DN Forum: ID & Privacy Roundup

Today, we at the Digital Natives project held our first Digital Natives Forum. With so many great people in attendance, the discussion was really thought provoking. Check out the video, soon to be posted on the Berkman site.

Andrea Flores and John Francis from Harvard Graduate School of Education’s GoodPlay project started off by presenting some initial findings from their research of young people and ethics online. They described the opportunities online tools give young people to explore their identities in new ways, and how these identities are tied to new norms and conceptions of privacy arising among the digital generation. Also, that young people tend to be concerned about privacy only if they perceive dire consequences to such a compromise.


Judith Donath
responded by pointing out the persistence of the ephemeral. Disclosures that young people make online now may not seem important – or to have dire consequences – but what happens twenty years from now?

With this, discussion got started.

We have the ability to track people’s past to an unprecedented degree, as young people traverse online territories, compiling their digital dossiers

So what do we do?

Spell (or draw) it out: Tools need to be better built, for sure, to help clue users in to just how visible one’s personal information is, how much information is being collected by various parties, how this information moves through space. Donath touched on an idea of exploring what it means to be photographed in public spaces: a hidden camera, vs. a subtle-yet-noticeable camera, vs. a very explicit camera. How might we behave differently in front of each one? How may we build social tools online and in digital space that may visibly reflect the privacy individuals compromise when they engage?

Educate, educate, educate! How do we instill ethics? How do we teach the importance of privacy, both protecting your own, and respecting others?

And finally, John Palfrey pushed things a bit further. Education is surely very important in this arena, to empower youth with the critical skills needed to navigate safely and ethically in the arena. And so are better tools, in order to display appropriate information for us to make good decisions, and to encourage thoughtful engagement with what it is we do when we share personal information online. But, is this enough?

No. Laws need to change. As it stands now, we as individuals have very little rights over our personal information. Once we tick the box of the Terms of Service, we very often give complete and total power to the platform to do what they will with everything we share through these services. John suggests that this needs to change: Individuals must have legal ownership and control over their data. Only then will we be able to both live digitally, and retain some control over our sense of privacy.

– Miriam Simun