Doing Participatory Research and Pedagogy in Proprietary Educational Environments

This Saturday (10/13/12) I’ll be presenting with Kiersten Greene at Northwestern University’s InfoSocial Conference. Info and abstract below:

Title: Doing Participatory Research and Pedagogy in Proprietary Educational Environments
Authors: Gregory T. Donovan & Kiersten Greene

Panel: Participation, Socialization, and Memory Online
Discussant: Prof. Kevin Barnhurst, University of Illinois at Chicago

Time: 10/13/12, 3:15PM – 4:45PM
Place: Annie May Swift Hall, room 102

Abstract: The ubiquity of proprietary technologies embedded within informational modes of pedagogy and research unsettles industrial understandings of privacy and property within educational environments. As educational institutions commit a growing portion of shrinking budgets to proprietary software and outsourced ICT services, their informational infrastructure intertwines with corporations from Google and Blackboard to IBM and Apple. We offer a multi-disciplinary analysis of this proprietary infrastructure, drawing on our respective dissertation research in the fields of Urban Education and Environmental Psychology, to articulate issues of privacy and property experienced by young people and teachers in these educational environments. We begin by summarizing the findings from two independent cases: The MyDigitalFootprint.ORG Project and The NYC Teacher Blog Project. Our first case, MyDigitalFootprint.ORG, is a participatory action design research (PADR) project interested in the concerns of young people developing in proprietary information ecologies. This project began by interviewing young people ages 14-19 in New York City to identify shared online privacy, property, and security concerns. A collective of youth co-researchers was then assembled to further research and take action in response to these concerns through the development of a youth-based open source social network. Through this PADR project, young people participated in investigating and reconfiguring how information is experienced in their everyday environment. Our second case, The NYC Teacher Blog Project, aggregates, stores, and anonymizes the blog posting of New York City teachers for qualitative analysis in order to examine the tension between the realities of everyday pedagogical practices and the tacit privatization of educational policy. Whether at the federal, state, or local levels, teachers’ opinions, local knowledge, and expertise count for naught in the policymaking process as K-12 public school teachers are provided little if any voice in the construction of education policy. The traditional isolation of the teaching environment has provided teachers with little opportunity to connect, reflect, or engage with this process. Yet, as our everyday information infrastructure grows so to do opportunities for teacher expression and research. Blogs have proven an enduring aspect of this infrastructure by providing a space where teachers can reflect, connect, and share local knowledge. We conclude our review of these two cases by discussing strategies for reworking educational boundaries, relationships, and flows towards the privacy, property, and participation concerns of young people and teachers. With the MyDigitalFootprint.ORG Project, we look specifically at the open source software and PADR methods employed to engage young people as producers of social media and participants in social research, rather than as social media consumers and social research subjects. With the NYC Teacher Blog Project, we look specifically at how its partnership with the OpenCUNY Academic Medium, a student-based open source medium at the CUNY Graduate Center, afforded both methodological and epistemological breakthroughs around teacher privacy and property in educational environments.


@gdonovan: RT @ayandeato: Reddit Co-Founder Won’t Invest in Facebook Because of Stance on #CISPA


@gdonovan: ACLU comes out against 2012 Cyber Security Act and explains why it’s bad for our #privacy. #CSA #CISPA #cybersecurity

Justice Sotomayor on Digital Surveillance, 3rd Parties, and Societal Expectations of Privacy in Public

In United States v. Jones the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that attaching a Global Positioning System (GPS) device to a vehicle for the purpose of location-tracking constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment. More notable than the unanimity of this decision, is that the majority opinion was premised on the fact that the federal government physically trespassed on Antoine Jones’ private property (his car) in order to install the GPS — leaving open the question of whether such surveillance would have been legal had the government not physically installed a tracking device. To this end, United States v. Jones raises more questions than it answers regarding the legality (and morality) of surveillance in everyday information environments. Governments, corporations, and individuals do not need to physically enter your house, your desk, or tap your phone line, to gain access to the multitude of personal information that flows through your everyday environment, and beyond.

