Photo Credit: MSH* via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: MSH* via Compfight cc

I need to start checking myself when this question comes up during presentations and trainings. At some point someone always asks about privacy. In many cases they don’t even know…..I think anyway…..that they are asking a privacy question. The questions usually are posed as:

“If I put something in Google Drive is it safe?”

“If I put something in Google Drive can anyone see it?”

“Is it secure?”

“Can someone hack in and get my stuff?”

I’m finding the more I’m asked questions like this, the harder time I’m having keeping my frustrations in check….to the point I had to apologize to teachers a few weeks ago for getting a little too passionate about the topic.

So here’s what I believe…it’s my belief so take it as that.

“If I put something in Google Drive is it safe?”

As safe as anything you are probably going to put on the Internet! This is a good graph that shows how secure Google is compared to other online storage sites.

Can someone hack in? Yep…..if they get your info they can get in…but people can also break into your house….and people do….I’d like to see research of house break-ins verses accounts hacked in the US…that would be a fun comparison. So you tell me what’s more secure….your images backed up to a site like Flickr.com or the external hard drive sitting next to your computer?

“If I put something in Google Drive can anyone see it?”

Well….no…not anyone……but yes…..Google can see it. Here’s the thing….by using their service you allow them to see your stuff. This goes for anything on the Internet, not just Google. Can your bank see how much money you have? Yes. Can your credit card track your spending? Yes.

Our Love Hate Relationship With Technology

Here’s the thing that I tell everyone at the end of the day:

You have to trust somebody!

Photo Credit: mueritz via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: mueritz via Compfight cc

You do…that’s it. Who you trust is personal but you have to trust someone and the issue right now is we don’t know who to trust. I trust my bank to keep my data safe. I trust Google to use my information wisely. I trust mint.com with all of my financial data. Now…you might not trust these places and that’s fine…..but you have to trust someone. Target is a perfect example. We all trusted Target with our credit card information until that trust was broken. Once that happened we all had a choice to make…..will I trust them again?

Some of us do….others of us don’t. No matter what you decide…..it’s a personal decision. Here’s the thing….if it’s not Target, then who do you trust? Where do you shop? Amazon.com, Walmart, Safeway, your local hardware store? You see….if you have a credit card….you trust someone with that stored information…..you just do….or you don’t have a credit card and you don’t….and that’s fine too. Most people do have a credit and/or debit card, so most people are making a choice to trust someone. I struggle then with those that say they’re worried about someone having their information. I feel like you have basically two options:

1. Come to terms with the fact that breaches of information (ie what happened with Target) are going to occur….welcome to the 21st Century


2. Get rid of your credit cards/debit cards, cell phones, and anything else digital.

I personally choose option one; I believe that companies are truly doing their best to keep information protected. Nobody wants to be in Target’s shoes. It’s not fun for anyone involved. Yes…every company should do everything in their power to keep your data safe…but will there be hacks? Yes…there will be. Just like their will be robberies and home invasions in real life too.

We Love/Hate Technology

We’re in a time period where we as a society are trying to figure out how much privacy we’re willing to give up. We benefit from giving up our privacy but it’s also a scary concept.

We love that when we do a Google search they know so much about us they give us exactly what we want…if they didn’t we wouldn’t use them.

We hate Google because they know so much about us that the adverts scrolling on the side are things we’ve searched for.

We love that we can go to Amazon.com and get recommendations of books, things to buy and things relevant to us.

We hate that they know our buying habits and it creeps us out a bit that they come up with exactly what we want.

We love Facebook and the connections it provides us and the specific information that pops up for us to peruse.

We hate that Facebook knows us so well the ads are tailored specifically for what we’re looking for.

We’re all in this love/hate relationship right now. Or you just hate it and you’re not reading this right now because you have chosen not to use the Internet!

Photo Credit: CBS_Fan via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: CBS_Fan via Compfight cc

It’s come out in the news again just how not sure we are if we like this or not as a society. Google and Microsoft read emails of child pornographers, turned them into the authorities and had them arrested. Now…we like this…we like that bad people were caught….but we’re a little freaked out that Google can…and might, read our emails.

We’re not sure if we like this. We love it when technology allows us to catch the bad guys……we just hate it when we realize that means they’ve been watching us too. Here’s the thing…we can’t have it both ways. We can’t say go catch the bad guys without giving up our privacy to make sure we’re not one of them. The other options is we catch less bad guys and protect our own privacy. Personally, I like the idea that more bad people are being caught and if that means I give up some of my privacy, I can live with that sacrifice.

