Private Eyes: They’re Watching You

Posted: April 9, 2014 in Course 2
Tags: , , , , , ,
Privacy visual note drawn on iPad by Nicki Hambleton

Privacy visual note drawn on iPad by Nicki Hambleton

I am British. I believe in good manners, politeness and respect for one another. As a Brit, it bothers me when people do not ask others permission to borrow or use something, or they do not think before they speak. This way of behaving is how I believe and hope that most decent people behave, so it amazes me that as soon as they are online all thoughts of manners go out of the window. Posting comments one would never say to their face, posting an image that doesn’t belong to them without asking permission from the owner and so on. So what should we be private with?

Who knows what about you?

A new initiative in the UK is proposing the use of data science to track parking, refuse collection and street lighting. This urban tracking in some households has create uproar and as an invasion of privacy. However the reasoning behind the tracking makes sense as work of a similar nature in Barcelona has shown. Sensors on refuse bins transmit how full they are and determine whether collection is needed and street lighting is monitored depending on the moon phase thus creating a “smarter city”. (Smart Cities: are you willing to trade privacy for efficiency? The Guardian April 4 2014)

Photo Credit: arcketipo via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: arcketipo via Compfight cc

Whilst improving efficiency of tax payers money is clearly an effective use of data collection, many people may not be happy for this to extend to their personal online data.

Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks via Compfight cc

Noddle, is a UK based credit agency (which only works within the UK or alternatively with a VPN). Just the other day, my husband logged onto the website to check for our credit rating as we had been out of the UK for 9 years and he thought it would be interesting to see how we are rated. Surprisingly he found not only our rating but information on our Mortgage payments for the last 5 years. It knew everything financially about us. Who has told them this? The bank? Without our knowledge – or was it? Had we checked the small print, the terms and conditions all those years ago?

What’s in the small print?

Apparently the biggest lie we frequently say is “I have read the terms and conditions”. Often they are cumbersomely long and complex so we trust the companies and click “Yes” or I agree” without really reading the small print and the details outlined.

According to Techcrunch: “a new project called TOS;DR wants to change that. The site aims to give more power to users by summarizing terms of service, flagging potential issues and rating apps on a scale from A (the best) to E (the worst). So far the only company with an E, the worst possible rating, is TwitPic, which reserves the rights to sell users’ photos to news agency without giving the photographer a cut.” (Tech Crunch- Putting an end to the biggest lie on the internet, 13/08/2012)

Who is tracking you?

Delving deeper into privacy, I wonder what and who is able to track me online, where and why. It is not necessarily something I had thought of before now and it worries me that this action is not as transparent or at least easily known as it should be. According to their description, Disconnect “lets you visualize and block the invisible sites that track your search and browsing history.”

Brian Kennish, an ex-Google and its founder says “The vast majority of users don’t even know that this stuff is going on, and certainly don’t know how their data is being used,” Kennish said, adding that he believes the best person to solve this problem would be someone who helped create it — someone like himself. “In a way, I feel like these tools had to come from an insider.” (Mashable: Let’s you control your data online. 17 April 2013)

Privacy is dead, long live Privacy

AVG brought out Privacy Fix  some time ago as discussed on Lifehacker in October 2012, and now Crowdcontrol for Facebook focuses attention on who sees users’ default posts. During the talk Privacy is Dead , “71% of people feel that “privacy is dead”. In today’s world of tracking, surveillance and digital footprints, it’s easy to understand why people may feel this way.” (AVG blog, March 10, 2014)

With the plethora of information, apps and guidance on Privacy online we really have no excuse for not being informed and vigilant.  According to Ann Mack,

“The issue is not whether online privacy is dead but rather how to enable people to control the digital information stream connected to their personal lives as needs and relationships evolve over time.”

Creative Commons

I have been aware and an advocate of sharing work appropriately for some time, having learnt from the Queen of sharing, Keri-Lee Beasley. She explains Creative Commons clearly on her blog, Tip of the Iceberg and says:

“I believe in the value of sharing. In education, sharing is crucially important. By using Creative Commons content, and licensing our content as Creative Commons, we show our students that we are willing to assist others, share what we create, and acknowledge the input of others.”

