Privacy Policies and Social Software

We know that students are using a variety of social software tools in their daily lives: Facebook, and IM to name a few. Faculty are beginning to experiment with many of these tools in their courses. In OLT, we work with Faculty and students to help them understand the various applications of some of these tools for learning.

The increased use of third party social software in academia raises a host of policy and pedagogical issues, not the least of which relates to student ownership over personal data, privacy laws and the public institution’s responsibility with regard to personal information. Since most of these tools store user account information on U.S. based servers, we wonder about the implications related to the B.C FOIPOP and Protection of Privacy Act . What are our obligations when discussing the potential of these tools for enhancing learning?

Recently, some of my colleagues and I met with UBC’s Access and Privacy Manager (Legal Affairs) to get some clarification on the university’s official position regarding the use of social software. We learned that the key factors are informed consent and voluntary use.

Implications for learners and faculty
• UBC sanctioned, student authored academic support sites where these tools are discussed and (in some cases) recommended: good place for some quick tips for identity management.

• Most social software sites have some sort of privacy policy that students and other users should be made aware of.
• Learners cannot be required (as participants in a course) to set up accounts for applications that are hosted outside of Canada. Seems obvious, but often misunderstood.
• Shared, generic accounts (set up voluntarily by an individual with a shared password and login) are OK.

The thing is that we’re likely not going to stop using the social/collaborative tools that we like – we just need to use them more responsibly and with full awareness of how our personal info. is being used – shared. Our job is to do what we can to help learners and Faculty understand the implications – not to make it more difficult for them to do what they need to do – using the tools that work for the job at hand.  More on one students’ frustrating ride with the ethics process, online surveys and the U.S.Patriot Act….

Think I’ll go and learn a bit more about OpenID


One thought on “Privacy Policies and Social Software

  1. Cindy – thanks for the link.

    It’s been interesting for me to continue thinking upon this line of thought. One of the key insights that I’ve been exposed to in others’ thinking about social software and businesses, is that there’s an assumption that people are different people at home and at work, and much of the frustration people are facing at work comes from the fact that they aren’t able to use the tools that make their lives easier “outside” of the office, at the office under sanctioned conditions.

    I would argue that for some – not all students – it may be a similar case, that they may want to start using the tools and techniques they’re picking up in their personal life, in their university work. I think we’d be hard pressed to ask students not to use what simply works better because of privacy concerns, which, as valid as they are, are hard to give priority to if, for instance, we are drowning in spam or unable to collaborate effectively due to being strapped to outmoded tools. For instance, all of my university e-mail gets forwarded to Google, and the university IT department has not appeared to have considered upgrading their webmail software to provide an updated user experience.

    Good food for thought 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s