The privilege of privacy.


The first day of #oer18 is over and one of the many talking points has been around open vs private. In the wake of the Facebook data scandal and with technologists in Europe looking at compliance with GDPR there is much to consider if you are using open channels such as social media in teaching. One of our Virtually Connecting sessions shared thoughts around privacy, transparency and data management. Reflecting on this tonight, what seemed to me to be the most salient point was around ownership of online spaces. Doug Belshaw gave the example of how Audrey Watters controls her blog, preventing trolls from posting malicious comments – her space, her rules. Of course this is true of physical spaces too. A property owner may forbid certain activities on their property, that is perhaps reasonable. I wonder though what the internet would look like if each individual who owed virtual real estate allowed “read only” access? Again, there are real life examples in some of our cities. Spaces where measures are taken to stop rough sleeping or even sitting if the owners feel such activity is detrimental to the ethos of their space.

This evening is a lovely sunny spring evening in Bristol. I took as stroll across college green where, as tradition has it, students and passers-by sit on the grass or play ball, sharing this small expanse of grass sheltered from the buses and city traffic. There you see community in action. You see a diverse population with a shared human appreciation of the end of winter, laughing and having fun. Such are the participatory online spaces where memes and tropes are enjoyed. I have experienced (and continue to experience) such online spaces (for me twitter would be one) but others may have different experiences. Just as the conditions in a physical space can feel quite different at different times of day, with different inhabitants, so too the online channels can be darkened by something more menacing and unacceptable.

For me this is not so much about privacy as about agreed codes of behaviour. In civil society such codes are reinforced by lawmakers and the police. Online, we need to be unafraid about denouncing the unacceptable and modelling the acceptable. If a company who owns an online space is reckless or exploitative of its users for its own profit then we are right to call that out. If business models are built on a lack of transparency we must help each other to see that. It is important that we all ask more critical questions and keep our eyes open. Vital too that we look out for each other, especially those who may be vulnerable in such spaces.

When open is approached ethically it brings out the best of all that is human – empowering individuals to do great things, exposing the fake, informing our societies for public good. These sessions show just how useful open data can be for example. So let’s push back against the simplistic binaries that so often dominate discourse, let’s take a more nuanced look at behaviour online and push for sensible regulation that will protect us from the unpleasant yet not staunch the creative participatory open web which has so much to offer.






Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s