Risks of Connectivity & Privacy Controls


I guess it’s not surprising that adolescents are aware of the disadvantages of unlimited connection as you and danah boyd have pointed out from your qualitative research with young people. Adolescence is in some ways about disconnecting in old ways from our parents, family and school and reconnecting in new ways. The challenge can be remembering and acknowledging that each party has something to learn from the other, mother and infant, teacher and child, adult and adolescent, adult parent and adult offspring.


I’m wondering if this is a question about surveillance rather than connectivity. We live in an ecosystem, so everything has always been connected, although the internet and social media have increased the possibilities for global connectivity. I’m also wondering whether total privacy, control or independence is any longer a possibility or has ever been.


I guess with the internet and social media connectivity has become more visible and traceable, to ourselves, to others and to those interested in tracing us, whether advertisers or educators; so perhaps a question of surveillance and monitoring, but friends’ lists, membership of interest groups etc have become more transparent. From a learning perspective I think this also means that when the data are ‘visible’ they become focal points of attention and directs our interests and perspectives for understanding learning e.g. interest in networks and connections obviously.

So I think my question would be: what can we learn about learning from connections/networks and what are we not seeing?

Sorry for brevity, inconsistencies . but family engagements as well to manage :smile:


Yes I think that’s right. Surveillance is never far from discussions about connection today. In her book The Culture of Connectivity, Jose van Dijck argues that we are shifting, historically, from digital connections (which operate peer to peer) and digital connectivity (which operates between users and systems). Actually I think both are strong in the lives of young people. Using her terms, connection brings surveillance of young people from teachers and parents. Connectivity brings surveillance from commerce (and the state). For the most part, it’s the former that most bothers young people.


I like your point about visibility. Yes, digital networks make learning processes visible in new ways. One thing they do is they turn our processes of learning into outcomes. So if a student searched for information in a library of printed books, their search process was hardly visible, mainly to be inferred from the results of the search. Now the very process of search is visible. This opens up analysis of how students try, fail, recoup, start again, persist or give up, etc. This can be analysed, even graded, of course. But it might look very messy to parents looking over their shoulder wondering why they haven’t finished their homework yet. It might be that students are anxious about their learning processes being made visible.

So that’s a thought about what the digital makes visible. Are there aspects of learning it makes invisible?


Hi @SoniaLivingstone

As someone who had used your data with ESDS and got a few of your books, you have a better understanding than most for the issues facing children online.

I am currently doing research on using surveillance within networked learning environments in order to reduce problematic behaviours. The problem has been that if it is schools that control the surveillance, then they could still cover up bullying. Schools in Texas are now required to have CCTV, which I think is state regulated:

I argue that when people know surveillance is in place it will change their behaviour. If it were possible to detect bullying then it might be such behaviour would reduce as people may fear getting caught.


Interesting question – I’d work from the premise that there are benefits and risks to all forms of connectivity/disconnectivity. As educators, we weigh these up when working with learners in specific contexts in order to facilitate learning across an appropriate spectrum, e.g. individual reflection, collaboration within groups, connecting/cooperating across more open networks. I would also advocate enabling as much student choice as possible and helping students to develop the digital literacies necessary to make informed choices of their own about connectivity, privacy, and identity.

@SoniaLivingstone thank you for the reference to Jose van Dijck’s work. I had not seen this before and find the connections/connectivity distinction very interesting – will explore further.


One risk of connectivity, particularly when identities in different systems or platforms are connected, is context collapse. So, for example, a person managing to be in two separate networks could find their context collapsing through the shared technical context of the Disqus comment engine.



Blog extract from Sonia fits here http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/how-the-ordinary-experiences-of-young-people-are-being-affected-by-networked-technologies/

For instance, we suggested to both the teacher and the students that it would be helpful to set up a Facebook group to co-ordinate World Challenge activities. The teacher thought this a good idea, but worried that it would give the students access to her profile, her personal life. Unbeknown to her, however, the students had already set up a Facebook group to co-ordinate themselves, but they didn’t want to give a teacher access to their profiles either!

Probably both need at least one extra identity. Facebook is full of fiction anyway. At some point young people need privacy from parents and teachers.


@Will The teacher might need an extra identity to protect her from context collapse but the students seem to have come up with a solution to protect against context collapse that doesn’t rely on needing a special school Facebook identity:)


For me the risks of connectivity can be found in the myriad of “terms of use” and “default settings” for all the different services we can use to be connected. They prevent us from truly understanding our connections. The aims and goals of the providers of connectivity do not necessarily coincide with ours and thus we get connected in ways we couldn’t foresee.


