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Privacy: How Important Is it Really?

May 29, 2010

Privacy Has New Meaning

Privacy, especially with regard to Facebook, has been in the news a lot recently. If you’re not caught up, or don’t nerd out about this stuff like me, here are a few links to get you caught up. Now that you’re informed, here’s a statement you won’t hear often: I side with Mark Zuckerberg on some of the privacy issues (though I don’t support advertisers or applications stealing your information without your consent), namely that on Facebook, you do want to share.

These people are even sharing their arms

As privacy controls become stronger and easier to use, people will share less. I know that I do. If you’re not friends with me on Facebook, all you’ll see is a picture and my sex. But this emphasis on hiding every single detail about yourself seems overblown. Unlike when Facebook began, many people are now smarter about what they share on Facebook. I don’t treat it as a friend that I can talk to about anything.

Share, but pay attention to what you share

I moderate what I share on Facebook. I won’t tell it if I’m in a relationship or if I have to go to the doctor. But on the flip side, I like that I can talk to people on it and especially that people will read what I say, even if it’s nonsensical. And with more privacy controls, people will inevitably talk to fewer people; and isn’t that not the point of social media?

Consider LinkedIn. I use LinkedIn. On it, you can see a lot more about me than on my Facebook. Basically the entire contents of my resume is there, and that’s not uncommon. Unlike Facebook, you don’t even need to be connected with me on LinkedIn to see this information and that’s because the service only works when as many people as possible can view your information.

You really do want to tell me about yourself

But maybe you’re saying that Facebook and LinkedIn aren’t a good comparison. One is for friends, one is for getting work. But I think the idea is the same. People want to share. At least, I do. I tweet. I blog. I have LinkedIn and Facebook profiles. When I do these things, I’m telling random people on the internet (the scariest type of people) all about myself. And when people come to my blog and comment who I’ve never met before? I’m damned excited.

The point of all this is that I believe people are putting too much emphasis on Facebook’s many privacy debacles. Simply the act of putting some information up on Facebook, like a photo of you or how cute you think your new puppy is, is a sign that you want to share it. It’s great that you want control over who you share it with, but really the important control is that you pay attention to what you share. You don’t tell Facebook things that are private, so in the end, why do you need to make sure that Facebook keeps it private?

Think about Facebook as though it’s a friend, but also a huge gossip. Anything you tell it gets spread around. Moderate what you tell it, and you can still get along great. Tell all, and you’ll end up on the front page of the Facebook equivalent of the tabloids: everyone you know talking about how you broke up with your significant other and the first person you told was your good buddy Facebook.

One Comment leave one →
  1. AMZB permalink
    June 10, 2010 6:10 pm

    You know, I’m not sure this is the right way to look at it.

    Sure, you can moderate what you put on facebook. But you can’t moderate what other people put there. Does it matter that you don’t put up compromising photos of yourself if other people do and those are available to anyone who looks?

    What about contact information? I want my friends to be able to reach me, so I am happy to put my address and telephone number on facebook. But do I want anyone at all to be able to see that? Depending on who happens to take an interest in you, that could be really dangerous.

    Suppose you have strong political views and do activist work for some cause. You use facebook to network with other people who also support your cause. But suppose your socially conservative parents don’t agree with you and you don’t want them to know how involved in the cause you are?

    There are all sorts of reasons why it’s better to have more control over your privacy. How could it possibly be worse to have more privacy options rather than fewer?

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