Saturday, November 13, 2010

It's YOUR Privacy: Own It

We're lucky to live near the fabulous Durham Bulls Athletic Park. This ain't your usual little hometown venue with wooden bleachers, but a big, pretty, sure-fire stadium. I'm not much of a fan but my husband is, and he often goes to games by himself to catch up with friends there. One night last September he was sitting, alone, on a row behind a talkative thirtysomething couple with a young son. In the span of half an hour my husband -- the  "strange lone man" of lore -- sitting behind this family, had learned:

  • Where the child goes to school, and his teacher's name
  • What time school gets out
  • The family's secret password ("Jupiter")
  • What color and kind of car the mother drives
  • The name of the subdivision where the family lives
  • Where and what day and time the child takes karate lessons
The irony: Later in the game the mother was expressing her concerns about... FACEBOOK privacy issues.

It's no secret that I like Facebook; I wrote 1/5 of a book about it. But apart from its usefulness as a tool, I really admire what Mark Zuckerberg has done. After a decade of struggling to drag people into online interactions, someone  popped up with a technology so appealing and user-friendly that five hundred million people voluntarily use it. (Update: Make that over a billion.) Grandmas, my high school principal, folks from my dad's neighborhood, and sometimes their dogs, all have profile pages. And while I don't always agree with the changes, I truly do admire Zuckerberg's vision. He is not just trying to build a faster horse -- if he were, he'd have yet another portal site. He is forcing new interactions, new ways of engaging, and along the way redefining the concept of "privacy". He does give users privacy controls, but they are granular and prone to rapid and frequent change, and you'd best keep up. He's tearing down the silos the rest of us just keep talking about. Mark Zuckerberg is changing the world and the way we move in it, even if we're not even on Facebook.

I'm amused by people who are only too happy to take advantage of everything Facebook offers -- including the inescapable acreage of Farmville --  yet feel they have any right to complain about anything. Let's get clear: We are not Facebook's "customers".  We are its product.  Don't like it? Close your account, then. (Or ask for your money back. That'll show 'em.) I'm reminded of the time years ago when Ted Turner, blasted for announcing that he would be colorizing old Hollywood classics, reportedly replied, "The last time I checked, I owned those movies." Like it or not, it was his to do.  

I also am not in the camp that people need to be saved from themselves. It's the internet, and you can't both share information there and really expect it to be 'private'. Here's something to help clarify, from Dave Makes: 

So: If you want it to truly be private, don't put it online.  Don't be surprised if you learn that someone has harvested your email address, or used Google street view to get an idea of your income, or allowed some third-party app to access data it shouldn't.  (And don't be naive: Making a call? Your phone knows where you are. Buying gas or eating at a restaurant? Your credit card company knows where you are and what you're doing. In your car? OnStar knows where you are.) Don't allow others to tag you in photos. Turn off the geotagging feature on your smartphone. Disable Facebook Places. Don't download every Facebook game and app and gift. Don't announce when you'll be out of the country for 2 weeks. If you don't want Facebook to have it, then don't give it to Facebook.

And maybe don't talk about it so strangers can overhear at ballgames, either. 


Judith Christian-Carter said...

Jane, I couldn't agree with you more. The Internet and Social Media tools have given those of us who use them so much but one of the most important lessons that a lot of us need to learn is how to use them for the good of others whilst leaving our integrity and privacy (however we view both of these) intact.

Anonymous said...


I agree with your thoughts as to the personal responsibility to self-regulate your privacy, especially on FB. My concern isn't that FB makes so much info available to others, only that they have a history of not being upfront about that and have been caught disclosing or mining info that hadn't been adequately disclosed as a target for such activities.

Now that most of us really understand how FB operates, we can much more effectively manage what info we post and how to manage our privacy on this platform.

Jane Bozarth said...

Anon, I appreciate the comment but want to be sure my remarks aren't perceived as an attack on Facebook. The Venn diagram applies to all things Internet, and anything Facebook may or may not have done in the past.

Anonymous said... they stay out of the phone book? Off Facebook? Keep their tax info off the publicly searchable tax data about their homes? Avoid using store loyalty cards? Or signing their kid up for Xbox Live? Privacy is an illusion. Better to shape the message yourself as much as possible.

Sam said...