Learning from the guru, I have always tried to encourage students to produce and use their own content first, but when this is not possible to use Creative Commons images through Compfight or similar. But I am only one teacher with a few MS Art classes. Frequently I see posters for a production or students’ articles or homework with no reference to the source, let alone acknowledging the original creator. With so much shared and re-shared online it is often difficult and time consuming to find the original post or creator of the image. Students do not see the issue until you throw it back at them: “How would you feel if your work was reused and re-shared with no thanks to you?”

We owe it to our students, the future generation of bloggers, Twitterers and Facebook sharers to teach them well and help them in turn to be in control of their content online.

The Privacy Talk is the new Sex talk
Photo Credit: GSCSNJ via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: GSCSNJ via Compfight cc

It seems today that the “talk” parents need to have with their children is now not about sex it is about privacy, and much earlier than any other heart-to-heart discussions. Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen discuss this change in necessary parenting on and about the permanence of data online. Most youngsters do not see the potential damage their comments and image posts can do and the sensitivity of what they write might have on their future. It is our duty as educators and parents to talk to our students and children about the issues they are faced with and the decisions they must make when operating online. It seems to me to be the same old message just reframed for today’s society.


I am all for transparency as I mentioned at the end of my last post referring to The Circle but everyone deserves the right to have a social life, online or other. Professors at University or potential employers should not judge someone by their online photographs having a good time, a drink or at a party.
Now I do not condone posting photos doing dangerous or illegal things online, not at all, such as the cinnamon craze, humiliation, aggression or graffiti but I think every law abiding citizen is allowed to go out to a bar or a party and have fun. I was surprised to read in The Telegraph how dons at Oxford University had accessed students’ Facebook accounts to snoop on their photographs of after-exam celebrations. Wrong-doers were summoned and fined accordingly. I do believe anyone who has committed a crime should be punished according to the law but by appropriate methods, CCTV cameras or by witnesses but I feel judging someone by their potentially harmless revelling images online may well be where the line has been crossed.
I intend to share some of these wisdoms with my students and with my own kids to check they understand the pitfalls of posting online, privacy and what the small print says.

As a simple beginners guide, The Guardian advises us on 8 ways to protect your privacy online: Use a password manager, disable GPS and WiFi when not in use, read access privileges, guard your date of birth and phone number, make yourself difficult to find on social media, keep work and personal presences separate, encrypt your connections and work collaboratively for action on privacy. (The Guardian: 8 ways to protect your privacy online, December 3, 2013)

Photo Credit: Yuri Yu. Samoilov via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Yuri Yu. Samoilov via Compfight cc

What do we know about data protection? How do we find out what information is held about us?

What advice would you give to your students, what examples might help them to see the repercussions of their online activity? Do you have a simple step by step guideline or Infographic to help them?

In a world not that different to George Orwell’s 1984 it may not be Big Brother watching you but a whole load of other eyes!

Further reading on wired: Privacy is Dead and Internet Privacy and Security a shared responsibility

  1. Jamie McQueen says:

    Nicki…another great post. Thank you for your images, too, as I’m a visual person yet I struggle to communicate with visuals. You’re motivating.
    I think we’re in a difficult place here with ours and our students’ digital traces (I’m tiring of the footprint metaphor) where we want them to go out and explore yet we remind them to think about the decisions that they make. The thought came to me…are we being over-protective helicopter (perhaps drone is a more 21st century term) adults/teachers/parents? When kids were making their own footprints (used accurately) through the woods, didn’t we know they would come back with cuts, scrapes, and scars? I might sound naive by asking this, but has growing up, and creating perceptions and reputations changed that much with Facebook photos, etc? (Jeff might give me an “F” for asking this).
    I like the “Privacy Talk is the New Sex Talk” simply because it reminds adults/parents/teachers that perhaps we should have this chat, and also abstinence doesn’t work in reducing digital traces.

    • Nicki Hambleton says:

      Thank you so much Jamie, I really like doing them despite the time they take! Thinking as an ex-Graphic designer (Can you even be an ex designer?!) I think visually from the out start so it helps to have this frame in mind and then I try to match the information to i. Filtering out the superfluous is the hardest part and working out if it communicating it well enough.
      I agree that some mistakes are best made and learnt from and I am sure there is a quote running around Instagram or FB about just that! But I guess all our mistakes are just in our memories rather than retrievable to anyone else – maybe that is the big difference and the fact that these days online mistakes are not erasable (or just forgotten). It reminds me of an amazing British series called Black Mirror which you must watch! One episode, “The Entire history of You” centres around being able to rewind and review your past – weird but very watchable! Let me know what you think!

