Privacy Comes with Agency

I recently read Danah Boyd’s book, It’s Complicated and was sparked to write about privacy, a topic I speak to faculty and students about regularly. For most of my life, invoking privacy meant keeping some ideas and information to myself and limiting the sharing of these thoughts with the people I chose. Ask a “technology native”, a term coined by Marc Prensky in 2001 and defined as a person who has grown up with technology as commonplace, and privacy has a very different meaning. 

Boyd frames the concept of privacy not around keeping aspects of our lives a secret but having agency to decide who sees what we share about our lives. This is an idea I keep in mind when advising faculty and students about privacy and the use of technology. It is our responsibility to let children know of the options they have for sharing their work, ideas, images, and life events. They can negotiate privacy if given the right tools and opportunities to practice. 

According to Susan McLean, author of “Sexts, Texts & Selfies: How to Keep your Children Safe in the Digital Space.” “Parents and children need to be reminded that they are never anonymous online and everyone has a digital footprint. Postings and comments can be found years later.” The more we can educate ourselves and our children about privacy options, the more they and we will respect and support each other’s privacy. Privacy will come to be understood and valued as a sort of commodity and a right.  

To enable children to control their privacy we might encourage them to use a pseudonym while online, support their choice to opt-out of sharing their academic work or creative property on a public site, or spend time discussing the potential consequences of a tweet or Instagram post that goes viral.  For teens who are active on social media sites, like Facebook, Instagram, and others, we can suggest tools of manipulation to protect the information they post. Students can learn how to determine and control who will see their posts, even when the given system of conveyance, for instance Facebook, is not designed for this. 

For educators, privacy is worth navigating with students, given the powerful and motivating effect of connecting children with authentic audiences for their academic and creative work. Creating something meant to be viewed by more than one person or persons who reflect back differing points of view can turn the results of effort into something transformative. Collaboration and feedback can be of great value to the artist, writer, philosopher, and innovator that exists in every child. 

Boyd states and I concur privacy is “a practice and a process, an idealized state of being, to be actively negotiated in an effort to have agency. Once we realize this, we can reimagine how to negotiate privacy in a networked world.” Let’s help our children better understand the worth and value of taking control of their privacy.