of Highly Connected People, Downes says, “Be yourself. What makes online communication work is the realization that, at the other end of that lifeless terminal, is a living and breathing human being.”

Sometimes I forget that what is important is what I have to offer as a person, not as a geek. If I’m connecting with friends and family through my Facebook page, it doesn’t matter that I can’t get some extra trendy application to work the first seventeen times I try!

Dustin Wax’s Lifehack article, 9 Tips to Get the Most Out of Social Media, includes a tip about this. He says, “Social networking is about connections between people, not profiles. Worry less about finding the perfect background or your 5 favorite songs and more about creating something people want to pay attention to.”

Wax gives some other excellent advice. He points out that signing up for sites is easy, but keeping them current requires effort and commitment, including the fact that “you must maintain at least a marginally active presence, and talk to other people now and again to make it work.” As he says, “You have to put into social networks in order to get out from them.”

In another article, Building Relationships: 10 Ways to Get the Most Out of Social Networking Sites , Wax made some suggestions that resonated with me. I had another “Aha!” moment when I read these tips:

  • Have a clear purpose: Know what you’re using a social networking site for.
  • Pick one or two sites and focus all your energies on creating useful, meaningful connections there.
  • This might not apply to everyone, but for most people, once you’ve decided to use a social networking site for business purposes, don’t use it at all for non-business communication – and vice versa.
  • Complete your profile: Put some thought into what you want people to know about you and why people should care.

These tips helped me clarify my conflicted feelings about Facebook. Originally I wanted to use it to connect with former students. Then I was contacted by old friends. Then my family began to use Facebook, and now I am using it as a demonstration of my learning for a class. I have discovered that all these different connections don’t necessarily work that well on one site.  

In some ways using Facebook has been a wonderful experience for me because I have reconnected with old friends and former students. On the other hand, some of the content posted by some of my contacts is not necessarily appropriate for my other, rather more conservative (older) contacts to see. This has been a good learning experience, one that I would share with peers or students when talking about social networking services.

Conflicted feelings aside, two light bulb moments happened while I was working on my Facebook page. One was that I got a video from my six-year old nephew, whose father discovered how easy it is to create these on Facebook.

But the major one was this. I got a “friend request” from a former student, and was able to email back and forth with him (I know now that we could have used Chat, but I didn’t know that then.) Turns out he was in a bad way, struggling with college and work and family problems, and just needed a comforting voice. Without Facebook, that interaction would not have happened. And neither of us cared about anything other than that conversation – the virtual face time.

In my previous post, I quoted Will Richardson, who over and over again has said that teachers who want their students to succeed with Web 2.0 applications must first succeed with these applications themselves. His most recent, and, to my mind at least, most eloquent expression of this is in the November 2008 issue of Educational Leadership, in the article Giving Students Ownership of Learning: Footprints in the Digital Age. Richardson gives five suggestions to help teachers get started with social networking, and I’m proud to say I’ve done four of them.  

  1. Read blogs related to your passion. Search out topics of interest at and see who shares those interests. [My latest find is the forum at the Teacher Librarian Ning, where members are invited to share links to their blogs.]
  2. Participate. If you find bloggers out there who are writing interesting and relevant posts, share your reflections and experiences by commenting on their posts. [I’ve commented on several forum questions on the Teacher Librarian Ning, and started a discussion of my own.]
  3. Use your real name. It’s a requisite step to be Googled well. Be prudent, of course, about divulging any personal information that puts you at risk, and guide students in how they can do the same. [I’ve started trying to standardize user names and photos for all the sites I’ve joined. One contact said she recognized my photo from another site, so that strategy seems to be working.]
  4. Start a Facebook page. Educators need to understand the potential of social networking for themselves.  [Done. Also joined GoodReads and LibraryThing]
  5. Explore Twitter (, a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables users to exchange short updates of 140 characters or fewer. It may not look like much at first glance, but with Twitter, the network can be at your fingertips. [I haven’t yet done this, but plan to.]

And now that I’ve completed two blog entries when I planned to do one, my family needs some face time.


Social Networking 1: Lauren’s Network

Lauren’s Current Network

Last weekend I took a break from working on this week’s blog post on social networking. I went to visit my niece, and when I arrived, my seven-year-old grandniece, Lauren, closely supervised by her mother, was on the computer. She was busy checking her email at Webkinz, a social-networking site aimed at kids. Coincidence? I think not. Somehow fate knew I needed a cute photo (including pink kitten ears) to illustrate this week’s post.

It’s also not a coincidence that Webkinz is featured in the article Scaffolding the New Social Literacies, by Stephen Abram. Here’s a description from the web site (hosted by the Ganz plush animal people), “Webkinz pets are lovable plush pets that each come with a unique Secret Code. With it, you enter Webkinz World where you care for your virtual pet, answer trivia, earn KinzCash, and play the best kids games on the net!”

