This is a last of five posts where I will talk about some technologies that may change how we live, work and play. They are personal opinions and I could very well be wrong. I mention them sometimes in conference presentations and workshops and wanted to describe my thinking more in this series of short posts.
The last technology (in this series) that I think will change how we live, work, play and learn is technology that will end privacy and at the moment I think that is social networking. I first talked about this in my Keynote to delegates at Edinburgh University on Digital Technology, Children and Young People in May 2010. Let me explain my thinking.
I don’t think privacy really exists any more. I know that in the UK we have laws that protect us against certain things but the reality of it is lots of people just give there data away and also data about other people as well. We just don't know we are doing - even though we have agreed to it when we 'tick' the small print.
I know that the Pew Internet Report suggests that young people are more concerned about privacy than ever before. But I don’t think the majority of young people in Scotland actually understand what we mean by privacy or on-line privacy (they are of course the same thing).
For example, if you asked an 11 year old if they were concerned about privacy, I think they would probably say, ‘yes’. If you asked them to define it, I think they might struggle? Of course I could be wrong – my only real research into this is personal observation and asking my 11 year old next door neighbor!
Lets take Facebook as an example. First of all we need to appreciate the amount of people that actually used this social networking site. In the UK at the time of writing its 44.4% of the population (or 58.12% of UK Internet users). If you don't think this is significant - think about the percentage of the population that voted at the last general election.
It doesn't matter if it is Facebook or the 'big' social networking site that comes next. The percentage of people using web and mobile based social networking will continue to increase as these services evolve over time.
One of the reasons for this is that for young people being part of a digital social network will become normal behavior (if it hasn’t already). This will probably continue to a point where you will actually be at a significant disadvantage if you are not part of a social networking space. The second reason is that most people now have the skills to access social networking spaces as the tools have become so easy to use and there is also a real purpose to do it for many people (eg: keeping in touch with your children and your grand children).
At the time of writing the UK the biggest growth of users of facebook in terms of demographic is the 45 - 54 age group and there are more female than male users of the site. – this is a figure that surprises some people.
You are meant to be 13 years old or over to use facebook but we know that there are many children a lot younger than this who use the social networking space. Those children who have not grown into Facebook yet often occupy and use other social spaces on the Internet. Many of these are virtual worlds such as Club Penguin, Mosi Monsters, Seapals, etc…
I’ll come back to virtual worlds in a separate post on Internet Safety and Responsible Use. But I think it is important that we acknowledge that many virtual worlds are also social networking spaces where information can be shared and given away. The diagram below shows just how many virtual world social networking spaces there are for young people. Did you know there were so many? Do you know which ones the children in your school inhabit?
Returning to Facebook. It is interesting to look at how Facebook default privacy setting have changed over time the diagram below shows 2005:
The next one is 2007:
The next one is 2009 (Dec):
And the final one is 2010 (April):
Here is the interesting thing. If you were an early adopter of Facebook your profile is probably quite secure as your privacy settings will not have changed very much unless you have purposely changed your profile to make it less private. Later Facebook adopters are more likely to have a less secure profile partly because later adopters could be less digitally literate and partly because most people just accept the default settings (and also don’t read the small print!).
The changes Facebook made to its defult privacy settings in April 2010 caused a massive backlash from Facebook users – who complained about privacy. As a result Facebook has now changed its privacy settings to make them more simplified.
This is fine but there are still a few problems with this in terms of children and young people. The first is that children still don’t understand the privacy settings because the language is not very accessible and the second thing is that it is not very ‘cool’ to make your profile private. This isn’t Facebooks fault (remember the site is for people aged 13 and over). We have a youth culture and education issue here and not a Facebook problem.
Now lets think of an example where a young person is using Facebook. They have their profile locked down so that it is not available on the public web. That’s great but quite often parts of their profile can still be accessed by people because they allow their ‘friends’ to access it.
The thing some people forget is that technology continues to change language.
Look at this picture below and think about what you see:
A lot of people (maybe not you) will see a ‘digital camera’ a 7 year old will see a ‘camera’.
It’s the same with 'friends'. A friend on a social networking space to a young person may not be someone they trust, know or have even met. A friend to many young people is just a connection. But if you are friends with that person, they can probably see your profile and access your photographs, favorites etc… The sames goes for friends of freinds.
In fact even if you are not a member of facebook there might be photographs of you on it. These photographs have been tagged by another person with your name and are now associated with your name and your picture and might be available on the public web (you have just become googleable…).
Photos are interesting because as soon as there is a photograph of you on the web then it is possible to look for ‘similar photographs’ and with every similar photograph there will be a bit more information to help build up your digital profile.
So what does this mean for schools and education?
First of all it means that the concept of teaching young people about digital footprints has to become a core part of our curriculum. But the only way that we are going to be able to do this is by making sure that teachers understand the concept of digital footprints and the impact that social networking technology will have on society (note i said will have - we won't be able to stop this).
Some people reading this post will think what I have suggested is scary and they will say, ‘that’s why I am not on facebook’. These could be some of the most dangerous people in the context of media literacy. If you are not on or have never been on facebook it is very unlikely that you will be able to educate young people about the possible risks of using technology. It is more likely that you will say, 'don't use it,' which young people will never do.
One thing is for sure. More and more people will continue to use technology like this and the people that don’t use it will become less and less. But, as more and more people sign up to the web to live, work and play - there becomes more and more data for other people to see, store, borrow and manipulate.
What do you think?