Another thing to consider, which many people do not, is your email (esp. important if Facebook unveils a new email system). Few people consider the impact if leaving email on Google's (or anyone else's) servers where any one (read: hackers, admins) can read at their leisure. You may think that what you write in an email is private but there are cases where the information was not considered private by courts simply because it was not encrypted.

Better to use tools like TrulyMail or PGP to encrypt your email so you don't run into problems there. I'd say encrypt your posts on Facebook but that seems impractical.

Kevin Thorn said...

In this age, the only privacy we have is going the bathroom with a "real" newspaper.

There are worse entities out there that have access to your personal information than worrying about Facebook. Mark Z. for the most part single handedly changed how we communicate, interact and share. If you're not comfortable with Facebook, its privacy policy, or the frequent changes, then delete and disconnect. You still have the power of choice!

Any young person pursuing a career in politics should be relieved. With the open-nature of our culture now there is no worries that a compromising photo will appear during their future election.

Future Scenario: "This just in, Senator [name] was addicted to Farmville, and we found many people who [he/she] unfriended." Feedback: "So. We knew about all that when it happened 10 years ago!"

Going to go read the newspaper now :)

JeffJ said...

Right on Jbo! People need to exercise more common sense. If you wouldn't spray paint it on your driveway, why would you put it on the internet? I agree that we don't need to spend so much time trying to save people from themselves. Tell people how to use things safely and leave it at that. Sending out paranoid cries about information harvesting and identity grabs aren't helpful. Adding to fear is not productive. Rock on!

David Kelly said...

When it comes to 'what side of the fence' I am on regarding online privacy, I definitely fall on the side of embracing the tools and understanding that online privacy is really an oxymoron.

For me, the greater issue can be explored by taking the fence analogy a bit further.

I've climbed over the fence and am spnding most of my time on the other side. I've unpacked a number of things so I can better enjoy my experience, but keep my wallet and critical information on me at all times.

See, I understand that this side of the fence is public space. I like public space, because it allows me to meet and interact with people in meaningful ways. But I'm also aware that when you open youself to the public, you open yourself to, as Cammy Bean might say, the a$$holes.

You know the ones - they walk around Social Media Park with their rabid pitbulls named Piracy and Identity Theft just looking for trouble.

You know what I say? Come right in, because all you're going to get is the stuff I unpacked that is replaceable and non-sensitive. The pic of my kids at Halloween? Yeah, you might get that. It urks me if you do, but you really can't cause us much harm with it. The pick of my kids' graduation with the name of the school in the background? You won't get that, because it's in my wallet. I don't want you and your trouble-making pups showing up at the school yard.

Unfortunately, I also keep in mind that if all hell breaks lose, I also have an exit plan. I always know where the fence is and what my best route to hurdle back over it is, because, well, I really don't want to get bitten in the virtual a$$.

I wish the fence didn't need to exist, but I think it always will. As long as there is information that can be used for illicit profit, there will be people who look to exploit it.

If you don't want your information to be exploited, don't post information that can be online.

Jane Bozarth said...

Dave, GREAT comments! I am almost amused by the recent surge in sky-is-falling-we're-all-being-exploited chatter lately. Like, what, data harvesting is NEW? There was a great line in the Showtime show "The Big C" the other night, when the homeless, anti-establishment brother said, "Oh sure, first it's a library card, next thing you know they're tracking you by the fillings in your teeth." Enough with the paranoia, and the need to run around sounding warnings.

There's an old adage about the ocean: You can play in it, swim in it, have fun it it. Or it can kill you. The ocean doesn't care.

So I'm back to: Get educated. Be smart. Take responsibility for yourself. AND since this message seems to keep getting lost: HAVE FUN.

John Akerson said...

You don't drown by falling in the water. You don't drown by swimming. You drown when you stay in the water and breathe it in.

The water doesn't care, but in the ocean, there are predators who would happily snack on a McPerson sandwich with raw you in the middle.

The analogy holds because the Internet is the ocean: vast, semi-unexplored, mysterious, full of predators, full of prey, full of riches, dangerous, rewarding and full of potential.

Thx for the post and thoughts!

bin95 said...

Great view on the internet privacy. Both logical and sane. ha.
But ...
There will come a point that some privacy will not be a choice. Much like when one just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. (IE facial recognition, gps, etc.) So now we prepare to limit what we can, ... or chose not to. :>)

Jane Bozarth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jane Bozarth said...

Here's another great example from a friend's 8 year old son:

Jane Bozarth said...

Update: This was written in 2010. Make that over a billion people.