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Do you know where your personal information is?

It’s time to take charge of our digital identity

By Christopher Harris — School Library Journal, 01/01/2010

It’s 2010. Do you know where your personal information is? Unless you rang in the New Year from some off-the-grid cave, much of your digital identity is out there floating freely around the Net. Going online requires a careful balancing act, in which users must weigh both privacy and participation, caution and convenience. Luckily, there are tools to help you.

The first step is gaining some understanding of privacy issues in the digital age. Sure, there’s a lot of fearmongering, but at the same time, don’t be naive about the realities of living a connected lifestyle. Your mobile phone, for instance, has GPS location services that track your every move. Sprint received more than eight million requests for location information from law enforcement in a year, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. EFF has joined a lawsuit against the government in an effort to gain more information about how social networking data is being used. One major concern is the different level of protection enjoyed by a physical diary one keeps in a bedroom versus an online journal maintained on a blog or social network profile.

To help inform the public about digital privacy, the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom has launched a new Web site, Proudly declaring “I am not an open book” on its front page, the new site offers privacy-related news, as well as related tips and tools for libraries and patrons. The site is still evolving, but, already has a great selection of videos and content from “privacy allies,” such as author and blogger Cory Doctorow and the Freedom to Read Foundation. Then there’s Choose Privacy Week (May 2–8, 2010)—take advantage of the planning tools on PrivacyRevolution and get involved.

You can also take responsibility for your digital identity on a more personal level. As online citizens begin to demand more control of their privacy, technology companies are responding. Google recently announced a new service called Dashboard. The tool displays all of your personal information that Google holds across its many applications. So from one site, I can easily manage my two Google calendars, 13 profile entries, 387 contacts, and 10,238 email conversations. While the new service is a solid step forward, even more important is Google’s assertion that when you delete something from its services, the content is, in fact, gone (to the extent that something can generally be considered deleted; forensic analysis of a hard drive will reveal traces of data).

So how do we make 2010 the year we take back our privacy? An essential step—and our biggest challenge—will be education. We have to find the right tone for discussing privacy with students. Lecture too severely and we risk alienating a population that we know is going to be online anyway. Engendering fear won’t work either; yet students must understand the consequences of poor digital choices.

From social network profiles that share too much information to the moe potential for harm posed by sexting, privacy is the next frontier of our explorations online.

Author Information

Christopher Harris ( is coordinator of the school library system of the Genesee Valley (NY) BOCES.


Filed under: Online safety Tips,

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