Good point Jenny and this discussion made me think about Wellman’s paper (2002) on what he calls ‘little boxes, globalisation and networked individualism’. In this paper he describes how communities have changed over time and he adds in the appendix several tables describing several aspects of change and their characteristics. The first table looks at boundaries in relation to the 3 modes of interaction. Quite interesting to look at how the development towards person-to-person impacts and controls connectivity and access to information/resources.


Forgot the link to Wallmans 2002 paper in my previous post:


Thank you Sonia and everyone here for taking part in this hotseat. And for offering such interesting and useful questions and discussion. There are a great number of privacy and control issues to be concerned with right now in my view.

It concerns me that some/many ‘big data’ initiatives seem to be operating without regard for the kind of ethical approaches that I would sign up to. For instance, I believe that there are Masters level courses in the UK right now which offer programmes in ‘data analytics’ but which do not have any discussion of ethics as part of the curriculum. Also, privacy and control seem to be a thing of the past. There are a couple of articles I have posted to Twitter on this in the last couple of days. Here is a link to one about Facebook and tracking of non-users which suggests that you don’t even have to use/sign up to social media to be tracked.

it does feel like ‘corporate rule’ these days with associated loss of privacy and control. I’m not sure about independence… And I’m not sure what the meaning of this shift means in the longer term. It’s good to see references being posted here to help us understand this.


Hello, everyone.

I wanted to write a post to explore ‘what would be lost if everything is connected?’ but time.

Still I wanted to share a couple of resources that I feel speak to this question. One is ‘The Circle’ and the idea of Ultimate Transparency in the novel. For some of us, the future the novel portrays is here right now…those so busy counting clicks and hyperlinking to the popular ‘kids’ so that they link back or retweet them.

From a review of The Circle:

“It is here inside the Circle that Eggers’ critique of “ultimate transparency” has most force. For Rousseau, the “empire of opinion” was a realm of constant comparison and dependence on the opinion of others for one’s ability to love oneself. This is Mae’s fate, as she comes to measure her worth through her PartiRank. In being exposed to so many people all the time Mae is effectively alone, unable reflect on her situation in relative seclusion. The only time she can talk frankly with her friend Annie is in the bathroom. The conversations outside the bathroom have a generic quality, as insincere as a telemarketer’s script. The enforced publicity thus brings out insincerity and conformity.”

Ultimate Transparency?

“Her penance, which she enthusiastically embraces, is to become “totally transparent”, wearing a camera from morning till night (with bathroom breaks, of course). Her live feed is followed by millions”

What is lost? Our non-performative life. I have no plan to guide myself or my students to ‘everything being connected’.

What is lost? We are seeing ‘The end of absence’ as Michael Harris wisely tells us.

From a review of his book:

Michael Harris argues that amid all the changes we’re experiencing, the most interesting is the one that future generations will find hardest to grasp. That is the end of absence-the loss of lack. The daydreaming silences in our lives are filled; the burning solitudes are extinguished. There’s no true “free time” when you carry a smartphone. Today’s rarest commodity is the chance to be alone with your own thoughts.

I have no plans to lead myself or my students to the loss of absence either. I teach relational meditation and online insight dialogue, part of that is about sitting with absence and intentional connection and disconnection with awareness. My wish for my students is that they feel free to connect or disconnect depending on their desired outcomes, not on the ‘empire of opinion’ Rousseau foresaw which is frighteningly illustrated in The Circle.



I hope these ideas inform the conversation.


Couldn’t click on this but found it by search https://youtu.be/x-mdi63Zk58 hope this works

YouTube ok sometimes


Thanks for that Will. I found the video to be not very good quality in terms of sound, but a useful introduction to Jose van Dijck’s work.


Thanks for the link Sue. I ran Masters courses for many years in IS/IT- related subjects that always included issues of ethics and power and I agree with you that they are even more important than ever. I shared links to work by Ben Light, Ulisses Mejias and Shoshana Zuboff that is currently influencing me , in this post that might interest you https://francesbell.wordpress.com/2015/11/07/stars-in-the-playground-and-hearts-in-the-factory/


Thanks very much for pointing me to your blog and the video Frances. I found your ideas and those of Ulisses Mejias really interesting and yes, maybe we do think we are in the playground and instead we are in the factory!