Do you feel like somebody’s watching you?

blinkingeye2_biggerblinking eye by Steve Dembo:
with permission from “Turning Twitter into the Daily Prophet”

“I always feel like somebody’s watching me
And I have no privacy, whoa-oa-oa”

Rockwell Lyrics, Somebody’s Watching Me

At a recent visit to my banker, I noticed he can see my debit card history and exactly how much I spend at the liquor store. I just recently learned that my University of Alberta online instructors  can see how much time I spend on the Blackboard eClass system, how much time I spend in the chatroom and how many e-mails I send to others in the course. The computer tech at my school recently let it slip that he’s observed my high e-mail usage and joked that I use more space on the server than almost anyone else in my school. It’s not a stretch to realize that the far-reaching consequences of this kind of surveillance could be more than just embarassing. At what point is it an invasion of privacy?

I predict a new sci-fi thriller on the perils of loss of privacy on the internet in an Orwellian dystopian future. If I was a better writer, I might like to write that novel; then use it to cause students to think about the long-term consequences of their online actions today.


As Palfrey and Gasser state so eloquently in Born Digital many young people are more focused on the importance of their current online social life than the long term repercussions of their online activity. (p. 53) “Young people use the internet to  connect to one another but may not realize that they are also connected to a large number of corporations and institutions.” (p. 66)

Parent and teachers have far more to offer young people than they may think when it comes to teaching them about how to protect their identities online. The first challenge is to know enough to be credible. But once the conversation starts, everyone will be better off. (p. 73)

Do I know enough to be credible? In some ways my 21 year old knows more than me about how to guard her personal information online, and chides her friends when they “give away” too much information.

All this has made me think about the difference between how some digital native may approach building their digital identity and how some educators may approach building theirs.

  • Digital natives build their identity mainly to connect socially with others.
  • Educators connect to learn more and possibly to advance themselves in their profession.
  • Despite the challenges presented by inconsistent and fluctuating privacy laws and regulations, both may aim to increase their online profile.
  • We both need to make that leap of trust and hope we don’t present a risk to our own  safety, risk of fraud, or that our health and financial histories could one day be used against us.
  • Educators know there are actions we can take as individuals to mitigate the risks.

I think we all know we’re going to be targeted for advertisements to a greater or lesser extent, and  media awareness education and initiatives is one area educators can easily focus. Canada’s Media Awareness Network continues to be a current and invaluable resource to Canadian educators.

Some online services like Google, seem to be responsive to our desire for greater privacy online. This is evidenced by the 3-part Google Privacy Video Series. I finally understand what cookies are after being online for almost 20 years! I learned Google Chrome includes an incognito mode, and improved phishing and malware help.

Canada’s Office of Consumer Affairs Privacytown is a refreshing, well written, humourous, engaging and comprehensive resource. Among it’s many sections, it includes the The Privacytown Protection Guide outlining the role of the individual, government and business in protecting privacy.

The Privacy Overview begins by explaining that Personal Information is also called “pi” in the “privacy biz”, then goes on to state “everyone wants a piece of your pi”. I was already hooked, and laughed at this statement:  “Privacy isn’t exactly a recent concept. In fact, you might argue that it is the world’s oldest obsession – – – well, maybe the second oldest.”

Doug Johnson offers some sage advice to bloggers in his article “Lighting Lamps” in Bloggers Caf é of the June/July 2008 issue of ISTE’s Learning and Leading with Technology. His tips are sure to keep your professional profile intact, and could also save young and old alike from personal embarrassment somewhere down the line:

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

In all my online transactions I also try to follow the advice from my local teacher association; “don’t write anything online that you wouldn’t say in front of a room full of people”. While building my online identity, this has become my personal mantra.

All Canadian educators need to know the implications of Canada’s new private sector privacy laws in the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).  Useful information for individuals related to this new law is available here. Canadian Educators are also bound by their provincial freedom of information and privacy acts (in Manitoba it’s FIPPA).

Those of us in charge of school library automated circulation systems need to keep lending histories and overdue notices confidential.

And according to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, although “many young people recognize the risks associated with their online activities, they lack the knowledge and tools to mitigate those risks”. Privacy statements are difficult for students (and some educators) to read and understand. As well as teaching students media awareness, educators can complain to the Privacy Commission of Canada for increased legislation for privacy and other terms of use to be written in plain language. Or we can teach our students how to lodge effective complaints.

Working with other educators in a school, a teacher-librarian can help guide students to protect their personal information and online reputation to leave a positive digital footprint for a bright future.


One Response to Do you feel like somebody’s watching you?

  1. Your opening comments clearly and eloquently illustrate the lack of privacy in our digitally connected world. I also wonder about whether someone is reading emails that go through my First-Class account with the School District and try to follow Johnson’s sage advice for what I chose to share.

    I do have to say that my own digital natives are not as aware as your daughter and I am constantly sharing details about privacy and confidentiality to help them become more aware. Certainly this is information not taught in IT classes and so the role is left to TLs. Hmmm…maybe that’s why the government considers us expendable!


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