Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Are the Days of Privacy Really Over?

I recently read an article on ReadWriteWeb titled "Facebook's Zuckerberg Says The Age of Privacy is Over." Speaking before a live audience earlier this month, apparently Zuckerberg said that if he were to create Facebook again today, user information would by default be public. He also said, "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."

If that's Zuckerberg's stance on the privacy issue, there's no surprise that the alarms have sounded multiple times over the past 6-12 months about changes in Facebook's privacy policies.

But I have to say, his views and my views on this issue are pretty far apart. And I wonder if I'm alone. (Informal conversations tell me I'm not.)

My social networking presence related to privacy:
  1. My presence on Facebook is about connecting with people I already know and staying in touch with them. I purposely keep my profile more "private" and I don't friend people I don't know. If I wanted the whole world to know what I was doing, I'd have an open website. If Facebook decided to lift all privacy settings and make everything public, I'd be out of there so fast you'd be eating my dust. And I have to believe I wouldn't be alone. And that Facebook would quickly die...
  2. My presence on Twitter is more public, but it's also less personal. I don't post (much) personal information there.
  3. My presence on LinkedIn is more public than Facebook, less public than Twitter. But my presence on LinkedIn is almost purely professional.
  4. There's a reason I am not applying to be on reality TV. I don't want the whole world to know my business... and I think there are A TON of people who agree with me on this. (So there goes his reality TV theory.)
My point? Yes, we're definitely becoming a "less private" society, but we're not ready to tear down all the walls. And we SHOULDN'T. For one, there are too many safety issues out there, so until you can get rid of all the creeps and predators in the world, doing away with privacy is unrealistic. Second, let's be honest here: We all have heard plenty of stories about friends, colleagues, etc., who can't get jobs because of inappropriate pictures or comments posted online somewhere. (Heck, think of all the politicians / politicos-in-the-making whose careers have been torpedoed because of pics.)

My point? All of these social networking sites should let us choose for ourselves how public or private we want to be. And if they don't, I don't think they're long for this world... (And by the way, I still hate that my list of Friends on Facebook is automatically public and I can't change that setting. Or, at least, I can't figure out how to change it. If I'm wrong and it can be changed, can someone let me know?)

But maybe I'm just hopelessly "old school" in not wanting everything I do to be public. Am I? Weigh in on the public vs. private debate below.


JHenry said...

It wouldn't surprise me if someone used Facebook's faux pas as a launch pad for a competing social network with better privacy controls. I think competition is the surest way to remind Mark Z. how important privacy options are to many users.

Daria Steigman said...

Robin--Facebook's "you might want it, but we own you" approach to privacy is one reason why I don't really use the site very much. Part of it stems from the fact that not everyone has to know everything about me. But a big part stems from a complete distrust of how Facebook operates. I contrast this to Google, where I'm willing to share more information (aka, data) because I recognize the benefit to me (and the quid pro quo is pretty upfront).

JHenry--In one form, that business model already exists. I believe that with Ning, you--not the company--own your data.

cfrew said...

Robin - I totally agree with you. I believe that people want varying degrees of privacy controls for their various networks depending on what they expect to use the social network for. This is precisely why there are so many social networks out there. People don't want unlimited visibility; they want to be part of a social community that they choose and define the terms of; not one that is defined for them or open to anyone. There may be a growing norm for people to accept their information is open to everyone, but it's still a minority; at least until the reality TV generation of kids we're raising grows up.

Good post; its good to acknowledge the importance of privacy and that not everyone is as far left as Zuckerman.

Capital Communicators Group said...

So apparently a recent survey found Facebook far and away the most engaging social network. Here's the link: http://royal.pingdom.com/2010/01/12/and-the-most-engaging-social-network-is/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+RoyalPingdom+%28Royal+Pingdom%29&utm_content=Google+Reader

Does that change your view of anything said here?

Jennifer Balios said...

Last month, I was talking with a state CIO and he said that thieves only need your SS# and DOB to steal your identity, so be sure to hide the year you were born on Facebook (if you used your real DOB).