Other People’s Privacy

There was not a bigger, more contagious crossover radio smash in the autumn of 1991 than Naughty by Nature’s “O.P.P.” – Allmusic

Coupled with the rise of social media in everybody’s faces these days has been the rise of the loaded term Privacy. We expect Privacy online, Privacy is a basic human right, Privacy why we’re angry about Google Buzz, Facebook Beacon was a breach of our Privacy, the list goes on, right? danah boyd broke all of this down for everyone lucky (or crazy) enough to attend the South by Southwest Interactive conference this past week.

There is an excellent summary at ReadWriteWeb. One of the most salient talking points undoubtedly tweeted repeatedly throughout the afternoon was this: “Just because something is publicly accessible doesn’t mean that people want it to be publicized.” Privacy Concern in social media generally stems from this idea. We want the ability to share things publicly through social media, but don’t necessarily want everyone in the world looking at it. Alternatively, we want to participate in social media, but don’t fully understand the implications of our involvement (“I didn’t know they meant everyone could see it”). It is also an understandable position to take, even if it may be a little naive. It is hard to specify in advance a list people you want to have access to something you post. But if you don’t (or can’t or won’t) do that, then it has to be public.

This tension also invades discussions of online health and social media. This is even more difficult than just learning how to use Facebook effectively, especially given a perceived increased in pressure or desire to share more and more of ourselves with an online community. There’s a nice article written last week at The Future Well about this topic. In it, Dr. Jay Parkinson writes:

Privacy means many different things to everyone. Most importantly, health privacy is more about control than secrecy. We want to be in control of who sees our health issues. We don’t want health insurance companies or employers to discriminate against us. But we want help and advice from friends and strangers struggling with the same health problems– sometimes we want this anonymously and for others we want full disclosure.

I think that Privacy on the web these days, in any sphere, is more about control than secrecy, and Dr. Parkinson shares this sentiment with boyd. He goes on to say that the value we gain by claiming our content online and sharing in (health) experiences with others “far outweighs the consequences of remaining secretive.” I hope that more people come to this understanding, and sooner rather than later. There is nothing that irks me more these days than an anonymous blogger (and we all know what happens to THEM) or someone who blocks their Twitter feed.

When I see those things, I always think, “What are they trying to hide?” We should all start demanding (and utilizing) our control and owning our content; that, or you need a really good answer to that question.

UPDATE: There is a Pew Internet Study about to be released on this very topic that I just came across this afternoon: “the center found that most people said they cared greatly about online privacy but they didn’t do much about it. When asked if a user plugged in their own name into a search engine to see what public information is available on them, the numbers dramatically dropped.” Unfortunately, the data was collected before Facebook revamped their privacy options recently, and also before the launch of Google Buzz. Too bad.


One thought on “Other People’s Privacy

  1. What I find interesting is that some social media users can be told that Facebook is public – but they don’t really understand the implications of saying something inappropriate in that space.

    The answer to protecting privacy in social spaces is self-mediation – don’t say it. You really don’t need to tell anyone, anything, on social media. You can participate and collaborate with people, assiduously building your networks, and can keep your private live private.

    Really, it’s not that hard.


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