Protecting Your Digital Data Privacy

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on May 6, 2017

PrivacyRecently, I went to a local jeweler to get a ring repaired. The sales associate used her tablet device to complete a work order for me. When she requested my address and phone number, I didn’t give it a second thought. Then she asked for my birth date. When I questioned why she needed to know, she shrugged and mumbled something about sending me a birthday card. I decided not to provide that information. Next she asked for my wedding anniversary date, glanced up at me and said, “Oh, I guess you won’t want to tell me that either.” I smiled and shook my head. Not a huge deal, but it did get me thinking about all the times we give people personal information without asking why it’s needed or how it might end up being used.

We live in a society where the boundaries of privacy are pushed every day. Educators are increasingly aware of the need to safeguard student data privacy, but what about protecting our own? Given that Congress recently repealed the online privacy rules designed to limit the ability of Internet service providers (ISPs) to share or sell various kinds of customer data as well as the requirement that ISPs notify customers when a data breach takes place, responsibility for protecting personal data now appears to lie squarely with individual consumers. What can we do to protect our own private information?

Passive vs. Active Data Collection

There are two general methods used to glean data from individuals. The first is called passive data collection. Passive data collection may involve use of slick online tools that collect and record data without an individual’s knowledge, but it can also be as simple as a customer service representative or data entry clerk entering information gathered during a phone call or office visit into some type of customer data base. As a result, it’s the rare person who has no online presence these days.

Here are a couple of examples of passive data collection. Do you make online purchases? Virtual shoppers seldom realize that they are leaving a trail of data in their wake as they browse for a new dining room set or an article of clothing. Using cookies or other sophisticated programming strategies enables merchants to compile a wealth of information about individual shoppers based on which items are reviewed, how much time is spent looking at each item, how the site is navigated, etc. In turn, this information is shared with other online platforms people frequently visit. This is what makes it possible to go from virtual window shopping to Facebook only to discover a personal newsfeed is now filled with ads featuring the very same items reviewed elsewhere just a few minutes earlier.  Even individuals who don’t own Internet-connected devices don’t get off scot-free because personal information about them is being stored online by someone else—medical records, school records, and virtually all public records for example. Hopefully medical and school records aren’t publicly available, but if they are online, they are vulnerable. In addition, online aggregators pull public records from a myriad of resources to create readily accessible individual profiles that include very personal information. Check out Intelius  for a taste of what I’m referring to.

Active data collection requires a little more cooperation on the part of an individual. This type of data collection happens when someone completes a registration form to download a white paper or responds to a survey from an airline or hotel about a recent trip. Unfortunately, most people don’t realize that by filling out a product review or questionnaire they are providing valuable marketing data to whoever requested the information and whoever they may opt to sell the information to. For example, have you ever logged into a site like or Netflix and seen recommendations for products or movies you might enjoy based on previous searches and purchases or rentals? These data are used to build a personal profile for you and may be shared across platforms to aggregate information you’ve provided in various locations. Much of these data are easily manipulated by changing the information in the Preferences area of an account. Try it! And speaking of profiles, every social media platform and most online stores ask users to complete lengthy profiles under the guise of making it easier for other like-minded users to find you. That may be the case, but it’s also true that the more complete the profile, the more marketable your information becomes.

What Can You Do?

There are various steps you can take to help protect your privacy. For instance, avoid leaving an easy-to-follow online data trail by using private browser windows or learn how to block cookies and location data. Natasha Stokes offers tips on how to browse anonymously. Her suggestions range from employing a web browser’s incognito feature (easy to do and most browsers offer this capability in Privacy) to using something called a VPN or virtual private network which is more complicated and usually requires a subscription fee.

Another way you can protect personal data is to visit one or more data aggregators to read what’s been recorded there about you. These website collect public information about individuals, pulling it all together to create personal profiles. Some are quite extensive and invasive, but there are nearly always ways to have the information removed. Visit piplintelius, and spokeo as a start. Some of these sites will remove your data on request. Others direct you to do to the data source. For instance, I was surprised to see that my LinkedIn profile is a source of a great deal of the data showing up in these aggregated summaries.

Think about the data requested when any type of purchase is made. Ask why a company needs your zip code or birth date before providing that information. The day after I gave the jeweler my phone number for the work order, I received a sales call from them, but also learned they failed to call about another repair that will need to be made soon and which could have been done at the same time, had I been notified! Decide if a warranty registration or chance to win a raffle merits handing over personal data. Pass on responding to surveys or requests for product reviews, no matter how persistent the merchant may be. Maximize privacy settings on social media accounts.

