We should not have to give up the cool new tools of the future in order to protect our information.
As a global citizen, parent, and educator, I have learned so much from following the work of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. They are:
[T]he leading nonprofit organization defending civil liberties in the digital world. Founded in 1990, EFF champions user privacy, free expression, and innovation through impact litigation, policy analysis, grassroots activism, and technology development. We work to ensure that rights and freedoms are enhanced and protected as our use of technology grows. (from eff.org)
It was with great enthusiasm that I got a chance to ask them a few questions about the importance of deeply considering online security, privacy, and terms of service in our increasingly cloud-based world of education.
Is it important for school-aged students to learn, and be critical of, online security, privacy, and terms of service from our most well known social media sites? If so, what should they learn about?
What might the implications be of students using school-sponsored social media tools for learning (such as those provided by Google Apps) without fully reading or understanding terms of service?
Students and their parents should be vigilant about this. Some important questions to ask are: Who has access to the information? Where is it stored? Is that safe and secure? When is the information shared? How long is it stored? When is it deleted? What information is it combined with? Honestly, I wouldn’t put too much stock in reading the terms of service. These are written by people who are skilled in making them hard to read and understand. And even the plain facts of things (say, something like “we won’t connect your information to your name”) can mislead (if they are connecting the information to your social security number, or your home address, for example). And the science of how data can identify you can lead you astray here. For example, say they are just collecting your zipcode, your age, your gender, and the classes you are taking — that could easily be personally identifiable if they are all collected and used together.
What should we be think about when large or small tech companies get involved in providing free digital accounts and services to education?
The big questions are: How are these companies making money? Are they using or selling the data they collect? Even if they say they are using the data in ways that are not personally identifiable, what does that mean? How do they protect from abuse from their own employees? Or from the companies they work with? What security procedures are in place? There are a lot of important questions here.
We now know that our private information and communications in online spaces is not really private. In what ways, if any, is this problematic for democracy?
It’s extremely problematic for democracy. One great example of this has to do with NSA spying and the Edward Snowden revelations. It’s a case we have here at EFF, First Unitarian v. NSA. You can find the full description here. EFF represents nearly two dozen organizations in this case that are worried about their First Amendment right to freedom of association.
For example, one of our clients here is a pro-gun group in California. Since the Snowden disclosures about the extend of NSA spying, this group has found it gets fewer calls to its hotline that helps explain gun laws. You can see why widespread collection of phone records by the government could discourage people from calling that number. And have you ever hesitated before putting a search term into Google, worried about what people might think? This is what we call a “chilling effect.” You might have a perfectly reasonable reason to search for information on a poison — maybe you just read about it a novel and want to make sure the author got it right. But if you think that your web search is being collected, then you might not do that search. That’s bad for everyone.
Thanks so much for lending your expertise on this matter today. I have been a huge fan and supporter of the EFF’s mission and work, and look forward to all the other great stuff coming out of your organization.