Being open, private and just less ignorant

I have never really thought of myself as an activist before, for anything. Sure, I have had interests that I have felt quite passionate about, for instance it was about two years ago that I was knee-deep into researching about ‘opening’ the archive into digital environments. Luckily for me, I had a great opportunity to practically demonstrate my understanding of the power of the network to connect pieces of the analogue archive together in ways only the digital can do seamlessly. My exploration of the George Rodger archive was truly fascinating, and unfortunately I only had time to explore only a couple of days of his very successful career as a photojournalist.

But since I parked that project I have moved onto pastures new with teaching and learning being the focus of my life. It wasn’t long after I started working in these circles that I learned a lot about ethicacy from Gemma Tombs, thinking about student data and where it is stored.

I’ve been a huge advocate of open and connected learning since my involvement as a learner of the [then] second year module #picbod (picturing the body) led by Matt Johnston in 2013. Since, I transitioned from learner to teacher/mentor of Phonar and Phonar Nation both teaching at a distance and transforming classes to suit different audiences. So for all this time I have been focused on teaching with the network, but I wasn’t really considering what the trade-off was with using  free services such as Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

So then Jonathan Worth pulls together a fascinating conversation ‘Speaking Openly‘ whereby rock stars like Cory Docotorow, Dan Gillmor, Ulrich Boser, Audrey Watters and Nishant Shah came together to talk about privacy, security and trust in education. Thought-provoking stuff. And I realised just how little I really understood about computers. I mean sure I can [almost] understand how HTML, CSS and PhP work and I get how the internet is ‘wired’ with IP addresses and that cookies track where we go. But like many, had I taken much notice of my data otherwise? Not particularly no. I had changed my privacy settings on various social media networks and have had PGP email encryption for a couple of years. I won’t even start on how dreadful my password management was.

I’m not all that comfortable being in denial and I get pretty motivated to teach myself things. I self-taught how to use a professional camera   both AS and A-level photography in one academic cycle, with just some supervision of my art teacher. So I swatted up: I listened to podcasts, bought some books and got stuck in.

And so I can say without absolute conviction that once you understand how the internet and surveillance works, there’s no going back.

Everywhere I turn I am thinking about how I can try hold onto my data as much as possible. The people I am close with have known this for quite some time as I am often babbling on about it. But now I am actively making my behaviours affect these people; convincing them to message me over encrypted messenger such as Signal and Wickr as a start.

 “after all, perfect privacy is not possible”

Julia Angwin, Dragnet Nation 

I guess this makes me an activist. I am so enthusiastic about my privacy that I am trying to protect other people’s: today I hijacked my friend’s iPhone to change his privacy settings and his default search engine. Getting just a few people to reconsider their security and privacy online is quite satisfying, but this ignorance is as ubiquitous as the web itself and I feel as though I am on a bit of a mission. So I was saying that I was teaching and learning with the network, I am now thinking about how we should be much more informed about the implications of our online behaviours.


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