Privacy in a Digitized World

In my recent interview with former congressman and Libertarian Party presidential candidate Bob Barr, we talked about the right to privacy and how it might be something we are compelled to enforce on ourselves, given our current willingness to share so much ourselves, so publicily.

This blog post at the Chronicle touches on the same subject from the perspective of student life in the era of e-textbooks:

CourseSmart, which sells digital versions of textbooks by big publishers, announced on Wednesday a new tool to help professors and others measure students’ engagement with electronic course materials.

When students use print textbooks, professors can’t track their reading. But as learning shifts online, everything students do in digital spaces can be monitored, including the intimate details of their reading habits.

Those details are what will make the new CourseSmart service tick. Say a student uses an introductory psychology e-textbook. The book will be integrated into the college’s course-management system. It will track students’ behavior: how much time they spend reading, how many pages they view, and how many notes and highlights they make. That data will get crunched into an engagement score for each student.

Even attempting to summarize my interaction with Barr on this subject, I am reminded of how problematic this subject can be. For example, how do we define, 'it,', 'we' or 'ourselves' in this context without moving to some kind of enforcement mechanism that curtails the very openness of the access represented by online tools? It's a subject that's not going away, but beware of seemingly easy fixes. Better to struggle with this intellectually and rely on critical discussions that weigh the compromises of possible solutions. In a way, this reminds me of the limits of Moore's Law (and even, to an extent, Newtonian physics itself) with the advent of the nanoscale; as we develop heightened electronic tools, their capacity will outstrip our ability to easily govern them.

Again, it takes a very comprehensive education to navigate this complex world and long exposure to a wide range of arts and sciences is the key.

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.