Privacy is for n00bs

Posted on Friday, April 30th, 2010 by Print This Post Print This Post

Categories - Featured, Social Media

There has been a lot of talk in our tech-savy neck of the woods lately about privacy concerns; the targets being Facebook and Google.  But it wasn’t until I drove home yesterday and was listening to NPR’s All Things Considered that I realized how mainstream this debate has become.  The median age of an NPR listener is 50, and after trepidatiously signing up for this cool new social site called Facebook, they now have to hear “social media experts” tell them their privacy is at risk.  I can’t count the number of mainstream media outlets that have pointed listeners/readers to specific instructions on how to re-establish their privacy settings in the same tone they would warn parents of the importance of childhood immunization.

First, let’s frame the connotation that the word ‘privacy’ has to the general population.  When the mainstream, non tech-savvy, populous hears the word privacy, their minds begin to reference things like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act which opens up medical records for research purposes and, even scarier, the Information Awareness Office which aims to house a central data warehouse with the goal of seeking out terrorists and other illegal behavior.

But we’re talking about Facebook here.  We’re talking about third-party websites having access to what school you went to, your affiliations, and what Vampire Weekend song you liked on Pandora.  Who… cares.

Facebook is in a very unique position at this point.  Being the most visited website on the internet, they have the opportunity to change the world.  I was particularly excited about the viewpoint of Yuli Ziv on Mashable.  The point of her article was to demonstrate how Facebook could use it’s power to replace Google’s search dominated world with a social recommendation style of interacting on the web.  This particular excerpt sums up my excitement for her viewpoint:

Instead of scanning newspapers, magazines, RSS feeds, blogs and Twitter (Twitter) streams, only to find a fraction of the content matching our interests, we could have the best matches delivered to us, as it’s created, and filtered by our relevant social data.

An alternative to Google?  For many of us, this is already a reality.  Almost all of the information I consume in a day comes from sources I discovered outside of Google.  I keep up to date on industry happenings through my blog reader, the world’s news is presented to me through social bookmarking sites, my friends email or message me things important to my social world, if I need to find information I search archives of my personal collection of trusted websites, and for very current happenings I search Twitter.  If Facebook can clean up this data and expand it to include things I wasn’t aware of but would be fascinated by – I’m all for it.

I’ve also read valid opinions that maybe you don’t necessarily want everyone to be aware of your life’s activities.  However, I think this stance is short-sighted and a bit 1984 conspiracy fueled.  Vadim Lavrusik makes the argument that perceived interactions can be taken out of context by important social contacts.  His primary example is, as a reporter, he may be joining a particular Facebook group in order to infiltrate a culture for a story.  His fear is that someone may see this interaction and assume he shares the views of this group.  Let’s break down why this argument is flawed.

First, the most blatant flaw in this thinking is; do your ‘important’ contacts not know that you are a reporter?  Are your colleagues so on the fence about your character that they would interpret you joining the Tea Party group as a clear indication that you have radical political views and to stay far far away?

Second, anyone who has looked up an ex on Facebook a few too many times and started seeing them as a regular on their News Feed knows that Facebook’s aim is to deliver the information that is important to you.  So if you are feeling the piercing eyes of someone judging you at work, then you can peer right back knowing that person is snooping on you.  Which will then lead to my favorite uncomfortable Facebook moment that has undoubtedly happened to everyone.

You: Hey Joe, so how was the bar the other night, I have a feeling you had a good time.

Joe: Did I tell you I was going to a bar last night?

You: Oh…

A great argument for the benefits of this new openness comes from Matt Bowman.  In a word: accountability.  I remember at a previous job what we’d call the ‘client voice’.  We’ve all known that colleague who runs around the office spitting strange Eminem-esque language and then jumping on a client call as a stunning incarnation of Walter  Cronkite.

Be yourself.  And if you have some passion outside of your professional life that would scare the hell out of your co-workers, then maybe you should read up on those privacy settings.  For the other 99% of the population, is a little reality in all facets of life really a bad thing?

Finally, I’ll admit, the title of this article is meant to bit a bit shocking, a bit passive-aggressive.  Nobody wants to be a n00b, and I want all of you to keep your privacy settings open.  Because it is going to take the collective data from all of us to build the future. We all need to put our ‘votes’ into the global data cloud.  Think of it like a secret census identifying what is good, what is bad, what should be successful, what shouldn’t, what we truly want from life, what we don’t.

A great point that Yuli Ziv made is the amount of time we will be saving by only getting the information that we are interested in.  And imagine the energy that extra time can be committed to.  This is progress people, and it shouldn’t be scary.

