Online Privacy – A Test with My Class

After watching this TED Talk from Eli Pariser (February 2011 Lonbeach California) and thinking more about my own digital footprint and on line privacy, I thought it would be interesting to try a little test with my fifth grade class. I wanted to see just how private or not so private, their online activity might be and compare it to mine.  First, I wanted them to Google their name.  Also, after watching Eli Pariser on Ted Talk, I thought it would be interesting to try something similar to what he did.  I would get my class to Google the word Tokyo and see if their ‘hits’ we similar to mine or randomly different according to how Google profiles you.

Some background information first…….I am currently teaching fifth grade and been involved with a 1:1 iPad/MacBook initiative this year.  There are five sections at my grade level and three of us are using iPad’s while the other two classes are using MacBook’s.   My class has been using the iPad since September.  A decision will be made at the end of this year which device we will use for next school year.  Perhaps more about this process in a future blog!  This is the first year all fifth grade students have been using email, which is through Gmail.

My first test with my fifth grade class was to see how much information was revealed when they did a Google search of their name and variations of it.  We found that there was not a great deal of information about just their name and this was similar to what I had found when I had done a Google search with my own name.  Then I had them try a Google search with their name plus the school that we are attending.  Things got more interesting at this point and right away students were shouting out they had found their name.  I had them take a screen shot and email me the information they found.  Next I posted a question for them to reflect on and asked them what they thought of online privacy (we had had a conversation about online privacy before we began this exercise and they are aware I am taking the COETAIL course).

What I found is that the majority of my students felt that they were alright with the information that had been posted and that they felt their online privacy was not in jeopardy.  For most of the students in my class, much of the information was about swim team times or a write-up about a performing arts festival they had been in.  One student found a video that had been taken of their family when they left the country after the earthquake last year, which he had forgotten about.  I did find that two of my students had facebook accounts, and I was assured that their parents had full control.

It turned out to be a great discussion that I had with my class about online privacy.  However, this really got me thinking afterwards.  I’m glad they felt secure about their online privacy at this point in their young lives, but just how long is this going to last?  As an educator am I responsible for keeping my students as anonymous as possible on the web or does this fall on the shoulders of the parents?

The second task I was interested in having my class do was the test that Eli Pariser had done with two of his friends.  He asked them to type Egypt as a Google search and send him the information that they get from their ‘hits’.  I thought it was very interesting, especially the difference between the two profiles as he discussed in his talk.  So, I thought I would try this with my class for the second experiment.  I had them log into Google with their Gmail account, type the word Tokyo and run a search.  I then compared their results with mine.  Ironically, all the information was the same for the first page compared to my results.  The only difference was with one of my students under the News heading.  The only difference was the seventh heading down on the first page.  My Google search had Tokyo Hotels, his had PS3 Tokyo Jungle PV on YouTube.  I know this particular student has a Sony PS3 and spends time on YouTube. However, with 17 students in my class this was the only difference.  I only used data for the first page and didn’t look farther.  Perhaps I need to expand my search a little more and compare after the first five pages.

In short, my two experiments didn’t reveal a great deal of online privacy being out of control.  I am starting to think that we have to be more careful as a school with what information gets posted on the school website. As educators though, are we responsible for helping our students remain anonymous as possible?  Should we be guiding them to read all the agreement terms when they sign up for Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr for example?

More to consider and many discussions with my class remain……


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10 Responses to Online Privacy – A Test with My Class

  1. Your tests raise some good questions. I often think about the same things, but I feel it hasn’t quite become an issue yet with my second graders. At this age, I feel parents are in the driver’s seat with deciding how their child uses the Internet and which social networks they sign up for…if any. However, I wonder when this will change, and when it will become more of my responsibility. I did get a chance to see how excited my students were when they were given a chance to use BigUniverse on the iPad, and they realized they could change their avatar and find friends in the class to share their bookshelf with. This leads me to believe keeping my students as anonymous as possible will become my responsibility sooner rather than later. Thanks for sharing the video and “tests’ you tried with your 5th graders.

    • Avatar of Dan Dan says:

      Hey Jen, I think it has become more of an issue with the fifth graders this year because they have their first email account. It has been a bit of a process in teaching them how to use their email wisely and to be accountable for what they say. I was surprised that two of my students had facebook accounts, only because you are supposed to be 13 years or older to sign up for an account….obviously they lied! As for anonymity, I don’t think we will have the control to do this.

  2. Avatar of Jeff Utecht Jeff Utecht says:

    Great experiment! The search results will be mostly similar based on how often the students do searches while signed into their accounts. If they did all their searches for the next week while signed in….I wonder if you’ll start seeing more differences then.

    To me here are the follow up questions for your discussion:

    1. Who owns that information that the students found about themselves?
    2. Did someone ask them for their permission to post that information about them?

    Those two questions are scary and help, I think, to show students that what you need to be careful about is not only the information you find about you but who controls that information. If you don’t control it…that’s what’s scary to me.

    You ask if we should be helping our students stay anonymous. I think we should be trying to make our students as public as possible. If our students are publishing things on the web that they control then we can get ahead of the curve on their digital footprint. Staying anonymous doesn’t work as it allows others to control your profile. You need to take control of it and you do that by creating information that you control. This blog for example…whey you google yourself how much of what you find do you have control over vs what others do. Hopefully with COETAIL you’ll be controlling more of your footprint rather than leaving it up to chance.

    • Avatar of Dan Dan says:

      Thanks Jeff, I will try seeing what happens when they are signed in for a week with their iPad. We have been doing some research for our social studies unit about the 13 Colonies and American Revolution, so this may bring some interesting hits. I also wondered about having them try this experiment at home as I know the school filters many of the searches that take place (or I think they do).

      I also appreciate the follow up questions. I will have a discussion with my class and see what transpires. They enjoy being involved with my class work!

      As for anonymity, you are correct about being able to control what goes on the web. We have been using this year as their digital portfolio and I like how it is password protected. In the first experiment I did, not one was directed to their Weebly site. This made me, as an educator, feel more secure for their online privacy.

  3. Pingback: Private Footprints | COETAIL Online Cohort 2012-2013

  4. Michelle Lawgun says:

    That’s a cool experiment to do. It was really interesting reading about your results. I am sure that the results would be a lot different the older the students get with their digital footprint being much greater and more spread around. It’s a really interesting experiment and hopefully someone else in the cohort will piggyback your idea and share their results for a comparison.

    • Avatar of Dan Dan says:

      Hi Michelle, I agree, the results would probably be different for middle school or high school students. I also wondered if there would be any difference if they did this at home as opposed to school. Would being on a different wireless or connection produce different results. I did this experiment at school which filters a lot of the information.

      • Hi Dan, My husband and I tried this experiment at home and we both ended up getting very similar results with our searches. Maybe it’s because we have similar interests, and I guess now and then we pop onto eachother’s laptops. I’m sure this would have effected our results. We did try quite a few different search topics and there was not a lot of difference. Still, it’s very interesting.

  5. Dan, great experiment! As for the second experiment you did, I heard that all of us at ASIJ will get the same Google results at school since we are using the same IP address, so that experiment would work better at home. I don’t know if that is true, but that is what I heard. It seems like your slightly different results already proves that theory wrong, so this rumor might not be true, but maybe there is some truth and the fact that we are connecting through the school might change the algorithm somewhat. Does anyone now whether the place you do your Googling would have an effect on those results?

    • Avatar of Dan Dan says:

      Hey Seth, you might be right. I think the school filters some or a lot of the content. I may consider having them try it at home to see if there is a difference.

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