The Private Lives of the Not So Rich and Famous

March 29, 2010

Can we ever erase our digital footprint?

An issue that has come to the forefront regarding students and privacy is the reality that our digital footprint is permanent and can follow us for years. Why is this an issue? Apparently employers are researching prospective employees via Facebook and MySpace. Our youth are not getting the same opportunity we did, to experience life, live from their mistakes, and build a new future. Instead, students need to turn to sites like http://digitaltattoo.ubc.ca/work/ to learn how to protect their reputation in the workplace. As Dana Boyd mentions, students care about their privacy, but it is becoming increasingly more difficult to be private online.

Hartley (2008) attributes the rise of privacy issues to the, “Level of openness that has been put out there by the media and the popular culture.” I had never made the connection before between the relentless reality tv shows and young people’s comfort with disclosing personal information online. This theory, however, is contradicted in the following video, which shows what many teens are doing now to protect their privacy online.


Teens are aware of privacy issues and many are proactively taking steps to keep their private information safe. For example, teens post false information on their social networking sites, to, “Throw off the scent” for anyone who might be pursuing them.

Unfortunately, there are still students who are careless with their personal information online. As educators of 21st century learners, I feel it is our responsibility to help students become aware of privacy and online safety issues, as well as to guide students to build positive online presence. This cannot be achieved by limiting student access to the internet, or infringing on their rights to freedoms of speech. The following are some things we can do with our children to resolve, or at least bring awareness to, these issues.

• Have your students google their name. Then have them type their email address into http://www.pippl.com. This lets students know what information about them is available to the public.
• Flood the internet with content that reflects on you in a positive light (Wesley Fryer).
• “Talk to students about social register,” Ruth (March 19, 2010). Teens need to be reminded that although their online conversations are not intended for other adults, their words are usually accessible by the public.
This blogger gives the following tips to protect your privacy

In education, privacy is a touchy issue. There are so many shades of grey to consider. “It is important to remember that rights of privacy also have to co-exist with our rights of freedom of expression. Balancing these rights of expression is getting really tricky now that every individual can be their own publisher on the internet, and when cellphones have cameras and send pictures around the world at the drop of a click,”(COCA 2010).  
Taking on this enormous task of teaching students about digital citizenship, requires the support of the entire learning community. An Acceptable Use Policy in user friendly language (http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/brochures/elsec.html) that is developed by all involved parties with online safety and privacy in mind, is one way to support this movement to develop digital citizens. The new challenge for 21st century educators will be to teach students how to exercise their rights to freedom of expression in a way that is socially acceptable. Sounds like mission impossible. Sign me up!


1. Canada’s Office of Consumer Affairs. (2010). “A Summary of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act.” http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/oca-bc.nsf/eng/ca01460.html

2. Hartley, Matt. (2008).“Social Networking Comes with a Price.” The Globe and Mail: Technology. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/technology/article709699.ece

3. Litwin, Rory. (2006). “The Central Problem of Library 2.0: Privacy.” Library Juice. Blog. http://libraryjuicepress.com/blog/?p=68 accessed March 21, 2010.

4. Odell, Jolie (2009).”8 Things Every Geek Needs to do Before 2010” Read Write Web. http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/8_things_every_geek_needs_to_do_before_2010.php?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+readwriteweb+%28ReadWriteWeb%29&utm_content=Google+Reader

5. U.S. Department of Safety. http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/brochures/elsec.html


One comment

  1. Thanks, Natasha. That was a good idea to frame your post in terms of digital footprints and how our students’ digital footprints are important to discuss with them. Good work!

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