#PrivacyUG Session One reflections

This week marked the first of three #privacyUG sessions. #privacyUG stands for “privacy underground” and it is an open and connected class around privacy. I called it underground because I wanted to add intrigue and fun into the sessions so that anyone physically attending would have to follow the cryptic instructions about how we can mask our location. It is all a huge experiment and I was never really sure how it was going to go.

A wee bit of background:

I have been working with Jonathan Worth for some time now around open and connected classes Phonar and Phonar Nation. With some criticism that the method of teaching with and of the digital might not transition into other disciplines (outside of photography and media), Jonathan began to develop #CClasses (Connecting Classes) which is a framework to support other teachers to use the same methods. I had again supported the building of this framework and piloted an alpha test for it, coaching another teacher from California of the tools and their application in the learning environment.

For anyone that follows me on Twitter or speaks to me regularly, I have a big focus on what privacy means in the 21st century when we have an idiosyncratic relationship with the digital. There seems to be a huge knowledge gap and lack of awareness of what our devices are doing, what information they are collecting, why and who for. I don’t have the answers to these questions, but the reason for #privacyUG is to provide a space and network for co-learners to start narrowing this knowledge gap and to help figure out some potential solutions*.

This week’s class tensions

I call it a class, but in all honesty, I am not a ‘traditional’ teacher and I don’t have a class to teach. I called upon peers and my networks to join in. Of course this is a challenge because I am relying on their intrigue into the subject as well as their motivation to learn and participate in an experimental learning environment.

Another tension is that I am teaching openly, but the discussion is around privacy: it seems like a very big contradiction. It is from learning and teaching openly that has got me thinking about my privacy in the first place: once a participant contributes to an open and connected class, it becomes part of their digital footprint and their digital identity. However, this is a topic and conversation that (at least in my mind) should be happening in the very places that enable us to reach wider audiences too. It is easy to ‘shun’ services because of their tracking technologies and company ideologies, but if we can leverage the services to work well for us, I think that is a good thing. I am seen to be a privacy activist, but by no means am I going to disconnect form the world and live in the forest, it’s just not worth it.

The class itself

I had given the local participants instructions of how to get to the class without compromising our location – this mean downloading the TOR browser (or using a VPN) to load the website anc cache the video before turning off their wi-fi, bluetooth and location services from all of their devices. This certainly did provide some intrigue – but this is not how I would suggest anyone goes through life if they don’t want to be put on a watch list – but for the purposes of having a class around privacy, it felt fun and appropriate…

Overall, I think this was a pretty successful class! I had six participants in the room and twenty-one others online. It took us 50 minutes to get through a 12 minute video: I had told the participants that they could pause the video as often as they like so that they could absorb it to tweet their notes. There was such a good buzz online with people discussing the issues particularly around transparency or both the traditional powers and of individuals.

The class discussion too was great; there was a pro-Google-pro-sharing participant who very openly talks about the affordances of sharing data with corporations and governments. But other interesting points came up; the youngest participant whom admits to being a ‘digital native’ commented on how sharing information is routine and not questioned. Another participant worries about the people who aren’t as educated as we are about the topic – and it is exactly this that makes me want to find ways of educating more people with few (or ideally no) barriers to entry.

Check out the Storify-ed notes of the class, you can add your comments if you like – they are all appreciated.

It isn’t about creating privacy activists, but it is about enabling agency of when, why and how to protect privacy when it matters.

Next time

I am really excited for next week as I will be taking the participants on a journey to help them realise how much data they hemorrhage beyond what is actively posted.

Please join me for the next session on Wednesday 18th May 6pm (BST) at #PrivacyUG and tweet your notes.

*This class isn’t meant to be a revolutionary social nor political group, by the way!

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