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Online Reputation Topic of Data Privacy Day

Paul Hyland, the chief technology officer for edweek.org, has the following report:

How did you celebrate Data Privacy Day? At a time when privacy issues are becoming a growing concern of the information age, the Jan. 28 event was touted as "an international celebration of the dignity of the individual expressed through personal information."

I attended an interesting workshop that morning at the Newseum in Washington, hosted by Microsoft Corp. and the Future of Privacy Forum, titled "Online Privacy: Your Reputation is ON the LINE." It examined potential risks and actual harms to personal reputations posed by various new and expanding uses of the Internet, including the burgeoning popularity of social networks.

Jules Polonetsky, co-chair and director of the Future of Privacy Forum, moderated the event.

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Brendon Lynch, the senior director of privacy strategy for Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing Group, presented the company's new study showing the extent to which online reputation increasingly affects job candidates' hiring prospects, and in some cases is a key criteria in the hiring process. In fact, 70 percent of recruiters and human resources professionals surveyed in the U.S. reported rejecting a candidate based on unflattering information found online. Cases of adverse consequences on existing jobs (including termination) are more widely known, but the extent of pre-employment screening is news. See this piece on a Pennsylvania teacher's suspension after her Facebook page was reviewed.

Jim Harper, the director of information policy studies at The CATO Institute, laid out how such risks of online information fit into the legal and regulatory framework, and where government action might be appropriate.

Marsali Hancock, the president of iKeepSafe Internet Safety Coalition, discussed what parents and schools can do to protect or enhance children's reputations online, such as communicating with them about the potential impact of their digital reputation, and sharing stories of teens who's educational or employment opportunities were either positively or negatively affected by their online reputation. She also shared news of Project PRO, a partnership with the American School Counselors Association, which provides resources to help students nationwide understand the importance of privacy and reputation online.

Net Cetera

Nat Wood, an assistant director of the bureau of consumer protection at the Federal Trade Commission, talked about how parents and educators can talk to kids about online safety, steps that are outlined in the commission's free booklet, Net Cetera: Chatting with Kids about Being Online, part of their comprehensive OnGuard Online information service.

The event was capped off by Michael Fertik, the CEO of ReputationDefender, a company that provides reputation defense and clean-up services to individuals. He described how the concepts of privacy and reputation have evolved over time, but are now moving so fast that laws addressing them are in a relative "stone age." Fertik lamented that a major record label can get 50,000 videos removed from YouTube with a single letter of complaint, whereas a parent has no way to compel a social network to remove damaging or defamatory information about a child which has been posted on a site.

The notion of opting out of various privacy intrusions is difficult to manage in reality, several speakers said. New laws or regulations, they said, need to head off the kind of damage that could actually occur, rather than simply leave it up to individuals to manage their own information, which is rapidly becoming more complicated, more widely distributed, and difficult to track.

The FTC hosted the principal federal Data Privacy Day event on the same day. The daylong roundtable discussion at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, featured academics, government officials, privacy advocates, and representatives from industry. The panels focused on the effects of technology on privacy, particularly social networking, cloud computing, and mobile technology. Facebook was represented on the social networking panel, and the company opened up a forum for short commentaries on its blog, which already has over 500 comments and 2000 recommendations.

While these events mostly focused on consumers, the issues mirror many of the privacy concerns educators have in making the Internet readily available to students. What have you learned about keeping students safe online and giving them the wherewithal to preserve their reputations in a digital age?

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