Watch Me Drive

There is an advertisement on TV at the moment for an Australian car insurance company that encourages drivers to download an app to their phone to find out who is “Australia’s Best Driver“.  Here’s the ad…

When you download and install the app it starts by asking you a few questions…  your name, gender, email address, home address, etc. Then it keeps track of your driving using GPS location, timestamps, speed tracking, etc for at least the next 300km. In fact, it even defaults to an autostart mode so that you don’t have to remember to turn it on. Every so often it will check in with you to make sure that you are in fact the driver of the trips it’s been tracking. Then it scores your driving style in an attempt to find out who is the best driver in Australia.

Think about it. As well as knowing exactly who you are, it knows how fast you’re driving, when you’re driving, where you’ve been, who was driving and how long for, and even what your phone was doing as you drove. And remember, it just starts tracking automatically every time you drive. Without you even needing to turn it on.

Over time, the data will show whether you speed or not, whether you drive long distances without taking a break, whether you accelerate and brake erratically, what times of day you drive, and of course whether you’re using your phone as you drive. This is not just Big Data.  This is highly personalised data about you as an individual.

But it’s just a game right? You’re encouraged to compete with your friends via social media, so that lots of people are playing the game with you, all submitting the intimate details of their driving history as well. Let’s see who’s the best driver. Plus you can earn badges. Yay! Badges! That’s what it’s about right?

I can’t believe anyone would voluntarily give all this data to an insurance company. I mean they say it’s to make you a safer driver. Yeah, sure, that’s totally the reason. Until you apply for insurance one day and you find they know a little bit more about your driving habits than you might’ve thought and your insurance premium reflects that knowledge. If you’re a good driver, maybe you’ll pay less for you insurance. And maybe you won’t. I know which one I’m betting on.

I like to think that I’m a pretty good driver, but even with the promise of a big cash prize, to voluntarily hand over that much personal driving history data to an insurance company seems absolutely crazy to me.

Thanks AAMI, but I’ll leave this little adventure to Neil, Gaz and Loretta Jones.

Featured CC BY-NC Image “The Sunset Storm, Brisbane Australia“, by Ben Ashmole on Flickr

Being Visible Is Hard

VisibleI was talking to a couple of people today about the way we use blogs with our students.  At my school we have a number of students and classes blogging, and every one of these blogs is completely open and visible to the public web. These folk were asking, with an obvious degree of concern, how we deal with this public visibility of student blogs and what steps were we taking to prevent them being seen by “just anyone”.

I’ve tried to convince many people to try blogging over the years. Usually, their biggest objection is “why would anyone want to read what I write?”  Their concern is usually about the huge waste of effort that blogging will be because they don’t truly believe that anybody will ever read or take any interest in what they have to write. They imagine that their work will go into the black hole of the Internet where it never gets seen by anyone.

And yet, when we talk about getting students blogging on the open web, the usual concern is just the opposite. We worry more about how we can stop “all those people out there” from seeing the student blogs. We worry that our students will be endangered by throngs of strangers seeing their writing online.

Well, which is it? Are we worried that nobody will see the things we post online, or are we worried that everybody will see the things we post online? It’s an interesting contradiction.

The truth is that the vast majority of blogs have a readership of close to zero.  Getting people to find and read your blog is hard work. It takes a lot of promotion and campaigning to get people to find and connect with a blog. And as much as I hate to say it, it’s probably even harder when that blog belongs to a school student.  We worry a lot about ‘stranger danger’ but unless a teacher actively pursues an audience for their students’ blogs, I suspect most would be lucky to get a visit from anyone beside mum and dad and a few family friends.

Despite our concerns about the perils of putting our kids online, the biggest challenge of blogging with students is not exposure, but obscurity.

Creative Commons photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/andercismo/2349098787/

A Public Life

Google - Web HistoryMany people don’t realise it, but if you use Google’s search services while signed into your Google account (which you already have if you use Gmail) then your entire search history is automatically archived for you, along with statistics about how often you searched, for what, and when. It will track how many times a day you’ve Googled something, and even displays a little colour coded calendar to show you your overall search patterns. Some people may find the whole thing a little scary, a little Big Brother-ish maybe.

Perhaps it is, although it doesn’t actually bother me at all. I find it useful to have a complete history of what I’ve previously looked for, and there have been a number of times that being able to go back through my search history has been very useful. If there are negative aspects to this sort of tracking, then, for me anyway, the positives have far outweighed them. I pretty sure that I  function far more effectively by being able to turn to a search service to ask questions (and get answers), and I really don’t mind that there is a history kept of them. I’ve nothing to be embarrassed about, and seeing the hundreds of questions I’ve asked each month really does make me wonder to whom these questions were directed in pre-Google days.

Whether this sort of thing bothers you or not might depend, in part, on what the search history shows. I’m reasonably confident that I could pick a random date from my search history and have it displayed publicly and not worry too much about what it might show.

I’d like to think that the same would apply with my overall online presence, my “digital footprint” as they call it. For the last several years I’ve been pretty open about sharing a good deal of my personal life in public online places, and although I can only speak for myself, the opportunities that “publicness” has brought into my life have been overwhelmingly positive.

