Senin, 19 Juli 2010

Facebook snooping: children have privacy rights too

Should schools be policing children’s Facebook pages? Should parents snoop on their children’s friends’ Facebook pages? A recent post by Emma Mulqueeny raises both those questions.

Her daughter and her daughter’s friends were called to see the deputy head at school and reprimanded “for talking to boys and swearing” on Facebook. Mulqueeny was disturbed by this and, concerned that the school had invaded her daughter’s privacy, asked them to explain:

“It turned out that what had happened was that one of the parents of the other girls involved had seen her daughters wall, and chat, had then explored all of the other girls’ walls and records of chats and had set about printing everything that concerned them. This parent created the file of print outs and took them to the school, asking that they do something about this. The deputy head said that she had a dilemma, really, she could not do nothing, nor could she really get overly involved. She decided that the best course of action was to call the girls in, to reprimand them for the behaviour that had concerned the other parent, mainly to teach them that 1. they can get caught doing anything online and 2. there is no such thing as completely private in the digital world.”

It seems that the school acted responsibly. They could – and perhaps should – have simply told the concerned parent that what the children did outside school was not their responsibility but there is some value in teaching the children that their online conversation are not always restricted to their intended audience.

If anyone did wrong here, it was the snooping parent. Reading your own child’s Facebook page is perhaps fair enough, particularly if they have connected with you, though it does feel a little like reading their diary. Reading your child’s friends’ Facebook pages is just creepy – a total invasion of privacy (again, assuming they haven’t explicitly given you permission by connecting with you).

The problem here is a quirk of the Facebook privacy settings. Unless you explicitly tell it not to, Facebook will share many aspects of your page with your friends’ friends. Thus if you are ‘friends’ with your child on Facebook, you might well be able to read their friends’ pages. That doesn’t mean that you should. Indeed, reading then printing out your child’s friends’ Facebook pages and then taking those print-outs to their school is not that different to reading and photocopying their diaries and taking those to a teacher.

It’s tempting to argue that children have no right to privacy because the need to protect them outweighs their desire for privacy. However, a sense of private space is an important part of growing up. And the fact that the ‘Facebook generation’ has a slightly different view of privacy is not the same as them having none at all.

What the deputy head should do next is show all the children how to update their privacy settings so that their friends’ parents can’t see their content.

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