Home > communications, Humanising Business, Social Media > The age of privacy is over? God, I hope not.

The age of privacy is over? God, I hope not.

Not an original post by any stretch, but I wanted to give me two pence worth to the Facebook-Privacy debate.

I read the post by Marshall Kirkpatrick for ReadWriteWeb , the interview with Michael Arrington is embedded but you can check it out on UStream here as well. At no point does Mark Zuckerberg  say the age of privacy is over but does say that “People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time.”

I would agree 100% with that if he had put ‘Some’ in front of People. Making the call that you are going to dictate the default privacy preferences of 350m people is a huge gamble in my opinion. I think if you force everyone to share everything, then a lot of people will share nothing. The value in networks is that the users will disclose far more about themselves and connect deeper with eachother if they think they are in control of their personal information. Humans want security in their envirnoment, offline and online – that’s a base need and why I think Facebook was initially so successful. There was a sense among college students that this was ‘their thing’ and certainly back then, Facebook was privacy mad and even as recently as 2008 .

We can’t undersestimate the impact Twitter and real time in general has had on Facebook and from a business perspective, it is certainly favourable to have everyone’s ‘everything’ in the domain but to assume we all want to be ‘famous’ is a totally different thing. We want intimate connections with our friends, family and loved ones, and strong, secure connections with businesses providing us services  but all of that has to take place on OUR terms. Assuming people want to publish personal details to the world is misunderstanding that as individuals, we are all different in our ‘outgoingness’.

Where’s the line?

Zuckerberg cites the rise of blogging “and all these different services that have people sharing all this information.” Yes, but sharing it on their terms and as Marshall Kirkpatrick  states, there are a fraction of bloggers to the  350m on Facebook . I think  they have a duty to be data hosts and that means you don’t decide for your users what is going to happen with their data and information, you facilitate their decisions. Don’t you? Or am I missing something?

So, where do we draw the line? Should we open up our emails to everyone? What if we are secretly gay and participating in a Facebook group about that? What if we are planning to propose and are chatting with our future spouse’s friends about the details? What if you are unhappy in your job and want to research other opportunites but don’t want to risk getting fired? There are thousands of examples where it probably isn’t best to assume we want to share everything with everyone.

Are we all culturally the same?

There may also be a cultural thing going on here. I am going to write another blog post about this later, but assuming everyone wants to share their personal information is to assume that everyone has the same personal need to put their stuff in the public domain? We all know that isn’t the case. No one  human is the same, some are shy, some are secretive, some are media whores, some are confident and out going…you get the picture. And I think you can take that further and look at the different cultures of the US vs Europe vs Asia for example.

I know you can control your privacy settings on Facebook and if the users understand this then there shouldn’t be a problem. But that again is an assumption that isn’t always the case. My girlfriend for example, has only been on Facebook  for around 6 months and didn’t even know there was privacy controls! Luckliy she isn’t into too much weird stuff so when her current employer checked her profile out…she passed the test but there are countless others that have fallen foul to Facebook’s openness.

Chill out or change things?

Michael Arrington posted on Tuesday that the luddites should chill out. He wrote “Howard Lindzon nailed it the other day when he said Equifax, Transunion, Capital One, American Express and their cousins raped our privacy,” and then “Honestly, a picture of you taking a bong hit in college is mice nuts compared to the mountain of data that is gathered and exploited about every single one of us every single day,” Funny and true (or funny because its true? – never mind) …but that is going on in spite of what users want. Given the choice, I am sure most people wouldn’t want these corporations controlling our data and deciding who gets to see it and when. I think, ideally, most people want to control their own data and let businesses, individuals and organizations interface with it only when they choose.

Please take a look at VRM, if you are not already familiar with it, for an approach that I believe is more in line with what MOST people ultimately want. I am planning on attending a VRM hub meet in London at the end of the month for the first time. I am not sure I will bring much to the party but it is a theory and practice I believe in and hope that, one day will become a reality, and that I am alive to see it!