The Circle, a 2013 book written by Dave Eggers and now a movie starring Tom Hanks and Emma Watson, is a dystopian tale about technology, transparency, and privacy in a society where “secrets are lies” and “privacy is theft.” In this narrative, the fight between good and evil boils down to whether or not there is a need for privacy in the digital age. I’m not suggesting that readers should back away from using the Internet, but it’s time for everyone to think about what data are being collected, how, and why. Only then will individuals be in a position to start taking back control of their personal information.



Digital Citizenship à la Maslow

Posted by Michael Simkins on September 9, 2014

Depiction of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs by J. Finkelstein. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Most of us are familiar with Abraham Maslow’s classic Hierarchy of Needs. According to his theory, we first need to satisfy lower level needs before we can eventually hope to reach the apex of existence, self-actualization. Of course, this makes a lot of sense. For example, we still believe that students’ basic needs must be met, such as getting enough sleep and having a decent breakfast before coming to school, if they are going to be able to concentrate on learning once they arrive.

This summer, I was studying up on digital citizenship for my Leading Edge Certification for the Administrator course, and some of us got into a discussion on how best to introduce the various elements of digital citizenship into the curriculum. For some reason, Maslow’s Hierarchy came to mind. I decided to play around with how the skills and “habits” of digital citizenship might fit into the hierarchy. Here’s what I came up with:

Depiction of a hierarchy of digital citizenship
Simkins’ Hierarchy of Digital Citizenship, with apologies to Abraham Maslow.

No, it’s not rocket science, it’s probably flawed, but it was a fun intellectual exercise. Plus it gave me a chance to make my first “Google drawing!” Could not, however, figure out how to color my levels as J. Finkelstein did his, but then he was using something called Inkscape. I checked that out and it looked like it would require a much longer learning curve.  There’s always a trade off, yes?


Resources for Digital Leadership

Posted by Sandra Miller on May 13, 2014

Today’s educators are fast becoming “digital leaders” in their schools and districts.  It’s almost expected that they will be able to provide leadership to everyone—staff members, students, and parents—as new technologies continue to become a part of learning.

I work with educators who are earning Leading Edge Certification.  It’s a new certification that focuses on site, district and regional administrators and was developed by an alliance of educational organizations that includes TICAL. The goal is to prepare these leaders to  effectively utilize technology tools, resources and innovative solutions to advance student achievement, foster educator productivity and extend learning opportunities for all.   The program is composed of six modules plus one “elective” topic.

Screenshot of Common Sense Media home page with Digital Citizenship menu indicated

Since I’ve been working with this program, one area that really stands out is the ability of these leaders to find and share information about “cyberbullying,” which is part of the Digital Citizenship module.  One tool that has been especially helpful to them is the non-profit Common Sense Media website. Related resources are found under the Educators tab by clicking on Digital Literacy.

Principals and superintendents have added web pages to their school or district websites to provide parents with an understanding of bullying as well as how to seek help.  They have used videos and prepared information for parent workshops and meetings.  And of course they have given links, videos, and discussion guides to teachers.

Cyberbullying is just one part of digital literacy.  Common Sense Media also offers resources on helping students understand the permanence of their online presence, as well as how to best utilize technology tools. 1:1 guidance and professional development have their own sections.  I have no personal connection to Common Sense Media, but I have had over 100 superintendents or principals use the site with much success and comment it was one of the best aids to them in fulfilling their job as a digital leader.


Next-Gen Assessments: It’s about more than devices

Posted by Geoff Belleau on April 27, 2014

Students looking at computer screens
It’s about more than devices!

Across the state of California and the whole country, purchase orders have been filled out and new devices are arriving in warehouses. Why? Because our students will be participating in the field test of the SBAC and PAARC “next generation” assessments. Gone are the days of fill-in-the-bubble answer sheets and boxes of standardized test booklets. The SBAC and PAARC assessments are all completed on computers. Here are four critical questions to consider before, during and after this field test.

Four Big Questions

First, has the network been updated? Is there the capacity to deliver the assessments. Think of it like a freeway. How many lanes are going out from your district. District administrators, here’s a practical experiment to try: for your next two district-wide principals meetings, hold one at a middle school and the other at an elementary school. Check how it is for everyone to get online with the iPads, laptops, and smartphones.  Compare the level of connectivity in each case to what you experience in central office.