In separate concurring opinions, Justice Alito and Justice Sotomayor both problematize the majority opinion’s focus on “physical intrusion,” yet only Sotomayor’s concurring opinion offers a consideration of the interests and concerns of U.S. citizens who currently exist in what is, at least to them, a largely mystified and little understood information environment. As Sotomayor argues in her concurring opinion:

Awareness that the Government may be watching chills associational and expressive freedoms. And the Government’s unrestrained power to assemble data that reveal private aspects of identity is susceptible to abuse. The net result is that GPS monitoring—by making available at a relatively low cost such a substantial quantum of intimate information about any person whom the Government, in its unfettered discretion, chooses to track—may “alter the relationship between citizen and government in a way that is inimical to democratic society.”

I would take these attributes of GPS monitoring into account when considering the existence of a reasonable societal expectation of privacy in the sum of one’s public movements. I would ask whether people reasonably expect that their movements will be recorded and aggregated in a manner that enables the Government to ascertain, more or less at will, their political and religious beliefs, sexual habits, and so on.

Sotomayor’s focus on “a reasonable societal expectation of privacy in the sum of one’s public movements” is important as it’s quite clear that society is not aware of the extent to which they’re being tracked, nor is there a social consensus on what constitutes ‘being in public.’ In my own research I’ve consistently found that when young people learn about the most basic ways that their personal information is being aggregated, they begin to articulate more sophisticated privacy concerns alongside a general amazement that such surveillance is actually happening — legally — in what they think of as private places: their facebook profile, their email, their texts, and so on.

Sotomayor concludes this point by arguing that society expects more privacy than it currently has in the digital age, and calls for a decoupling of secrecy and privacy in order to develop more situated and accurate judicial understandings of when and where people expect privacy:

More fundamentally, it may be necessary to reconsider the premise that an individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy in information voluntarily disclosed to third parties … This approach is ill suited to the digital age, in which people reveal a great deal of information about themselves to third parties in the course of carrying out mundane tasks. People disclose the phone numbers that they dial or text to their cellular providers; the URLs that they visit and the e-mail addresses with which they correspond to their Internet service providers; and the books, groceries, and medications they purchase to online retailers. Perhaps, as Justice Alito notes, some people may find the “tradeoff” of privacy for convenience “worthwhile,” or come to accept this “diminution of privacy” as “inevitable,” and perhaps not. I for one doubt that people would accept without complaint the warrantless disclosure to the Government of a list of every Web site they had visited in the last week, or month, or year. But whatever the societal expectations, they can attain constitutionally protected status only if our Fourth Amendment jurisprudence ceases to treat secrecy as a prerequisite for privacy. I would not assume that all information voluntarily disclosed to some member of the public for a limited purpose is, for that reason alone, disentitled to Fourth Amendment protection.

Understanding the Architectures of SOPA & PIPA

Two controversial pieces of legislation that would significantly alter the architecture of the internet are currently being debated in congress: the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the U.S. Senate. The following is a round up of some sources I’ve found helpful in trying to understand the effect that these pieces of legislation would have on the informational architecture of the internet.

The first comes from the Electronic Frontier Foundation who recently published an open letter to congress from 83 prominent internet engineers and architects. The letter is short and worth a full read, but here is the key passage (emphasis mine):

If enacted, either of these bills will create an environment of tremendous fear and uncertainty for technological innovation, and seriously harm the credibility of the United States in its role as a steward of key Internet infrastructure. Regardless of recent amendments to SOPA, both bills will risk fragmenting the Internet’s global domain name system (DNS) and have other capricious technical consequences. In exchange for this, such legislation would engender censorship that will simultaneously be circumvented by deliberate infringers while hampering innocent parties’ right and ability to communicate and express themselves online.

The second is Ars Technica’s summary of a Consumer Electronics Show panel that debated both SOPA and the recently introduced OPEN Act, an alternative piece of legislation supported by notable critics of SOPA (emphasis mine):

[Ryan] Clough [legislative counsel for the Office of Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)] said SOPA and Protect-IP create an architecture for Internet censorship. “Once we create this system, there is no way it will be contained to copyright infringement,” he said. Further, he argued “this bill will make it easier for China to keep imposing the types of controls on the Internet that it does and to keep resisting international pressure against it.”

