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Data Privacy Day 2010 Celebrated January 28

By Martine Courant Rife, Lansing Community College, martinerife@gmail.com

Thursday January 28 marked the official date of “Data Privacy Day 2010,” a day which provides an opportunity to reflect with students how composing and/or utilizing the affordances of networked spaces not only provides unprecedented access to information, but also challenges the preservation of privacy about individuals’ data – data that can range from shopping habits to bank account information.  According to http://dataprivacyday2010.org/ , “Data Privacy Day is an international celebration of the dignity of the individual expressed through personal information.” Institutions and organizations around the globe join in the celebration in order to acknowledge the importance of maintaining some privacy in our use of technologies such as mobile phones, social networking sites, blogs, online banking, and the internet in general. Libraries, educational institutions, and various businesses sponsored and/or were involved in the celebration. For example, The Center for Internet & Society at Stanford University held a roundtable on the topic of “Money and Privacy,” where experts discussed the connections between privacy and company finances.

According to http://dataprivacyday2010.org/about/ , Data Privacy Day 2010 is organized through Privacy.org, “a nonprofit think tank and research organization dedicated to facilitating the role of consumer privacy and data protection.” A wealth of information about Privacy.org is available on its website, http://theprivacyprojects.org/. The organization conducts academic research as well as outreach and collaboration in order to find the balance and complexities in between our need for information and our need for privacy.

For writing teachers, Data Privacy Day may give us reason to pause and take time to reflect on the ways in which we might protect, and teach students to protect, their/our identities, histories, associations, and purchases, in and through digitally enhanced spaces. Along this line, I offer a sample activity that I am having beginning level college students engage in this week, in an online writing class on “Authorship in the Digital Age.” This Learning Module is an activity that offers a way to both increase students’ awareness of digital privacy issues, while also encouraging students to practice critical reading, writing, research and evaluation skills, as well as collaboration skills if they choose to work in a team. Here is the assignment:

Learning Module: Privacy Statements on the Web

Goal: To help you see how some of the issues raised in our readings and lectures might apply in real-world contexts. To help you understand how others might use your data. To help you think of ideas in the event you were to craft a privacy statement for your own or others' websites/spaces.

Teams: You may complete this assignment as a single person, or you can complete it in a team of up to three people. If you complete this as a team, please be sure to include all parties' names in the final document. If completed as a team, just post a single document.

Overview: For this module, I want you to explore privacy statements. Privacy statements or privacy terms are usually short statements made by companies or organizations, outlining their policies and approaches to maintaining or protecting the privacy of their users. Here are a few examples:

[In this area the teacher posts links to several company privacy statements]

Task #1: Review the privacy statements provided above. Get a sense of what they contain.

Task #2: Select a privacy statement from a company that interests you, or you can also use one of the privacy statements linked above. NOTE: Privacy statements are often hidden in the webpage - often several links in from the homepage, and often linked at the bottom of the webpage.

Task #3: Based on what you know so far, evaluate the privacy statement that you have selected. Since you do have points of comparison provided above, you might consider:

  1. Is the privacy statement easy to read and navigate?
  2. Is it easy to locate from the company's homepage? (I find these statements are often hidden, or linked in the lower right hand corner with very small fonts)
  3. Is the privacy statement helpful?
  4. Are there ambiguous statements in the privacy statement? Is there language that is unclear? Give examples.
  5. In your opinion, is the privacy statement well written? Why or why not?
  6. If you were going to recommend improvements, what would you suggest? Why?
  7. Based on your subjective opinion, and compared to what you know about privacy statements, do you find the privacy statement you are evaluating satisfactory? Why or why not?

Task #4: Write up your response and evaluation - try not to exceed 500 words, but provide at least 300 words. You can use any format, or set up your document any way you like as long as I can read it and it is any of these file formats: .doc/.docx/.rtf/.pdf. Be sure to attribute your source(s) - you can use MLA/APA or any other form of citation - all I'm looking for here is an effort to attribute - simple URLs are fine, for example.

Task #5: Upload your document as an attachment in this discussion board by the due date.

RUBRIC:

  1. Did the writer take a thoughtful approach to the assignment?
  2. Is the writing relatively free from errors?
  3. Is the writing well organized?
  4. Is the writing neat in its presentation?
  5. Did the writer follow the requirements of the assignment?
  6. Is the writer's discussion interesting and original?

For teachers working in traditional brick and mortar classrooms, students could work on this exercise together if computers are available. For those in classrooms without computers, teachers could print off sample corporate/social networking site privacy statements before class and students could evaluate the print versions.

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