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Privacy is for n00bs

There has been a lot [1] of [2] talk [3] 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 [4] that I realized how mainstream this debate has become.  The median age of an NPR listener is 50 [5], 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 [6] which opens up medical records for research purposes and, even scarier, the Information Awareness Office [7] 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 [8], they have the opportunity to change the world.  I was particularly excited about the viewpoint of Yuli Ziv on Mashable [9].  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 [10] 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 [11].  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.

About Frank Eybsen

With a college screenwriting background, Frank turns SEO and Social Media campaigns into complicated narratives with intricate plot twists and subtle literary devices. He draws influence from his background in freelance design and project management. When not advancing the virtual empires of his clients you can find him at the Venice volleyball courts or covering a show for his music blog.