Privacy 2015 Part I: Parents Can’t Pay Too Much Attention

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 2.08.04 PMIt is a given in this age of connected life that our privacy is much diminished, and it does not matter whether we are children or adults. The trick seems to be for each us to make thoughtful decisions about what family members share and, as much as possible, be aware what is shared or collected about us.

For me, this has been an interesting week where privacy and kids’ privacy is concerned, because four distinct event occurred.

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Digital World Research-What It Tells Us About Causation vs. Association

On a fairly regular basis I hear presenters and parents cite research results about technology and 21st Century kids. Often they justify their points by making comments such as “According to research,” or “Research demonstrates that…”

causationassociationSome time ago, for instance, I heard a presenter comment that too much use of digital devices causes students’ lack of concentration, and she cited a university research study. Trouble is, when I subsequently checked out the research, it was based on 25 participants — a small number on which to form a conclusion and make assumptions about a dramatic outcome. After I read the abstract, I discovered that the researchers who conducted the study concluded that the outcome is an association with kids’ lack of concentration and not a cause. The data did not indicate that too much technology causes a lack of concentration.

The difference between association and causation is significant, and parents as well as those of us in the educational technology community need to recognize the difference. Much of our accumulated data about technology outcomes are collected over a short-term, and in many areas we have no data collected long-term. Television statistics are the exception, because after years and years of well-designed, science-based studies, the causal connection between television viewing and childhood behaviors is only now being firmly established. That’s because enough data exist to enable researchers to draw firmer conclusions about how TV screen time affects certain childhood problems.

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Digital Footprint Series on All Things Considered

collecting dataWe cannot discuss digital footprints and privacy with children and family members too much or too often. The point is not to scare anyone — the virtual trails that we leave are becoming almost routine — but rather to help family members consider how much data we share, intentionally or otherwise, and whether at times we should consider making at least a few changes in our online behavior.

On September 30, 2013, NPR’s All Things Considered program aired the first of a series of reports on digital footprints, and it’s worth taking the time to listen or read and to learn more about just how much data is collected on each of us. I expect the other reports will be just as compelling. NPR is collaborating on the series with the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIROnline.org).

Reporter Daniel Zwerdling describes the obvious digital trails we leave behind with our computers, mobile phones, GPS-guided car trips, and credit card purchases, and also our less-than-obvious footprints from prescription drug purchases, traffic camera sitings, and wifi tracking and facial recognition cameras that track us in shopping malls. That we make digital footprints is not surprising, however the amount of data that is collected about us and used to form profiles is extensive and worrisome.  Privacy — our privacy — has gone out the window.             Continue reading