Merriam-Webster dictionary defines privacy as

the quality or state of being apart from company or observation and the freedom from unauthorized intrusion.

Looking at this meaning has got me questioning that in this day and age of digital technology and social media, is there really such a thing as privacy online? If you would have asked me this question before this week, my answer would be yes, of course you can have privacy online, you just need to be careful. And I think that many others may feel the same way. But, after some detailed research on this topic, I found that my perception of privacy was clearly perverted. Let me tell you why.

Social Networks

Let’s face it, all of us are on some kind of social network, whether it be the almighty Facebook, or one of the many others like Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, Snapchat, or Pinterest just to name a few.

Statistic: Most famous social network sites worldwide as of January 2018, ranked by number of active users (in millions) | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista

We all use them and share on them on a daily basis. We constantly make decisions about what we would like to share on them and what we would like to keep to ourselves. But, does that mean that all we want to keep private stays that way? Well, I guess we could all set our privacy settings to the highest restrictions possible, but in Why Online Privacy Matters and How to Protect Yours by Christopher Soghoian he states,

Privacy settings really only control the distribution of information through the platform. The privacy settings do not stop Facebook’s ability to collect and retain data, and they don’t stop Facebook’s ability to turn over your data to the government if the government asks for it. Separately, I think many people think that Facebook is only watching what they’re doing when they’re on Facebook. That is a huge misconception. Everywhere you see a Like button on the internet, Facebook is watching you. Think of the Like button, in many ways, as a pair of eyes.

That clearly shows to me how our ‘prvacy settings’ only give us a false sense of online privacy. Other than this, lets talk about our ‘friends.’ We can choose to share parts of our life with only certain ‘friends,’ but you still can never be certain that it will only stay with them. In a world that is so easy to ‘copy and paste,’ basically anything you post on there could be free game for another to copy without your permission. In regards to this, there are two solutions to keeping your privacy online; choose what you share wisely or just get off social media all together, and not many people want to do the latter.

So let’s say you do get off social media, would that even make a difference? Well here is some more food for thought…

Indeed, how many strangers have pictures of you that they have shared to their social media network? A little creepy to think about, but interesting none the less.

Phone Apps

Another thing we all have and use on a daily basis are our phones. We live in a day and age where we literally never go anywhere or do anything without them. On our phones we store everything from photos, notes, books, etc. and we use many apps to help us function throughout our day. But, do you know how much access you are giving all of those apps to your daily life? I was shocked to find out that many of the apps we use track our location without our knowledge.

I never really thought about this before, but now that I am aware, I am taking some steps to protect my privacy in this area.

Websites and Browsers

Every time we search something online using Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. a search history is saved and is shared with online advertisers. Why Online Privacy Matters and How to Protect Yours by Christopher Soghoian, also adresses this issue as well,

Google is the largest advertising company in the world. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that the web browser given away for free by the largest advertising company in the world is not going to protect you from other advertising companies, or companies including Google, online. Chrome facilitates that mass delivery of your personal data to every advertiser when you browse the web. You leave a trail of data behind you when you browse with Chrome.

These companies then find out our interests based on our searches and show us advertisements that match them. Invasion of our privacy? I think so. The really interesting part of this is that there is really nothing we can do about it. That is unless you want to go off grid altogether, and in reality none of us wants to, or can possibly do that.

Teaching Students About It

After looking into all of this information, I personally feel that online privacy is no longer existent in our world today. Even though I may not like it, that doesn’t change the reality of it. So what do we need to do? I think we need to be aware of all of this and make smart choices when it comes to our online presence, especially with social media.

ISTE Digital Citizenship standard 2d states,

Students manage their personal data to maintain digital privacy and security and are aware of data-collection technology used to track their navigation online.

Not only do we need to be aware of this as adults, but we need to teach our students about it so they can be knowledgable to make safe choices for themselves. Students have access to the internet and social networks at all ages whether that be from their own devices if they are older, or from their moms and dads as younger children. Through the use of classroom blogs, commenting, or classroom Twitter accounts, we can model and teach how to share appropriate posts that do not infringe on the privacy of our students. We have such an important job to do; we need to have real conversations with our students of all ages about how the web works, and teach them the important idea that nothing we do or share online is private.