Social Media Apps I Love and Some Thoughts on "The Biggies"
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Privacy, Social Media and Learning

Private I just finished a draft of the "Why eLearning 2.0?" essay I'm contributing to the eLearning Guild's upcoming 360 report on social media and learning. Working on it got me thinking about one of the key concerns people have about integrating Web 2.0 into the enterprise--privacy and confidentiality concerns.

One of the things I hear a lot is that organizations fear that use of social media means that all of their intellectual property will fly out the window as people begin sharing and learning through social media tools. But the thing is, if people wanted to share proprietary information, they already have great ways to do this that are actually LESS easy to monitor than social networks. I can send an email. I can make a copy of a document and use snail mail to send it or fax it over to someone. I can have phone conversations or face-to-face  discussions.  If I'm inclined to give away your organization's secret sauce, I already have plenty of ways to do that.

Social media is actually a really poor method for talking about things I shouldn't be discussing because through search and the very nature of social networks, it makes it extremely unlikely that I can keep this activity a secret for very long.  Why do we think we're just now having issues with people revealing "private" information online? When our interactions were restricted to email, rather than happening in these readily accessible networks, they were happening much more under the radar.

From a learning perspective, this whole "privacy/confidentiality" issue has some interesting repercussions. When interactions between employees are happening primarily through these more private channels--water cooler conversations, emails, phone calls--it's very difficult to see when and if misinformation is starting to make the rounds. It also makes it more difficult to see if people are really "getting it."

Consider what would happen, though, if we turned to social media for the majority of our interactions within an organization. If we're posting questions and answers on a blog or wiki, using social networks to interact and share information, as a learning professional I can monitor those channels to see where additional learning interventions might be appropriate.Not as a punishment, mind you, but as a sort of ongoing just-in-time learning needs analysis and opportunity for coaching. If a lot of questions suddenly start popping up on the network, that's a pretty good sign that as a learning professional I may need to do something.

On the reverse side of the coin, when great ideas make the rounds through private channels, we can miss those, too. I've seen organizations spend tons of money trying to "catalogue" best practices for precisely this reason--they aren't readily available or accessible. However if we were using social media for the majority of our discussions, then again, it would be much easier to find the great ideas and solutions and share them with the rest of the organization.

From where I sit, this whole idea of social media being such a confidentiality concern is a bit of a non-starter. If people want to tell your secrets, they have the means to do it already with much less likelihood of getting caught. And by embracing this idea that social media will harm us, we actually miss out on some ways in which it can improve the quality of learning and organizational knowledge.

Photo via suesviews.

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Tēnā koe Michele!

You post an interesting topic, as usual.

I find 'privacy' is paradoxical in many ways. It all depends on your point of view. The more sophisticated society becomes, it would appear, the more need there is for parts of it to value privacy. It becomes important for a range of different reasons.

Education (knowledge if you like, though some would argue about that simile) is something that I firmly believe should be freely available. I know - it's a bit Utopian, but there it is. When it comes to teaching, I also realise that the facilitators have to earn a living and someone has to pay for that. Whether it's society taxes or private fees, ultimately it makes no difference. But should the knowledge be free? I appreciate that there's a difference between delivering knowledge and imparting it. In my Utopia, the imparting of the knowledge is the commodity.

Privacy, to do with knowledge, becomes an issue when the knowledge itself becomes the commodity. There's a finite period of time during which the 'owner' of that commodity can benefit from that ownership. After an indeterminate time, however, the commodity becomes less exclusive – becomes common if you like - and its value to potential recipients becomes reduced for it may be obtained from other sources. Its value to the owner may not necessarily change.

There is an imprecise period between the commodity being thought of as exclusive and it becoming everywhere common, during which time the issues to do with privacy also become imprecise.

Social media networking tends to insinuate the free flow of knowledge (‘free’ as in the sense that it's not paid for, rather than its free flow). Its 'cost' becomes insignificant, while its 'value' to the recipient becomes something that is difficult to put dollar amounts on. Privacy can be breached through the use of social networking, and as you say, when that happens it is extremely unlikely that you can keep the knowledge a secret for long.

There is some sort of analogy between this and a manufactured commodity that's new on the market. The inventor/manufacturer who owns the rights to manufacture and sell can litigate against any breach of that right during a period of time determined by governing laws (akin to the illegal downloading and file-sharing of commercial music recordings, etc, governed by copyright).