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13 Responses to “Privacy is for n00bs”

  1. Brilliant!

    Was having the same conversation around sharing…

    Facebook is just opening up venues to share, not the scope of information.

    From a marketing standpoint, anytime you can take the conversation to the point of purchase or brand, you’re going to win.

    Let the social shopping experience begin!

    Great article.

  2. Richard says:

    Great points Frank. It’s not like our social security number is listed on our Facebook profiles, yet… :-)

  3. Rick Clark says:

    So, Frank, what products or services do you anticipate benefitting most from this new communication channel and which would be fools to bank on it? IMHO — anything lifestyle related seems like a slam dunk but probably not a good place for IBM Selectric repairmen. I appreciate the clear expression of a calmer, more rational view.

  4. “One CEO, who asked not to be named, told me in the hallways today that Facebook is now a utility that the industry is going to rely on and he noted that utilities usually are heavily regulated to make sure that they don’t abuse the power they have over people and businesses.” from http://scobleizer.com/2010/04/22/facebook-ambition/

    I think this is ultimately the concern – is Facebook going to continue to let their user data and platform benefit other companies in a fair manner? Or are they going to flip the Apple switch and turn into huge dicks? And how is it going to be regulated?

  5. Chris Stout says:

    “It is going to take the collective data from all of us to build the future”

    I like it, cause it’s true. You can’t circumvent the search-based web and have personalized content come to you unless you’re willing to put information about you and your interests out there on the Net. It’s a trade-off, but ultimately one that will pay off and benefit your daily web habits if you’re willing to participate.

    Good article, Frank.

  6. Dave Counts says:

    I’m going to have to respectfully completely disagree with almost everything in this article. Privacy is for smart people.

    I’m not saying don’t share. But sharing personal stuff puts you at risk. If you express your opinion then you are going to have people who disagree. If you have a lunatic disagree and they know who you are, suddenly your life could be at risk. This may sound extreme, but just look at public figures. When all your information becomes (somewhat) within public grasp, you get things like you read in the tabloids “Stalker arrested for trying to attack Britney spears” or the like. I’m not saying everyday people are suddenly going to have paparazzi at their door, but all it takes is one comment you post somewhere with your real name and a link back your facebook. If someone else who is nutty (and there are plenty of them out there) doesn’t like what you post, you could find yourself in real danger. Sure Internet trolls suck, but letting everyone know who you are so people are “accountable” for what they say, means people will be afraid to say anything controversial anymore, and in a way we will lose a part of what makes this nation so great.

    If you want to put in your “votes” to keep everyone up to date on what is new and great, go to digg, (which seems to work fine without people knowing who was digging it) or better yet, go and start contributing to wikipedia. But saying we need to put our votes in by “liking” things with our names attached to facebook seems pretty ridiculous to me.

    • keith says:

      I agree with you dave, I live in mexico & would love to put photos of my kids on face book but kidnapping & exstorcion are real,just read the papers. be carefull people!

  7. Frank says:

    I’m watching you… “Dave”.

  8. Ffej says:

    Facebook accounts actually can be deleted, and they claim that all of your data will be removed from their system.

    http://www.groovypost.com/howto/security/permanently-delete-your-facebook-profile-account/

  9. Mike says:

    No privacy. OK. Then you say “… into the global data cloud. Think of it like a secret census …” Why do we need a secret place? If everyones privacy is open, wouldn’t that be the same data in the secret place?

  10. Bill says:

    >Think of it like a secret census identifying what is good, what is >bad, what should be successful, what shouldn’t, what we truly want >from life, what we don’t.

    But it’s not a ‘secret census’. And I think that is what bugs some people. They thought some information would be kept private, privacy policies changed or they misunderstood them, now they are not quite sure what is out there if someone searches on their name. It’s more like voting for President and having your vote published afterward. You voted for Ralph Nader? Really?

  11. Barbara says:

    I thought this was a great post and the commentary furthers that thought. Fact is that anything in moderation is good: Facebook can have the crowd sourcing effect that Frank lays out and doesn’t have to be scary. But my fear actually aligns with Dave’s comment because I think that we are not all well intended. I think there are enough ‘evil doers’ in the world that will manipulate what appears to be harmless ‘non private’ posts and use them for bad acts. Take for instance a mere status update announcing that you are away for a few days put together with small snippets of personal information that could lead one to know that your house is empty, your stuff unprotected – all of a sudden you’re a target for theft. Did you let your guard down and invite this through lack of privacy?

    No, it doesn’t hurt for co-workers to see you as a person with a penchant to have fun and let your guard down. But taken to an extreme, partying on Sunday night and not showing up for work on Monday can lead to some disasterous outcomes.

    All good fuel for thought. And the debate, questions and what-ifs continue….

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