Whether we like it or not, in a digital age we all leave a trail behind us.

Something we constantly remind our students about is the need to leave a positive digital trail behind them. I wrote a post recently about a lesson I had with a Year 6 group. In this lesson I asked them to Google their own name and many of them were surprised that there was already considerable evidence of their existence in the Google database – evidence that they didn’t put there and that they were unaware of. As I said to them at the time, the question is not “Will I appear in search results?” but rather “What will the search results say about me?”

While working with a small group of teachers the other day, we did a similar exercise. I’ll write more about this in another post, but suffice to say that some of these teachers were shocked when they Googled their own names. One found a fairly nasty comment about herself on RateMyTeachers.com, (a site she was completely unaware of) while others found no evidence of themselves at all in the search results. I’d suggest that both of these outcomes are not desirable. Having something negative turn up about you in a search is clearly not a good thing, but having nothing at all turn up about you is probably just as bad. I know some people who go to great lengths to avoid having an online presence – usually because they want to maintain a sense of privacy – but they need to realise that not turning up in a search result also says a lot. Unfortunately, not having a digital footprint makes a statement about you too.

Like it or not, in an age where “if it’s not on Google it may as well not exist”, we need to be really mindful about what our digital footprint says about us.

The notion of a personal resumé is quickly being replaced with the digital footprint. Do you have a positive online presence? How “Googleable” are you? Are you on Twitter? Facebook? LinkedIn? Do you participate in online communities? What projects have you been involved in that support your professional practice, and are they visible to the world? If your next employer was to Google you before asking you to come for an interview, would you be proud of what they’d find, or embarrassed?

These are realities we need to teach our students, and I’d suggest we can’t do a good job of it unless we  start with ourselves. When someone wants to know a little more about you, you need to be able to proudly say “Just Google me” and know that what they find will be the right stuff.

Bye Bye Facebook

As you may have noticed, Facebook has been copping a great deal of flak in the media lately for recent changes to its privacy policy.  There is growing evidence that Facebook as a company has few scruples or ethics when it comes to the way they view and use your personal data.  The company has continually “baited and switched” the privacy settings in Facebook to the point where they have become so confusing and complex that few people truly understand them.  There are something like 50 choices leading to about 170 different privacy variations possible, all needing to made in multiple locations in Facebook, with very little consistency or “expected behaviour” between them…  consequently, there could be significant parts of your personal data that is being made public without you realising. Facebook seems to be working on the principle that most users never look at the default settings or take the time to think through their options.  The most recent changes made to their privacy policy have made the sharing of your personal information “opt-out”, rather than the previous method of “opt-in”.  This means that, unless you wade through the many privacy settings to turn them off, you are probably sharing far more than you realise. Added to this is the recent change to the Facebook Privacy Policy that essentially grants Facebook the rights to give your data to third parties and advertisers in order to target marketing to you.  The infographic to the right was created by Matt McKeon, and links to his page where you can explore an interactive version which shows how the default sharing policy on Facebook has changed over time.  It’s a bit scary!

Interestingly, the Facebook Privacy Policy –which all Facebook users must agree to in order to use the service – has grown to become almost 6000 words long.  Do you know what it says?

Personally, I find this unethical behaviour completely unacceptable and, along with many others across the web, have decided to close my Facebook account.  Like many Facebook users, there have been times when I’ve found the service useful in helping me connect to friend and family, but their recent display of unethical, almost fascist, behaviour has left me with little choice but to cancel the service.  Although I had taken the time in the past to secure my Facebook account (and I was savvy enough to do so) I cannot, in principle, support a company that shows such a cavalier attitude to the privacy of their user base.

If you are a Facebook user, I would strongly encourage you to check the settings in your account to make sure they are doing what you expect.  There is a useful tool at http://www.reclaimprivacy.org/
that will actually probe your Facebook account to show you how it looks to the outside world.  I would strongly encourage you to take the time to check yours.

There is also much bigger issues about Facebook. Its disregard for open standards, its walled garden approach that continually borrows steals ideas from all over the web, its willingness to do whatever it takes to keep users within the Facebook environment… I believe in the longer term will be bad for the Internet in general. That’s a much bigger issue and beyond the scope of this particular post, but when you add it all up, I can’t in all good faith continue to support a company that continually exhibits evil motives.  Facebook might be a useful service for many, and it might offer a certain convenience factor by bringing things into one place, but there is no doubt in my mind that Facebook will bad for the open web in the longer term.

Many people in the Internet community are so outraged by the continual display of unethical behaviour of Facebook and their CEO Mark Zuckerberg that here is an official “Quit Facebook Day” organised for May 31.

If you feel strongly enough about the approach that Facebook is taking, you may also decide to close your account to send a message to the company that you are not willing to use a service that shows such scant concern for their users privacy.

Here are just a few articles (of many!) about the recent changes that you may want to read if you need more information.  It’s worth getting the full story.

I realise that many people find Facebook very useful, and many will not want to take the extreme step of deleting their account, but I do hope you take the time to make sure your account is sharing what you think it is, and to even perhaps share some of this conversation with your students.