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  1. January 14, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    Great topic. The balance between privacy, security, and marketing will be an interesting debate in the near future. Our Founding Fathers didn’t live in the digital age of cell phones, blogs, twitter, etc… There will be debates about theoretical rights and what is “realistically” necessary to protect out country. Many people will not be happy.

  2. edhartigan
    January 14, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    Mark – When it comes to national security, I agree, we can’t expect total annonymity.

    What I am really getting at is when decisions are made to share our intimate (and innocent) details or information to 3rd parties or the rest of the web without our permission. I am hopeful the current pracitse of vendors holding our personal information and using it based on what they ‘think’ will be useful to us (or them as the case may be), will be flipped on its head and the control given back to the individual. Might be a long (long) way off…but no harm in wishing 😉

    thanks for taking the time to comment.

  3. January 14, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    Great post by the way.

    I’m always amazed at the information people share freely onfacebook etc. like putting up their cellphone number and private email address. Then again when did it become the norm to share with our “friends” things like “I’m bored” and assume others are interested to know this fact – is everyone so egocentric that we presume people are that fascinated with our lives? Man, things have changed in the last 10 years! 🙂

    • edhartigan
      January 14, 2010 at 5:09 pm

      I don’t know many people that fully read privacy policies or Terms of Service when signing up to networks or services…and less that can actually understand what they mean! and yeah, there is a lot of self promotion and meaningless gumpf. If people choose to do that, then great – I am all for freedom of expression just not others making that decision for me.

      thanks for stopping by.

  4. January 14, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    Those that don’t want all their info out there aren’t using social networks in the first place. Privacy is indeed dead. If it were ever alive in the first place. How you react to the data that is turned into information that is available, is up to you, the individual. Most will use the default settings of the social network site, therefore, the site itself, and not them, will indeed be making that decision for us.

    • edhartigan
      January 14, 2010 at 5:16 pm

      I think in 2010 we wil see more ‘private’ social networks springing up..or velvet rope networks, to quote Chris Brogan. Niche communities which aren’t publicly viewable have enormous value especially around sensitive topics or industries. I guess, over time more and more people will work out the privacy settings on Facebook and adjust accordingly, I just don’t like ‘opt-out’ services full stop.

  5. January 14, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    Unfortunately – little off-topic here – there’s an enormous amount of people who believe that, simply because they can participate (in social media), then they should. Some believe it’s a right – whereas, like wearing lycra, use of social media should be a privilege, not a right. The problem is that the social media owners and social media gurus have provided (and promoted) the opportunity for anyone and eeveryone to engage in the global conversation, but they cannot provide the necessary ability. Therefore you have a large amount of people who simply do not understand what they are doing and the implications of their actions – the idea that their privacy isn’t protected simply doesn’t cross their minds. In turn, what this means is that (inevitably) someone’s going to have to protect their privacy for them. Once again, rather than delivereing benefits, social media creates an issue that wasn’t there before, but which will require resource and effort to clean up. Good old social media – it’ll be the end of us.

  6. edhartigan
    January 14, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    Hi Jeremy – I think you are bang on topic! A huge amount of people post on social networks without thinking of the implications and yes, that does mean their is a responsibility from the ‘hosts’ to protect them…but thats the exact opposite what ‘default publish to all’ achieves.

    thanks and I agree, wearing of Lycra should be heavily policed 😉

  7. January 14, 2010 at 8:03 pm

    HI! I think a lot of people don’t even realise the stuff that they post on the internet can be seen by others. People think that just because you have an ID and password to login into an application means they are safe. But how safe are we really? Facebook and the like of social networking is good, to me its just email, msm, sharing photos, playing games all in one place. I think some people are just addicted to e.g Facebook. In the end it is up to the individual to decide what information they want to share.

  8. January 14, 2010 at 8:54 pm

    I think in 2010 we wil see more private social networks springing up..or velvet rope networks, to quote Chris Brogan. Niche communities which arent publicly viewable have enormous value especially around sensitive topics or industries. I guess, over time more and more people will work out the privacy settings on Facebook and adjust accordingly, I just dont like opt-out services full stop.

