Student Privacy: Harm and Context

Mark MacCarthy, Economics, Jul 31, 2014
Commentary by Stephen Downes

As the author notes, "Education is on the verge of dramatic changes in the collection, flow and use of student information." One approach, the "harm approach," seeks to advocate the use of these technologies that cause the least harm to students. By contrast, writes Mark MacCarthy, "the theory of contextual integrity counsels caution about transgressive changes that violate intuitive context-relative norms governing information flows." What that means is that the violation of ethics occurs not when harm is done, but when the extraction of information violates what people would expect of normal information flows. Thus, for example, information about personal physical properties, or the sharing of information to unrelated third parties, violate ethics because they go beyond the bound of normal information flow, even if no actual harm is caused.

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