Are you a good digital citizen?
It seems that almost daily we hear of people experiencing negative consequences when the information they post online is seen by an unexpected audience, whether it be a prospective employer, an insurance company, or a law enforcement agency. Inevitably, such people express surprise and feel deceived by the technology. Through public education, organizations like the OPC are trying to ensure that people are provided with the resources they need to make informed decisions about managing their personal information online.
Many such tools were on display at the recent FOSI annual conference. Those from commonsense media and YouTube stood out for their simplicity and straight forward message. The conference theme “Building a Culture of Responsibility: From Online Safety to Digital Citizenship” strongly resonates with us at the OPC.
We see privacy, or the right to control one’s personal information, as a fundamental part of the larger issue of digital citizenship. In other words, exercising our individual right to privacy is one part of being an ethical and engaged citizen of the web.
The web provides many opportunities for communicating with friends and family, accessing educational resources, stimulating community involvement, and many other participatory activities.
As increasing numbers of Canadians rush to take advantage of online services and integrate new technologies into our lives, however, we need to step back and consider how we conduct ourselves online and manage our personal information in this rapidly evolving environment.
There is a role for every user in the evolution of the web — especially if it is to develop into a space that respects the values, ethics and rights we take for granted in the offline world.
Government, industry and educators must continue public education activities to increase awareness of the potential pitfalls of using technology and to teach individuals how to better protect themselves online. Regulators have a role in identifying and enforcing standards. Industry must take concrete and early steps to build privacy into their technology.
For individuals, the responsibilities are clear cut. Take the time to find out how the websites you visit manage your personal information and decide whether this site is appropriate for you. Often, the type of service being offered is a big clue – a site for sharing personal status updates will be specifically designed to broadcast your personal information. If you want to use a particular site but don’t like some of their practices, be vocal about it. Chances are other people agree with you and together you will have a stronger voice in pushing for change.
By taking an active role in protecting your privacy, you will be helping to shape the internet to reflect your values and ethics. That’s what being a good digital citizen is all about.