But there are few laws that stipulate what you or I might consider our 'private business'. It is the vagueness of this that may have to be contested in a law court and there may not be any statutes governing legalities to do with the misappropriation of that knowledge. Indeed, in such instances where such breaches are contested, it becomes important to define exactly how the privacy has been breached and for what reason. I think this is the axis of the whole issue of breach of personal privacy.

Ka kite anō

I think some of the push-back to social media for educational topics that may be covered by a non-disclosure agreement is that some of the most often suggested Web 2.0 tools are not secure. Anything that cannot be secured behind a firewall probably can't be used. This takes out google docs, online wikis, twitter, diigo, second life, bookmarking tools, etc.

Putting the tools behind the firewall introduces all sorts of other usability issues: will the tools be available if learners work from home, or from their mobile devices? Can the tools integrate with IT's user authentication platform?

I WANT to be able to use these tools, but I don't see anyone talk about privacy, how to secure things if that is the organizational need.

Kia ora Gina!

Sue Waters spoke at length about copyright and using images in blog posts. The issues to do with copyright infringement are not unlike privacy issues from the point of view of use. The areas where there is a significant ethical (and personal) difference can be catered for by the organisation providing acceptable use policies and taking care to make these available so that awareness is brought to all parties involved, including wayward visitors. The same applies to a Web (1.0) page owned by an organisation.

While I fully understand that this is a bit like putting up a notice, 'please don't pick the flowers', there are many analogous examples of how this has to be dealt with in other areas of life - shoplifting is another. It's catching the offenders that is made more difficult on the Net, though the current move by Internet Service Providers with illegal downloading music and illegal file-sharing of those may very well blaze trails for others to follow in future.

I concede that it is still early days with this though.

Ka kite

Gina, there are options for social media that can be kept behind the firewall for many tools, but they are generally not free. There are a few tools that are, but not for the examples you give.

I have a larger issue with keeping things behind the firewall though, as I'm not sure this has been a well-considered decision made by organizations with compelling reasons and no other way to manage the situation. I think in the case of most schools, it's been a knee-jerk reaction starting from the premise that sites should be blocked because that's easier than trying to teach kids how to use the web responsibly. Plus all the usual fears about "inappropriate" sites, etc. Even with that, though, I'm not sure I understand why something like google docs can't be accessed. What's the rationale that schools give? I'm with Ken that acceptable use policies should be the order of the day.

Michelle and Ken,
I develop technical training for a global information company. We have to train our field so that they are ready to implement products as they are released.

I agree with freeing the information in a K-12 situation, but I'm talking about proprietary corporate info, and much of this type of information has to stay behind the firewall.

Michele,
I couldn't agree more.

I've been dealing with this at work lately. There is some amount of disagreement about how transparent to be about our processes and planning work within the office. I'm of the opinion that it could be really useful to other nonprofits if we shared our process of strategic planning, how we structure our meetings, etc. I was interested in blogging our process, if not the actual content of our discussions. There has been push back however around the 'privacy' question.

Its an interesting discussion to say the least (and also frustrating to me). The argument from others is twofold: one, that if we air our process for making decisions, that our constituents/members may feel somehow disenfranchised; two, that we might air 'priviledged' information to the general public - this despite the fact that we publish our annual report, audit, form 990 and other financial documents publicly.

To be honest, our discussion revolves around some technology comfort issues as well: some of my colleagues and I are more comfortable with social networking and media tools while others are not. I think that makes the discussion even harder as there is a lack of understanding of what these tools are for and what they can accomplish.

There, I hope I've been sufficiently PC. :)

Gina--I understand your dilemma about privacy issues. Some of these tools have some pretty decent privacy options that you could use--like Diigo allows you to create groups that are private so only members can see information. Google docs isn't visible unless you share the document. Delicious lets you keep bookmarks private, too.

I think what I was getting at here is wondering if everything must be behind the firewall or is it possible that some of these tools could be used for learning simply by making use of privacy settings that keep information hidden.

And Elisa--I hear you you on the frustrations about transparency. I personally think that in most cases, transparency actually serves organizations more. We understand more about how/why decisions are made, etc. and can learn so much. I know I'm preaching to the choir though! :-)

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