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Friday, October 16, 2009

Privacy on the social Web: Varying views

Our kids - the people who've never known life without the Internet - do think about their online privacy, and social technologies are actually giving them "greater control over their information," writes Heather West at the Center for Democracy and Technology in a Wired blog. She makes an important point about privacy in the new media environment that I think those of us who grew up in the mass-media era need to think about: We think of privacy in a binary way, as "the ability to conceal information from others" – public or private. Period. Internet natives think of privacy as the ability to control how they share information, and to do so in a nuanced way.

West cites two studies showing this, then writes, more anecdotally (and interestingly): "Gone are the days where my friends could see everything I posted on my Facebook page. Now, I am given the opportunity to choose not only what content is public, but who has access to that content. This includes privacy control for photo albums, status updates, and personal information. Truth be told, I am much less comfortable with social sites that do not give me this level of freedom."

[In this context, it's probably worth mentioning the finding that – despite all the online-safety warnings not to share personal info online – "sharing personal information, either by posting or actively sending it to someone online, is not by itself significantly associated with increased odds of online interpersonal victimization," published in the February 2007 issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. Rather, the researchers found, it's aggressive behavior online that significantly increases risk.]

Privacy in 6 social sitess

In other important privacy news, Canada's Office of the Privacy Commissioner recently unveiled a study that looks into privacy protections in six social network sites: Facebook, Hi5, LinkedIn, LiveJournal, MySpace, and Skyrock.

"These sites were selected based on popularity, but also to facilitate the efficacy of the final product by providing an appropriate breadth and diversity to the analysis," the report said. Aimed at user education more than industry regulation, it does a "comparative analysis" in each of these categories: registration information (e.g., here), real identities vs. pseudonyms, privacy controls, photo tagging, accessibility of user info to others, advertising, data retention, account deletion, third-party applications, and collection of non-user personal information.

The report refers often to the March '08 "Report and Guidance on Privacy in Social Network Services – Rome Memorandum," building on the work of the International Working Group on Data Protection in Telecommunications (see this PDF file) spearheaded by data-protection commissioners in a number of countries.

Related links

  • A fascinating project at MIT bears out how the societal discussion about privacy needs to get more granular and social-media specific. "Project Gaydar" found that "who we are can be revealed by, and even defined by, who our friends are.... The ability to connect with other people who have something in common is part of the power of social networks, but also a possible pitfall. If our friends reveal who we are, that challenges a conception of privacy built on the notion that there are things we tell, and things we don’t," the Boston Globe reports. There's a lot in the article, too, about the state of research being done in social network sites.
  • A view from another generation - that of Andrea DiMaio in the Gartner Blog Network. Note the interesting comment below it about how, "in a world awash in information," as it is now, "a paradoxical effect is that many people know far less than they did before."
  • The Pew/Internet Project's December 2007 teen-online-privacy findings (the latest available).

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  • Thursday, October 15, 2009

    1 billion videos viewed (a day)

    That's what co-founder and CEO Chad Hurley said as he marked the third anniversary of YouTube's acquisition by Google, the San Jose Mercury News reports. He added that YouTube is seeing more demand for longer format videos, meaning movies and TV shows. "In August, for example, YouTube said it would add clips from Time Warner programming such as 'Gossip Girl' and 'The Ellen DeGeneres Show'. The deal allowed Time Warner to set up individual channels and sell ads to accompany the clips, with YouTube taking a share of the revenue." But just as important as figuring out the revenue stream, I think, is the need for this giant, unwieldy, all-thing-to-all-users site to figure out how to foster more of a sense of community (or communities) which adds a measure of security and well-being and protects both the community and its users from abuse as users feel they're stakeholders in community well-being. Call it inside-out online safety.

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    UK teachers union chief: Un-ban cellphones in school

    The head of Britain's largest head teachers' union said it's time to rethink the banning of cellphones at school. "Schools should be harnessing the fantastic educational opportunity children carry around in their pockets, instead of banning the phones with their cameras, voice recorders and internet access," The Guardian cites Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, as saying. As in the US, schools in the UK cite the potential abuses of the technology – and the need to protect children from them – as the reason for the mobile-phone ban most of them impose. However, educational technology consultant David Whyley told The Guardian that, "in schools where children were provided with handheld computers with phone and Internet access to use in lessons, teachers have reported very little misuse. His program, Learning2Go, has been in place for five years at 18 primary and secondary schools in Wolverhampton, the paper adds. See also "From 'digital disconnect' to mobile learning."