Second, what is the inventory plan for the devices students will use to take the tests? Are they going to be checked out to the school, to the teacher, to the students? Something else to put on the list is what is the replacement plan? These devices may be purchased with one time money at this point.  Do you know their anticipated life expectancy?  Are they insured?

Third, what’s the quality of digital citizenship in the district, not only that of the students, but of the staff as well?  What are the norms of appropriate, responsible behavior with regard to technology use? Staff, parents and students are all really concerned about online life. Clear, accurate information for each of these groups will go a long way to alleviate concerns.

Fourth, where is your staff in terms of their readiness to implement new pedagogy, new standards, and new technology?   This almost should be the first question. What professional development have teachers had that addresses the new standards but also the appropriate integration of technology? Getting ready for SBAC is just the first step; developing TPACK is the journey ahead.

Bonus Round

OK, that’s the promised four, but here’s a bonus:  Has your LEA considered BYOD? Bring your own device (BYOD) is not requiring students to bring their own devices; it’s allowing students to use their own devices. Have relevant policies been updated to protect the district and the students?

This is by no means an all-inclusive list, but by answering questions like these, we have an opportunity for significant shifts to occur.  As educational leaders, we must be good stewards of the resources in our care. Having plans that thoughtfully address questions like those above is a great first step toward 21st century education.



New Year’s Challenge: Jump In!

Posted by Geoff Belleau on January 1, 2014

Logos in mortar boards: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, RSSMost of us entered a career in education because of the students.  The rapidly changing, technology-driven, mobile world is changing those students. They are still children—or young adults—but they have access to an unprecedented amount of information, and their social interactions have changed. In addition to Facebook, they use social tools like Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, Tumblr, Kik, and Vine among others. Gone are the days when schools could easily restrict access to such tools; now they’re as close as the mobile device in each student’s pocket. Our challenge is to model appropriate social interaction using tools most educators are just plain unfamiliar with.

How?  Just jump in.  For starters, if you haven’t joined Twitter, do it. Twitter can be used to log into and share on many of the tools listed above. Next, as you make your way around your school building or district every day, make at least one day a “follow me” day. When you see an amazing lesson, snap a picture and post it along with a short note for your followers to see (yep, that’s called tweeting). If you see an orderly lunch line with a smiling food service employee, tweet it. Follow the good example of Kris Corey (@coreykrisc), superintendent in Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District. Those stakeholders who follow her on Twitter know when she’s visiting schools because she is sharing lessons, student work, special events and even the Chipotle fundraiser flyer. Several of her administrators have followed her example and share the daily activities of their schools:(@kristenwitt13, @crystalmiddleca, @annakyleelem, @principal439).

Recently, Twitter launched Vine. Like Twitter, Vine is microblogging (140 character limit), but with an added feature: 6 second videos that loop. Create a Vine video by simply touching the screen. Then add a short description and post. Since Twitter is used to create the Vine account, your post goes to both Vine and Twitter automatically. Many have said a picture is worth a thousand words; a video could be worth a million words!

Outside your office post your Twitter, Vine, and Instagram username, plus any others you may have such as Facebook and Pinterest. Next add these usernames to email signatures and newsletters going home. Let your followers build naturally and don’t worry if the count only goes up slowly.

If you are more inclined to share graphically, use Instagram to share the amazing things going on at your building or district. Instagram is a favorite because it makes those artistic looking square pictures with filters and borders. By linking your Twitter account on setup, you can automatically share on twitter whenever you post to Instagram.

One common element across all of this social sharing is use of hashtags(#) to code posts and call them out for attention from a specific audience.  Start using hashtags as part of your New Year’s challenge.  You could start with one I use: #makingheroes. When you post, add #makingheroes to your tweet, Vine video, Instagram picture or other post. Also start using a hashtag that relates to your building or district. That way when you click on those #hashtags you will start to see all of the sharing that is going on!

It’s easier than you think! Take this 5 minute challenge (modified from @digitalroberto).

  1. Take a picture of student work and post it on Instagram (Twitter). (1 minute)
  2. Shoot a Vine video showing active learning or a special event and post it on Twitter. (1 minute)
  3. Tweet about something amazing going on by describing it (1 minute)
  4. Share one of your colleagues posts from one of their schools with your followers on Twitter (2 minutes) If you at a site try to do this once a day, if you are a central office, try to get out and do this once a week. Set a reminder on your calendar.

Unlike our students who are digital natives, we are digital immigrants.  We need to become digital colonists and model good digital citizenship. If we are to help students be great digital citizens, we must be citizens in the same digital world.  Jump in!