The third is a piece Julian Sanchez wrote for the Cato Institute. Sanchez discusses the link between information architecture and free speech in order to argue that SOPA and PIPA would constitute a new legal and technological architecture of censorship (emphasis mine):

SOPA is a 70 page statute establishing a detailed legal process by which the Justice Department can initiate blocking of supposed pirate domains by ISPs and search engines, and by which private parties can seek orders requiring payment processors and ad networks to sever tie.

If SOPA passes, thousands of commercial ISPs, colleges, small businesses, nonprofits, and other entities that maintain domain servers are going to have to reconfigure their networks, potentially at substantial cost, in order to easily comply with the new law.

… These twin architectures will obliterate major institutional barriers to Internet censorship generally, not just censorship for antipiracy purposes.

The fourth is the Obama Administration’s response to SOPA/PIPA, written by Victoria Espinel (IP Enforcement Coordinator at Office of Management and Budget), Aneesh Chopra (U.S. Chief Technology Officer and Assistant to the President and Associate Director for Technology at the Office of Science and Technology Policy), and Howard Schmidt (Special Assistant to the President and Cybersecurity Coordinator for National Security Staff) (emphasis theirs):

We must avoid creating new cybersecurity risks or disrupting the underlying architecture of the Internet. Proposed laws must not tamper with the technical architecture of the Internet through manipulation of the Domain Name System (DNS), a foundation of Internet security. Our analysis of the DNS filtering provisions in some proposed legislation suggests that they pose a real risk to cybersecurity and yet leave contraband goods and services accessible online. We must avoid legislation that drives users to dangerous, unreliable DNS servers and puts next-generation security policies, such as the deployment of DNSSEC, at risk.

And finally – A short video, from a group called Fight for the Future, illustrating what PIPA entails and the chilling effect it would have on the internet:


Government Hypocrisy: Protect Intellectual Property, Collect Personal Data

Mike German, ACLU policy counsel and former FBI agent, was recently on discussing domestic surveillance in post-9/11 America. German covers the U.S. government’s growing interest in collecting personal data, the development of data fusion centers, and the erosion of existing privacy protections.

Speaking specifically about the 4th Amendment, Brown explains:

The way the 4th Amendment protections work with your personal papers, requires probable cause and a warrant before the government can search your desk to look through your papers. Unfortunately, now most of our personal papers are kept on 3rd party servers. It’s our email that’s stored remotely. Every thought that we have we hit the search engines to find out more about the subject we’re thinking bout. All that gets recorded by 3rd parties, and that information doesn’t have the same 4th Amendment protections.

The hypocrisy is extraordinary. For decades the U.S. government has extended and enhanced intellectual property protections. The rationale has been that the laws governing property ownership in the physical environment must also apply in the digital environment. Downloading a Beatles album from Pirate Bay is treated the same as shoplifting a Beatles album from Walmart. But, when it comes to personal property in the digital environment (i.e. your data) we see an erosion of what little protections existed in the physical environment. In short: protect intellectual property, collect personal data.

Newspaper CEO Finally Agrees Copyright Trolling Was a Dumb Idea

About a year ago MediaNews Group, publisher of 40 newspapers, signed a deal with Righthaven, a law firm. The deal allowed Righthaven to file copyright infringement lawsuits on MediaNews Group’s behalf in exchange for 50% of any settlement/verdict. Now, MediaNews Group has decided to part ways with Righthaven and John Paton, the chief executive of MediaNews Group, is quoted in Wired as saying:

“The issues about copyright are real … But the idea that you would hire someone on an — essentially — success fee to run around and sue people at will who may or may not have infringed as a way of protecting yourself … does not reflect how news is created and disseminated in the modern world … I come from the idea that it was a dumb idea from the start.” (emphasis added)

The idea that one could monetize news content (or any other content) by restricting its circulation and suing individual bloggers was always a dubious one. The RIAA and many other organizations that took this approach previously now appear to be abandoning it. And, as the Wired article also notes, Righthaven has lost a string of its lawsuits over the question of whether it even has the right to sue over copyright infringement when they are not the actual copyright holder.

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