Because of their young age and the amount of time they spend online, students are especially vulnerable to digital privacy invasion. Horror stories of online predators and cyber bullying have made online student privacy a hot topic. Some of the important issues surrounding student privacy include parental restrictions on students’ online activity, and online trends which compromise student privacy.
When it comes to placing limits on their children’s time online, many parents are impeded by the fact that technology is pervasive in almost every area of their children’s lives, including school. Parents who block access to certain sites at home may not have control over whether or not their child accesses these sites at school, and many of today’s popular websites could potentially compromise student privacy. For example, social networking sites such as Facebook® and MySpace® can leave a person’s private information exposed to the Internet if special privacy settings are not maintained. As well, parents who wish to have their children carry cell phones for emergencies may find it difficult to restrict their potential access to the Internet if they have a plan with wireless features.
Many of the disturbing trends in students’ online behavior have received much media attention in recent years for their extreme threat to student privacy and safety. For example, incidents where children as young as grade school level have been befriended online by child predators, giving out their real name, address, or even arranging to meet in person. Another threatening online trend is teens exchanging photos and videos of themselves as well as other personal information for goods and cash with people they’ve met online. This type of exchange leaves teens vulnerable to physical harm as well as blackmail by online predators.
The viral nature of the Internet can also threaten student privacy and facilitate cyber bullying. Students can harass, intimidate and humiliate other students any number of ways online, including forwarding photos or personal information, spreading rumors, and hacking their classmates' email or other online accounts. Complicating matters are the numerous ways in which this type of information can be spread – including by email, text, instant message, social networking sites, blogs, and web boards. A false sense of anonymity on the Internet is another issue that compromises student privacy, such as when a student wrongly assumes that an email or other message they send is in confidence, or that information they post online cannot be traced back to them.