Changing our default from private to public

This is what we’re struggling with. Perhaps my life experiences have helped me to make this mind shift more quickly than some. The idea that privacy looks very different these days than it did a short while ago. That doesn’t’ mean that privacy doesn’t exist…it does. It just means you start with public. Everything you do is public and you work backwards from there. That’s a mind shift from where we were even just 15 years ago. Where we all started thinking our lives were private and we got to decide how public they were. That’s not the case! The moment you signed up for Facebook, bought a cell phone, or signed into an email account…..you became public.

Public is the new default……now……how you stay safe being public is what we need to focus on. How do you do the best you can to lock the windows and the doors; share what you want with whom you want and be as safe as possible? That’s the question we need to be asking. It doesn’t mean someone can’t or won’t try to break in…there have always been bad guys and there will continue to be bad guys…but we do the best we can, we trust who we trust, to keep ourselves and our families safe.

Just returning from a full day of thinking and teaching starting with Saturday school and talking to some students who got in trouble for cyber bullying on Facebook. I love getting the opportunity to talk to students about their social world and continue to find it fascinating on their views of what they consider “their world”.

My wife, being the school counselor, had the job of teaching Saturday school today and together we came up with a plan that we hoped was A) Educational B) Not so fun….after all this is Saturday school.

I only had the opportunity to spend an hour with the students before I had to run off to teach the COETAIL grad course for teachers here at ISB.

I started the morning off by talking about privacy, having the students try and define it (harder than you might think) and then talk about what’s private on Facebook. Then helping them to understand that nothing is private on the Internet….nothing. I had them do some researching on the Internet and two students found sites that even talked about “How to hack a Facebook account and see peoples wall without being their friend.” (I refuse to link to the site). The students found that shocking, and the more we talked the more shocked they seemed to be. At the end of our little chat their assignment was to write either a blog post or a paper with at least three recent resources on either privacy on facebook or cyber bullying. Most students chose to write a paper as I think the idea of putting this on their blogs was a little…embarrassing….fair enough!

After I left, my wife took over and doing the counselor thing had them reflect even deeper about cyber bullying by putting them in small groups and reading some of the letters from this great book: Letters to a Bullied Girl . According to my wife their discussions about bullying were pretty deep and meaningful and many of them talked about how they had never thought about it before, but how easy it was to slip into being a bully on the Internet. They also took a look at the middle school Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) and had a conversation around what it meant and why some of the ideas in the AUP were there to begin with. The saddest part of the day for me looking back is why it it only our students who already got in trouble that are getting this message and are we doing enough to teach kids before they reach Saturday school? Something I’m taking with me Monday to work!

The real fascination for me came when I asked the students if they were friends with someone in real life could they not be friends with them on Facebook? You would have thought I was joking by the looks on their faces. Three students spoke up and all said the same thing….”No Way!” That there is a social obligation to be Facebook friends with someone if you are friends in real life and not “friending” them on Facebook would be the same as saying “we’re not friends”.

This is the lives of our students, a world where there is an obligation to be virtual friends with your real friends. An obligation to be on Facebook and be “cool” there as well. This is their social world, and middle schoolers are developmentally in a place that is all about fitting in, being social, and belonging. That’s what is important in their lives, not school, not their homework, but their social lives. As one middle school teacher I was talking to explained “No matter how engaging our lessons are we can not compete with their social lives, they are, at this age all about finding out who they are and belonging.”

At one point today, these students who were there to learn and reflect and were in trouble, were still caught chatting on Facebook in the background by my wife. Here are students, in trouble, writing papers on cyber bullying and still need? crave? want? that social connection.

There’s a part of me that feels sad for them….as I think back on my own Jr. High years and that sense of wanting to fit in, in being “normal” and how much more pressure must be on them in these virtual places that I for one never had to deal with. When I got home….I could relax, not think about it, but now there is this obligation that you’ll be on Facebook, that you’ll be social, even in your house…that’s a lot of pressure to “always be on” for a 13 year old…..honestly….one I’m glad I never had.

There is a social pressure within these students that I honestly do not thing any of us can understand. The more I watch, listen, and interact with students today the more I’m realizing this social pressure that is on them and wondering as an educational community how do we help them, when it is so foreign to all of us? How do we help them mange these connections, use them in powerful ways, and protect themselves and their friends all while allowing them to be social where they need to be? I’m struggling with this and I’m the one that’s suppose to have the answers for parents and teachers and schools on how to handle this. I’m just not sure that we as a society are ready to handle these new social norms that we really don’t understand and for many people are so scary, or foreign that it’s easy to pretend they don’t exist and say “I hate Facebook” then to approach it with an open mind and concept for what’s new.

Privacy, Safety, Bullying….it’s a whole new world out there that I’m trying hard to understand.