<span class='p-name'>Privacy Or Power?</span>

Privacy Or Power?

I’m in the middle of the Student Privacy Train-the-Trainer Program for K12 from the Future of Privacy Forum. I applied for this program as I wanted to develop the knowledge and skills needed to be a student privacy expert while connecting with a peer network and student privacy experts from across the country.

The coursework is focused on the laws, tools, platforms, and case studies to examine the legal and technological challenges as we interact in digital spaces. As I think more about privacy, security, data, and identity in online spaces…I want to make sure I actually know what I’m teaching and writing.

One of the questions that reverberates in our discussions is whether these ultimately discussions about privacy or power.


Privacy is the ability of an individual or group to seclude themselves or information about themselves and thereby express themselves selectively.

Privacy is often lumped in with security when we talk about identity and online data. One of the best analogies I’ve used in the past to describe the similarities between privacy and security is relating it to the windows on your house.

Privacy is like closing the curtains or blinds on a window in your house. Security is like locking the doors and windows on your house.

Privacy is the right of an individual to keep their individual information from being disclosed. This is typically achieved through policies and procedures. Privacy encompasses controlling who is authorized to access your information; and under what conditions information may be accessed, used and/or disclosed to a third party.


Power can mean many things in different contexts. For the purposes of this post, we’ll consider social and political power, as well as economic power.

In social science and politics, power is the capacity of an individual to influence the actions, beliefs, or conduct (behavior) of others. In economics, power is the ability to influence, possess, control, or exert authority or influence over others. Information is a key contributor to each of these views of power.

Power is always shifting. The Internet may be challenging traditional leadership and power channels. In this, we can think about old power and new power.

  • Old power works like a currency. It is held by few. Once gained, it is jealously guarded, and the powerful have a substantial store of it to spend. It is closed, inaccessible, and leader-driven. It downloads, and it captures.
  • New power operates differently, like a current. It is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It uploads, and it distributes. Like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.

Data protection & access

As I begin to examine this question, one of the things that plagues my thinking is that the focus is always framed by the corporations and developers. In the student data privacy trainings, the discussions revolve around the power and privacy involved in agreeing to use tools in the district. The case studies focus on teachers using approved tech in the classroom. There never really is a discussion (as of yet) about the power, and expectations of privacy that users should have. Even young users…our students.

I’m also increasingly thinking about this question about privacy or power and thinking the real question is about identity and data protection. Data protection is about power. Privacy is the opportunity to control who can access your information. Should the IT department of the school district control access to data? Should it be the corporations and developers of these platforms? At this point…it seems like the discussions are focused on making this the default answer.

As technology changes most aspects of our society, we are presented with opportunities to innovate and transform our lives. The challenge is that these new power brokers want you to believe that these innovations are inevitable.

We need to spend more time thinking about the role of information, data protection, and access as we straddle the worlds of surveillance and global interdependence.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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