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Protecting Confidentiality in the Age of AI: A Social Worker's Responsibility

A little more than a year ago, I took a leap and introduced the Social Work Magic AI Tool to our profession. My goal? To ease the burden on social workers, helping them save time and reduce stress. But today, I want to talk about a crucial aspect that remains unchanged, even with the advent of AI and its introduction into the human services/social services fields: confidentiality.

In my years of practice, I've seen how easily confidentiality can be overlooked, often unintentionally. When I developed the Social Work Magic Suite of AI tools, I presumed Social Workers and other users of these AI tools would always prioritize confidentiality. However, this has not always been the case.

The Reality of Confidentiality Lapses

How did I discover this? Our tool's backend provides a glimpse of instances when it is triggered to block the input of confidential information. With this functionality, I havebeen able to see occasional attempts to input sensitive details/private information. I don't believe these events were the result of an intentional breach of confidentiality, but rather a lack of understanding of how confidentiality applies in this new world, or maybe just sheer excitement over the tool's capabilities.

As helping professionals, we regularly use various tech tools—whether it’s Facebook, text messaging, or others—that require strict adherence to confidentiality policies. Yet, breaches still happen, even in simple, non-digital ways. For instance, ever heard a colleague discuss sensitive information in a public setting? Or seen confidential documents left on a printer in a shared office space? These scenarios highlight the importance of vigilance in maintaining confidentiality, no matter the scenario. They also remind us that confidentiality concerns did not just pop up when AI burst onto the scene.

AI and Confidentiality: An Ongoing Obligation

With the rise of AI tools like ChatGPT, Microsoft Co-Pilot, Google Gemini, and Social Work Magic, there’s a new layer to consider. These platforms are often designed to attempt to safeguard private information, but they aren’t foolproof. As has always been the case, the responsibility to protect confidential data lies with us, the users.

Our ethical duty to confidentiality is foundational. It doesn’t change with the introduction of new technologies. Whether it's a casual conversation in a coffee shop, a printed document left out in the open , or an AI prompt entered by a user, the obligation to safeguard client information remains paramount, and remains the obligation of the practitioner.

The Second Pillar of Responsible AI Use

For all of the above reasons, confidentiality is the second pillar in my "Six Pillars of Responsible and Practical AI Use for Social Workers". It’s a reminder that, even as we embrace AI, our commitment to privacy doesn’t diminish. For those interested in a deeper dive into these principles, I’ve created a comprehensive guide that details all six pillars, along with effective AI prompting techniques for social workers.

You can download this guide for free via the link provided. This 30 page, easy read will help you to stay informed and ensure that you're using AI responsibly while maintaining the trust and privacy of those we serve.

Make sure to follow or subscribe to stay updated. Remember, while AI offers fantastic support, the ethical use of these tools is our ongoing responsibility.

Stay curious, stay ethical, and keep innovating safely. Keep Social Workin'!

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