Who is striking it rich or who is running on empty?


Creative Commons Gerd Leonhard

Is Data the new oil? If so who is striking it rich or who is running on empty? Is the power with the consumer or the companies? Is privacy therefore possible or impossible? 

In the real world privacy feels like a choice. Even every day scenarios such as buying food at the shops or speaking to a friend in public we can choose to keep our privacy. You do not feel as if someone is analysing your every word or thought. Privacy is the norm. But is it private online? 

Does anyone really care about my location, my purchases or what photos I like?  

Well the answer is Yes, this is the beginning of drilling down to strike it rich. Websites and Apps depend on knowing as much as they can about us. WhatsApp was bought by Facebook for 19 billion in 2014.  If businesses know their customers connections and preferences then they can use it to improve their advertising and sell this information to other companies.

So unlike real life privacy, online privacy is abnormal. There really is no where to hide because, browsers, Websites, and Apps depend on tracking and remembering information about us.  In most cases we are just one of many millions of users and our data is used as a group and not individually. But the fact remains that whatever we do online is documented somewhere.

Creative Commons Thierry Gregorius

So why are we still happy to give our data online to browsers, websites and apps? 

The Privacy Paradox suggests people will allow access to personal data if they get clear benefits in return. That means seat upgrades, fluffy pillows, and fraud protection, not a general feeling that their country might be more secure. So we say that we want privacy online, but our actions say otherwise.

How many of us read the fine print of the privacy on Facebook? Do you look at the privacy policy on the websites that you visit?

I know I don’t. And it’s perhaps not really surprising that we don’t. After all privacy policies generally go unread, and for good reason. One study estimated it would take Americans 54 billion hours annually to read the privacy policy of each new website they visit. But we need to stay vigilant because “If you are not one of those people who read the fine print when agreeing to terms of service contracts, you should be aware that what you post publically could come back in the future to haunt you privately and professionally.”

How many of us change the settings on browsers for increased privacy? Incognito, Private browsing?

Well I wouldn’t bother because “despite the illusion, there is no real privacy in the private browsing mode across all browsers, with hidden tracker codes following your online footprints“. Although Firefox have just released a new browser without any online trackers. Even if you use privacy settings and you are very careful about what you post online there are probably several pictures of you floating around the internet.

How does this affect children?

Do children have a choice when you post on social media? Would you want your child to share with their friends photos of you waking up with bad hair? Being in a bad mood? Wearing a silly costume? The good news is that Facebook are doing something to help. Last week, Facebook revealed a program it’s developing to warn parents if they are about to share photos of children publicly instead of just with friends. A great move from a data heavyweight. However data firms sometimes simply get it wrong. Microsoft 10 allowed parents to see what their children were getting up to online, this is against the UN convention which stipulates that children have a right to privacy and a right to information. 

How does this affect education? 

I don’t want to live in a world where there’s no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity.” Edward Snowden

Publishing work is great, it means children can share their ideas and thoughts with a wider audience. They can get real life and real time feedback.  As educators we can encourage children to consider their privacy.  A child could use an app such as Doceri to create a voice over discuss an image of their work.  When photographing a child’s image to publish online we could use the back of their head rather than the face where appropriate. These methods would protect a child’s privacy. If we are asking for students to respect the wishes of others when posting information/photos online, it’s important that we model that as adults.

Part of being happy online involves sharing some personal information but before you share too much think about the different options that you have and how the information that you are giving out will effect you in the future.

Privacy Matters whether you are striking it rich or running on empty. 

6 thoughts on “Who is striking it rich or who is running on empty?

  1. Data certainly is the new oil. It may even be the new currency. After reading your post and watching the TED talk I was left with a few questions; one’s that will most likely go unanswered for many years. One question is this: with the dangers that facial-recognition, data collection, and consumer profiling pose, will there be a pendulum shift in how much we share? Do you think that there will be a privacy boom, whereby nobody shares for fear that it will be used to profile them? Do you think that we, as a society, will continue to share and foster within children the notion of sharing personal data while turning a blind eye to how this data is being used? As you have already mentioned, “people will allow access to personal data if they get clear benefits in return”. So, does this mean that companies, governments, and whomever else is collects this personal data merely need to “sweeten” the pot in order to attain the information they desire? I certainly don’t have the answers, nor does anyone really. This makes it even more relevant to be vigilant and prudent in what we post online.


    1. Hi Julian,
      Thanks for the comment. I think the questions that you pose are interesting ones. It made me think of an advert that a colleague shared with me about these issues. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=F7pYHN9iC9I
      I believe that as educators it is really important that we educate children at an early age in how to be a responsible digital citizen. To do that we must teach them to be proactive not reactive when online. I think through careful modelling our role as educators is to show them how to use their time online responsibly. Children must think about what they are sharing to the wider world. But to use the Internet to its full potential children must share opinions, learn from others,connect and collaborate.
      You talk about companies, governments etc sweetening the deal with holding data but how often do we hear about positive news stories, regarding big data for instance – about a person being upgraded for a flight because of personal data? Thanks again for your though provoking comments,


  2. Hi Joel,
    I love the way you organised this post. It is so clear and the resources are so useful to me.
    Funnily enough, we do have a parent at our school who does read all of the fineprint when he signs up for things like google. He is a great resource for me, because he points out why we shouldn’t be using anything that isn’t private almost everytime I introduce a new initiative.

    The thing about tracking data that worries me the most is when search engines modify their results based on your usual searches. It scares me from an educational standpoint because, kids are growing and experimenting and searching for all types of things. So, when they start to search for something more serious for school or university work, they aren’t presented with the same front page choices. I don’t like that. It could result in varying access to information based on gender, interests or the school they attended.
    Aside from being absolutely sure we teach kids effective research strategies, I think we also need to make them aware of how search engines modify results based on past searches.



    1. Thanks Tanya,
      I think you have a greta point about search engines changing potentially what people see, based upon their digital footprint. I suppose what some people are doing to help this, is keeping school/work and personal profiles – e.g on chrome have a profile for work, a profile for school/work etc. More and more browsers are offering “private” browsing. But does it really allow you to browse without being traced? Google contributor or the firefox browser for instance may change things. It is amazing to think how much information these big data companies have on us all.
      Thanks for the comments,
      Cheers, Joel


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