Digital Privacy and Digital Literacy

National Communication AssociationKnowledge of the role of Internet surveillance could play a role in our privacy behaviors online. For the typical Internet user, survelliance knowledge could include Internet tracking, marketing research, and demographic-driven advertising, among others. Yet, many typical Internet users lack basic knowledge of the surveillance practices that occur on sites they visit regularly.

Some of Yong Jin Park‘s (of Howard University) excellent references on the issues of Internet knowledge, power, and literacy include:

  • Pool (1983), which suggests that the centrality of knowledge prospered by the invention of the printing press.
  • Dutton & Anderson (1998), Bunz (2004), which suggest that computers can spread democratic access to and creation of information.
  • Hargittai (2002, 2004, 2008), which suggests that a user’s available access points and knowledge have clear implications for behaviors in a digital sphere.
  • Turow (2003, 2005); Turow (2009), which suggest that power assymetry occurs in relation to knowledge.

Alongside the typical digital divide measures (age, gender, socioeconomic level, and education), Park’s findings suggest that familiarity with (1) technology, (2) institutional practices, and (3) Internet regulatory policy create a knowledge divide among users. This knowledge divide is strongly associated with digital privacy behaviors. In short, digital privacy literacy is highest among populations that are younger, male, affluent, educated, and among populations that possess knowledge of surveillance practices.

Park suggests that, first, digital divide literature and literature about common surveillance practice could benefit users who have limited knowledge on the subject. Secondly, current regulatory policy of Internet sites assumes that users possess a strong understanding of surveillance practices common to the Internet. This assumption may be flawed. And third, the digital divide is not only one of access, but also one of literacy.

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