Understanding Personal Information: The Anonymizer Badge

This guest post was written by Tamara Shepherd, collaborator on the “Co-Designing Open Badges for Privacy Education with Canadian Youth” project.

We currently have a draft version of the Anonymizer badge activity kit posted on the Webmaker site.

Anonymizer Prototype

The idea behind the Anonymizer Badge is to be able to practically understand what is meant by the Canadian privacy policy term “Personal Information” (PI). This term gets used in policy documents to distinguish between specific types of information that may require extra privacy protection within the larger category of all the information about someone. In other jurisdictions, this is called “personally identifiable information,” which emphasizes how certain kinds of information such as an address or employee number can be used to identify one individual out of all other people. In Canada, the idea of PI is even more expansive, where personally identifiable information is added together with even less specific but still personal details such as a photograph of a person’s home. This broad interpretation of PI is at the heart of privacy protection in Canadian law.

The Anonymizer Badge enables learning about what kinds of information might be included in PI through a webmaking activity. The activity associated with the badge involves using Mozilla’s free tool X-Ray Goggles to temporarily alter the code of a famous person’s Wikipedia page so as to remove any information that is can be used to determine her or his identity. X-Ray Goggles enables participants to see what changes to a webpage would look like, without permanently changing the page on Wikipedia, in a trial-and-error process. This process supports a kind of iterative learning that generates discussion on the key features of PI.

Teen peer researchers from the privacy badges project wrote an earlier blog post that described their experiences with the Anonymizer Badge learning activity. Kathryn Meisner and Leslie Shade presented a draft version of the learning activities associated with the badge at the Association for Media Literacy Conference on October 18, 2014.

After engaging in the activity and gaining a better understanding of PI, participants earn the Anonymizer Badge as a marker of their learning. But more than this, the badge signifies a more practical engagement with the meaning of policy terms such as PI. Without actually doing this kind of activity, it’s difficult to envision what the consequences for regulating privacy around PI would entail. In the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) for example, PI has a special status where it legally must be:

  1. collected with consent and for a reasonable purpose;
  2. used and disclosed for the limited purpose for which it was collected;
  3. accurate;
  4. accessible for inspection and correction; and
  5. stored securely.

This legislation has many consequences for the fate of PI in everyday online interactions, such as using social media sites, and the growing implementation of new technologies, such as biometric scanning or cloud storage. Understanding how anonymous or identifiable personal information can be is a crucial component of knowing one’s rights under current privacy law.

A final version of the Anonymizer learning activities will be available soon.