I chatted with my grandniece about the site. She showed me the virtual room she has built for her various stuffed toys, and the games she likes best. As of yet, she isn’t chatting with other members, but that is available, although in a highly-structured, highly controlled way.

Abram also discusses Club Penguin ( The website says that “Club Penguin is a safe virtual world for kids to play, interact with friends and have fun letting their imaginations soar.”

Even though it costs $5.95 a month to join, Club Penguin is one of the top 10 social networking sites in the USA, so obviously children enjoy it, and parents are willing to pay for it.
Abrams point out that children using these highly commercial social networking sites, while carefully protected in a highly secure environment, are vulnerable to their pressure.

“What are these two sites doing? Isn’t it obvious? They’re using the Colombian drug lord strategy. These sites are, probably unintentionally, playground push-ers of social networking crack. They try for brand loyalty and return visits. Unlike MySpace or Facebook, they offer subscription models, or you need to buy something to enter. Peer pressure plays no small role in their word-of-mouth marketing.”

We as teacher librarians, Abrams says, have a teachable moment here. These two sites are highly ethical, but other networking sites work at collecting lots of data from their users. While we teach children about themselves and their place in the world, we can also teach them about online safety.

“At each stage we define what level of awareness they need to have while they’re on-line. What would we tell others about ourselves in our family? What information would you email grandma versus a stranger? Do you share more or different things when you’re out in your own neighborhood? What about strange neighborhoods? When do you tell people your whole name and address? What about when you’re interacting with the whole country or potentially the world, like on the web?”

Protecting or Overprotecting?

Other experts agree that schools need to help students use social networking sites appropriately. In her article ‘Safe’ social networking sites emerge, Laura Ascione discusses Whyville, “an online virtual world that immerses children in a video game-like experience where they must manage money, make sure they eat properly, and have the ability to communicate with others. More importantly, the site seeks to educate its users about online safety and how to behave in an online community.”

Another site for children,, a free social networking site centred on science, requires that users be registered by parents whose identity is verified by a credit card, or by a teacher as part of a class.

Ascione quotes Tim Donovan, vice president of marketing for the company that is launching Imbee. “Children and teenagers often don’t understand that what they post on the internet remains on the internet. We want kids to develop [an online] skill set under the guidance of their parents; we want parents to be accountable.”

While these sites are as safe as technology can make them, the article goes on to point out that it is essential that students be taught to be aware of online hazards such as identity theft and phishing scams, as well as online predators. I was appalled to read here that identity theft involving children under 18 doubled from 2004 to 2005. Schools need to take the initiative in teaching students how to network safely.

Lauren’s Future Networks

The School Library Journal article MySpace, Facebook Promote Literacy, by Debra Lau Whelan, dicusses a new report from Britain. Young People and Social Networking Services by the U.K.-based Internet safety organization Childnet International. The report says “there are potential “formal and informal” educational benefits for kids who use social networking services.” These include

  • improving technology and digital literacy skills,
  • developing “e-safety” skills
  • building collaboration skills
  • becoming a team player
  • broadening horizons
  • developing an understanding of how people live and think in all parts of the world.

The article concludes that social networking sites help students get real-world experience. “Being able to quickly adapt to new technologies, services, and environments is already regarded as a highly valuable skill by employers, and can facilitate both formal and informal learning.”

Googling Our Kids – Will Lauren Measure Up?

In Footprints in the Digital Age, Will Richardson muses on the impact of social networking on our children’s futures. “In the Web 2.0 world, self-directed learners must be adept at building and sustaining networks.” He signed up his children, aged seven and nine, on Club Penguin to get them started with social networks.

Richardson points out that we as teachers are likely being Googled frequently even now, and are judged on our digital footprint.  “It’s a consequence of the new Web 2.0 world that these digital footprints-the online portfolios of who we are, what we do, and by association, what we know-are becoming increasingly woven into the fabric of almost every aspect of our lives.” How much more important will this become for our children in the Web 2.0 culture, where creating content is becoming commonplace and expected.

Richardson states, “One of the biggest challenges educators face right now is figuring out how to help students create, navigate, and grow the powerful, individualized networks of learning that bloom on the Web and helping them do this effectively, ethically, and safely.” Rather than just sharing information to be read, we should be teaching students to share information to engage an audience. Richardson cites the blog “Twenty-Five Days to Make a Difference” (, created by 10-year old Laura Stockman. Her sharing of her plan to do one good deed per day has engaged readers from around the world, and resulted in thousands of dollars raised in cash and kind for charity.

Of course, in order to help students learn to network effectively, we as teachers need to master the technology and the techniques of networking, and to have our students see us doing this.

Next weekend I’ll be heading back to spend some time online with Lauren.