Going Clear: A Call for Conversation around the Ethics of Mobile Live Streaming from #OER17 and Other Events

Last year I read Dave Eggers’ The Circle, a dystopian novel about technology, social media, and society gone wrong. By the end of the novel the lead character is engaging in a process called “going clear” where she is live streaming her entire life save sleeping and going to the bathroom. It is pretty creepy. I’m not ready to go clear but I like to do live streams from my phone when I’m attending conferences and I want to evaluate my usage because I do think that this technology can be overreaching and even dangerous. I’m interested in the ethical pursuit of technology in my work so I think about this stuff a lot.

My work with Virtually Connecting has made me sensitive to things like making sure when we go live in a public hallway that we have a wall behind us and not a walkthrough – to be sure that people who are passing by do not get caught in the livestream. But it is more than just visuals – live stream can pick up background conversations and other audio that others may not want out there too.

There have been calls for me to live stream from #OER17 and I’m thrilled to do it. Maha asked Martin Hawksey if it was okay to do personal mobile livestream and he said he had concerns about the Wifi bandwidth but as long as presenters were okay with it that was fine. I have a good data plan that I can use in UK so I think I can still do it and not bog down the conference wifi. Battery life is more of a concern to me than bandwidth at this point.

But I’m wondering about those ethical concerns of live stream not just conference sessions but also social time.

Consent is huge for me. During a scheduled conference session I can ask the presenter but I think I might also ask the presenter to make an announcement to the audience that the stream is happening.

I’ve had wonderful experiences live streaming social situations. I’ve had great circumstances where it was just a lot of fun for everyone involved and people watching have told me that they love it and that it makes them feel like they are really a part of the conference. However, consent can be tricky with a group of people. I’ve had situations where even though I’ve announced that I’m going live not everyone in the group caught that and if we are in public what about strangers who might just wander into my shot?

There is also something important about addressing the camera. Talking to an audience even if no one is currently watching. It is a hospitality thing but really an ethical concern about the background audio for me. There are lots of beautiful visual elements that can be fun to live stream without putting my face in the camera and saying “hey look at this”. But to just start up a recorded live stream without directing the audience’s audible experience means that you are publicizing the ambient sounds, with I’m fine with if it is birds chirping or street music but feel a little concerned about for background conversations.

What else should I be thinking about as I consider live streaming from #OER17? Much of this is an experiment for me but how do I do that ethically? What technology should I use? What is the best way to confirm consent? How do I empower people to say no? Has anyone else done this from a conference? What ethical concerns do you have? It seems to me that live streaming is a great tool for open education but what are the ethical implications?