APS Updates

Privacy vs Data

with 2 comments

I recently read OUseful’s post “Participatory Surveillance: Who’s been tracking you today?” (really want a Trackr or five now…) and then happened to read Tribal’s post “Without data student information is nothing” and the juxtaposition of the two really got to me.

There’s a lot these days (I hate that phrase…) about how we’re losing privacy left, right and centre and how we must protect it at all costs or be outraged that companies like Google and Facebook don’t have the right privacy policies that work for absolutely everyone.  Don’t get me wrong: privacy is important for a great many things (banking is the one that really comes to mind), but the perfect privacy ship sailed a long long time ago.  Any notion that we can somehow go back to a point where all and sundry don’t know at least our shopping habits is ridiculous and not actually necessarily desirable.

Because then we have the flip side of the coin: data.  Wonderful, glorious data!  Data that we could never have conceived of having let alone thought up the uses for even 5 years ago.  On just our phones most of us now have health data, shopping data, banking data, location data, contacts, browser history, game data…the list goes on and on.  And when we start mixing some of those datasets together (either with more of your own data or other people’s data) magic can happen.

Take the Tribal article linked to above.  It has this picture of some of the data University’s probably already have about their students.


Picture from TribalGroup

And this is by no means exhaustive.  Imagine the support that could be provided for students with the right ways of analysing this data.  Provide the right summaries to student tutors and you could have a truly individually tailored learning experience, where your tutor understands that you prefer to work off campus and can’t always attend all your lectures, but have every book on the subject out from the library and spent crazy amounts of time on the VLE catching up on notes and being an active member of discussions there.  Or that you come to every lecture, but mostly to sleep and have never cracked a book or been on the VLE except at induction, and judging from your previous academic history barely even scraped a place.  Or even that you’ve really intended to join in the discussions on the VLE, but you have 5 calls in to support right now and maybe you need a bit of help chasing those up.  The possibilities are mind-boggling.

But this would mean that someone is (gasp!) tracking your data.  Logging it even.  Maybe even storing it so that it can follow you throughout your academic career from the very start.  The question is whether we are prepared to give up our privacy for the benefits.

I, for one, welcome our new data overlords.  So much is done with our data already from commercial reasons, I say let’s at least exploit it as much as we can for useful reasons as well.

What do you think?  Where would you draw the line between privacy and data?


Written by jennifermdenton

July 1, 2016 at 4:05 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. I keep wondering – if we can get all this “lovely student data”, why shouldn’t we (staff) be tracked in the same way?

    Tony Hirst

    July 5, 2016 at 8:22 am

    • Interesting idea – there must be ways to improve the student experience through staff tracking. The first one that comes to mind is if tutors had to swipe their ID card for attendance at their office (or other places). If that information could be provided real time to students, so that they always know where they can find their tutors, I bet that would be useful.


      July 5, 2016 at 8:39 am

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