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    Fledgling star reporters in kids' virtual worlds

    The people who help protect kids in virtual worlds have noticed an interesting trend: More and more kids are posting news, cheats (workarounds), and pictures from their favorite online worlds and games in their own blogs. "Essentially, the kids act as reporters for the virtual world by taking screenshots of parties and events in addition to reporting on various issues," writes Chase Straight in the blog of Metaverse Mod Squad, a virtual-world moderation company. It adds that these young bloggers – who are, in effect, co-creators or -producers of these worlds – are also skilled in creating and posting videos from in-world (or "machinima"), including music videos and tutorials or how-to's for in-world activity. "Some kid bloggers have developed such a large following that emerging virtual world sites have entered into financial partnerships with them in order to reach their fanbase. Their star power and celebrity status have inspired other children to create blogs of their own, hoping to attract the same level of readership." [See also "Top 8 workarounds of kid virtual-world users" and our "Undercover Mom" series by NFN contributor Sharon Duke Estroff.]

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    Wednesday, October 14, 2009

    UK online youth study on 'hybrid lives': Not

    A new survey that 75% of 16-to-24-year-old Britons "couldn't live" without the Internet, the BBC reports. Published by the nonprofit organization YouthNet and presented in Parliament today, it also found that 80% of respondents use the Web to seek advice. "About one-third added that they felt no need to talk to a person face to face about their problems because of the resources available online," according to the BBC, and "76% of the survey group thought the Internet was a safe place 'as long as you know what you're doing'." The BBC cited the view of Open University psychologist Graham Brown that those who do know what they're doing are generally those who grew up with the Net." The reporters covering the story at both the BBC and the Daily Mail indicate they hadn't heard the term "digital natives" before, suggesting that the study's author, Professor Michael Hulme of Lancaster University, coined it, instead of author Marc Prensky, who first used the phrase in 2001. But what really troubles me is a characterization of youth that the Daily Mail attributed to the YouthNet report: that they're leading "hybrid lives," which suggests two separate, very different lives online and offline. Anyone with a young Facebook user at their house or who follows the growing bodies of both social-media and online-risk research knows that's not the case, except possibly for some at-risk youth engaged in anti-social behavior. For the vast majority of children and teens, online socializing is a reflection of what's going on in the rest of their lives. I hope that's what they heard in Parliament.

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    Tuesday, October 13, 2009

    Studying with social media

    A pediatrician who follows social-media research! How cool is that?! Concerning the effects on young people of large amounts of time in and multitasking with digital media, parent Perri Klass, M.D., cites researchers as saying that, basically, the jury's still out. She refers to pediatrics professor Dimitri Christakis at the University of Washington saying that young people may have some advantages in the new-media space because they're coming of age in it. "So I decided to test my digital-immigrant biases," Klass writes in the New York Times, "which tell me that no one can study effectively while watching, listening, surfing, messaging, against my professional experience, which tells me that medical students who don’t study effectively can’t learn the huge and complex body of material they have to master, and will therefore not pass their frequent tests." She asked her medical-student son and classmates about their study habits. Definitely read the piece to find out what she learned – and there's some great advice, too, from a psychologist she talked to, for parents worried about their kids' "terrible" study habits. Because we all, as a society, have so much to learn about the effects of growing up online, I wish all pediatricians could be as informed and open-minded about social media. They could help parents calmly apply the good parenting sense they already have and stay a little open-minded too. That, in turn, will keep parent-child communication lines open, one of the best Internet protections around. [And BTW, there are some things we do know from the research, at least about informal learning in social media (we put those in "Online Safety 3.0."]

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    Monday, October 12, 2009

    Media literacy of UK youth: Study

    Nearly a third (32%) of British 12-to-15-year-olds think Web search engines rank and display sites by "truthfulness," The Telegraph reports, citing UK regulator Ofcom's 2009 interim Children's Media Literacy report. It adds that "philosophers will note that the finding raises interesting moral and epistemological questions about what the children thought would happen if they searched for 'god exists' or 'abortion is wrong'." I doubt the figures would be much different on this side of the Pond, and it does appear kids, parents, and educators have their work cut out for them where media literacy's concerned. In other findings in the 46-page report, the Telegraph points to "a small but cynical minority" (14%) of survey respondents think the Web sites with top rankings "paid to be at the top of the list"; "the large majority of parents said they trust their children to use the Internet safely – especially boys between 12 and 15" (87%) ... however, almost half" use filtering software in the home; 69% of teen respondents restrict access to their social-network profiles, up from 59% last year; and "in general parents are more concerned about the effect of the Internet on their children than they are about mobile phones, television, computer games, or radio." And this is just the traditional kind of media literacy – about what's read, downloaded, and consumed. Now we need to know more about what kids are thinking about what they post, upload, and produce!

    Also have a look at my proposed definition of "digital literacy and citizenship"; and here's The Register's coverage of the Ofcom report.

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