  2. C R D says:

    Enjoy the comprehensive review of privacy that you examine with your post. One aspect that I noticed you didn’t touch upon was surveillance, which as an American I find overwhelming in the U.K. While my British friends were completely comfortable with it, the number of public surveillance cameras was shocking to me. I remember pointing out four cameras to a Canadian colleague on a small quaint street in Plymouth and she, too, was flabbergasted. Then she started noticing them everywhere! I realize its only a short matter of time before this is the reality in the U.S. as well (as the Boston Marathon bombing investigation demonstrated), but its just another aspect of being “watched” in public, private, and personal space.

    • Nicki Hambleton says:

      Hi there,
      Thank you for taking the time to read my post! I agree surveillance was on my list when planning the post but there were so many aspects to talk about that were relevant that it was hard to know what to include and what not! I agree that in todays society they are a way of life and often a great assistance in tracking offences or missing people, crimes and so forth. I think I mentioned them as par of the Oxford student story as I believe that would have singled out any perpetrators rather than spying online but at the end of the day I guess it is much the same thing.
      I do think that the more we are “observed” the more we may be aware of our actions and possibly think twice about them – in true Circle style.

  3. Vivian says:

    I am not wiling to say that Privacy is dead. As Edward Snowden said, “Rights are important as you might want to use them one day…” So, I don’t want to be one of those people who throw up their hands and just give up on the notion. It’s a slippery slope. With all this surveillance, are we really “free”?

    All those “free” websites that invite us to post on them (Facebook, G+ etc. etc.) are taking our content and making it a commodity and selling it. When I look at it that way, I make a conscious decision over everything I share whether I am willing for it to some big company’s commodity.

    I know there are things that are beyond my control in regards to my data. So, for the things that are in my control, I exercise discretion and I am conservative.

    Edward Snowden give us the responsibility as the public to keep our governments accountable and to make sure they keep the big companies accountable. So, I would say that the issue of Privacy is more alive and kicking, than ever before—because of Snowden and because of the Heart Bleed disaster.

    Thanks for your great post. Love your graphic too!

    I think I might turn my comment here into a blogpost of my own. 😀


  4. Colleen James says:

    Like you, I wondered exactly who is watching me as a user of the Internet, but I didn’t take the extra step to research what to do about it! I really enjoyed the video clips you embedded that discuss ways can protect our privacy by using things such as programs that track who is accessing our information and can block them, programs that summarize the “fine print” fine print, or services that help us manage our privacy settings within our personal network. It is encouraging that privacy is not a thing of the past as long as we are willing to do some work to build the walls and keep ourselves safe. I certainly think we have the responsibility of educating our students about how to protect themselves as well, but even further, I’ve found that many parents of my students who are digital immigrants need the same sort of education as they just don’t know how to have this conversation with their kids or to provide this support at home because they need to be reinforcing the positive behaviors when it comes to internet use. In short, they need the digital “sex talk” too! One step at a time, I suppose! Anyway, thanks for a very informative post! I know what my next steps in privacy protection will be…after I finish the rest of the work for this course!

    • Nicki Hambleton says:

      So true, and thanks for reading and taking the time to comment! I am sure there is a huge need to educate adults and parents in Privacy and it will be something I will mention to our Digital Literacy Coaches when they are planning the parent workshops next year. It is great to think of adults learning from their children and how we can help them to do this.

      • Vivian says:

        Hi Nicki

        I’m so grateful to Coetail for teaching me about privacy, copyright, and Digital Citizenship. How would I have learned, otherwise? There is just too much on the internet about it all that it’s overwhelming.

        I’m sure the parents will appreciate this, for them, too. These are lessons that will be exercised and called-upon for the rest of our lives.

      • Nicki Hambleton says:

        So true Vivian, I have so much to share next year in my new role as Head of Grade. With all our connections and resources shared through COETAIL we have no excuse not to educate our students to be better citizens online.

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