  9. chunter
    January 14, 2010 at 11:29 pm

    The sole issue as I understand it, is that when Facebook made their security changes, they had the radio buttons defaulted to “sharing” when all they needed to do is explain that there are new security options and show the radio buttons where the user had them in the first place.

    I wonder, was there exchange of money involved or was it programming laziness?

    • edhartigan
      January 15, 2010 at 8:58 am

      I think a better tactic from Facebook would have been a campaign of some kind explaining their thoughts and ideas on sharing content and how it can be beneficial for extending or creating connections. Then educate about the use of the privacy settings and terms of use…then let the users make the call on what they want to adopt. A lot more work, sure – but more user focussed.

  10. January 15, 2010 at 12:20 am

    Privacy was gone a few years ago. I work the the government (not federal), but still have access to many files. I have lists of people’s known acquaintances for christ’s sake!
    I have an iphone and every time I take a photo it asks me if it can tag the photo with my location. SCARY!
    Did you know that the FBI can turn on your cell phone’s microphone even with it off? NO JOKE. They had to admit it to use it as evidence in a court case in NJ.
    I just wrote about this on my site last week..
    http://www.philtyler.info/2010/01/05/they-know-where-you-are-at-all-times/(you can totally take out the link if you want)

    • edhartigan
      January 15, 2010 at 9:03 am

      Hi Phil – As Michael Arrington said in his post, everything about us is sitting in a database somewhere. Your location via GPS, your purchasing history, phone calls, travel history etc can all be found. Not much we can do about that in the short term but there should be limitations on what we choose to share of the content we produce.

  11. January 15, 2010 at 5:45 am

    Hello! Great post there!
    I know of people, young kids, who are anti-facebook or any social networking sites, not that they are anti-virtual world, but they said we never know how much information are used as date by these companies. I do believe, however, that the extent of Web 2.0 nowadays, does induce people to leak out more personal information of themselves and the connections blast these information out quickly. I wonder what’s with the change in Facebook’s stance, but I disagree with opt-out features as well.

    • edhartigan
      January 15, 2010 at 9:08 am

      Thanks Adeline – I should mention I am pro sharing of content…its a wonderful thing and shouldn’t be hamstrung by, as you say, people being fearful of what is being mined by the host companies. As long as people feel they are in the driving seat, then the amount of useful information and the strength of the connections can only improve.

  12. January 15, 2010 at 7:47 am

    Good points, but you are just referring to the percentage of citizens who actually participate in this activity. In no way is this the majority, therefore, not a threat to our actual security, however for this percentage, new challenges will be presented as they each cope to deal with everyone knowing everything about them… where will the run to get away and start all over?

    • edhartigan
      January 15, 2010 at 9:17 am

      Hi Neal – thanks for the comment. Social network users aren’t the majority…yet. But adoption rates are rapid and in a few years they will be the majority. Also, remember, social media isn’t just Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, its blogs, IM, email, forums. When you bundle all those together, the numbers get closer to a majority.

  13. kwihee
    January 15, 2010 at 8:57 am

    This is a great post. You have taken the words right out of my mouth. Thanks for articulating what I was feeling.

  14. edhartigan
    January 15, 2010 at 9:22 am

    kwihee – thank you.

  15. popon
    January 15, 2010 at 10:38 am

    This title reminds me of a current problem in my country/Bulgaria/. It’s all about our privacy in the Internet and the decision of our government to grant the police full access not only to our generated traffic, but to our private e-mails, chat and forum entries, etc. The other problem is with cell phones..Big brother wants to know what we do every single minute. Yesterday there was a protest reffering this matter.

    • edhartigan
      January 15, 2010 at 4:24 pm

      Hi – always interesting to get the view from another country, if slightly depressing to see that data privacy in Bulgaria is a long way from where it should be. Thanks for stopping by.

  1. January 15, 2010 at 4:04 pm
  2. January 20, 2010 at 3:58 pm

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