On Saturday, October 18 I had the pleasure of attending The Association for Media Literacy conference on Surveillance, Social Media and Marketing. Kudos to Neil Anderson and Carol Arcus for bringing together an exceptional range of speakers. The keynote was provided by Ronald Diebert of Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto. He provided us with an overview of global surveillance in a post Snowden world. Citizen Lab works to figure out the secret world of cyberspace and its impact on human rights. It is Citizen Lab that figured out Netsweeper, a Canadian company, is helping Pakistan build its surveillance and internet censorship system. The irony of Canada hosting the company that helps a repressive government maintain power, while being at war with the extremists produced by that country was not lost.
A world where surveillance has been normalized is the new reality. We cannot stop it nor, many would argue, would it be wise to do so. What disturbs Diebert is that Canada’s federal surveillance system has no checks and balances. It is accountable to no one, other than a retired judge who oversees its work. Diebert is calling for a new social contract between government and citizens on surveillance, one that is transparent and provides checks and balances and ensures that the rights of Canadians are protected. Repressive regimes who are implementing surveillance and censorship using tools developed by western countries are also a key concern.
The one day conference delved into issues that have been sorely ignored during the past five years in our rush to embrace social media, apps and cloud-based tools in our personal and professional lives and that would perhaps never have been addressed had it not been for Snowden. Privacy and student digital rights were front and center as we came to realize just how much information is being collected. I did not fully understand that a secondary business of online anything is the selling of customer data and the scale at which that occurs. Many companies are making more money selling data than they are selling products. It’s a business model and there are benefits to participation.
If you’d like a demonstration of how much data you are inadvertently giving away, install ghostery in your web browser and watch what happens as you search. Ghostery is an attempt by the behaviour analytics industry to provide transparency and help consumers understand how analytics work and what kind of information is collected. It is never about Angry Birds – it’s about where you go with your device because of geolocation tracking on apps and what can be gleaned from that information and how that info connects you to others. It’s about harvesting your contacts and watching what you click on and scroll over. Citizens need to understand the language of analytics and what aggregate anonymized data means.
It appears that the wild west of data in education is about to grind to a halt, however. California has just Continue Reading
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