Sometimes it feels as though online privacy is a thing of the past. And while years in the PR world made me well aware of the value of transparency, I still find that sad. We have social networks selling off our data to advertisers. We have ISPs selling only semi-anonymous browsing histories to analytics sites. And now we have Google trying to consolidate our data so they can decide who we are and what we want before we have a chance to make those decisions for ourselves.
I’d like to think there’s still a place for user privacy on the Web. Actually, I know there is.
User Privacy in Social Media
For some absurd reason we seem to forget what “social” actually means these days. It doesn’t mean that we have to speak to the entire world (or even just our collective “friends”) every time we have something to say. Being social is about building relationships — not with an entire network at once, but with individuals.
One of the best ways to build a strong relationship is to have good old fashioned one-on-ones. Stronger one-on-one communication can build better relationships, both personally and professionally. And that kind of communication relies on user privacy. It won’t happen if users have to constantly wonder who’s looking over their shoulder.
Why Private Conversations Are Important (Even in Social Media)
The ability to control our own level of privacy on the Web is about even more than building personal relationships. Here are some other situations where privacy protection can make or break the social nature of communities:
- If creative professionals can’t enjoy some semblance of privacy on the Web, many could be less likely to share their words, music, or art. Anonymity, or at least control over who sees what early on, can help them move past fears of rejection.
With social media profiles being tied to all sorts of online stores and services (and members of a network being notified of what you’re buying, watching, or listening to), people may back away from newer sites and technologies. For example, I personally stay away from music sites that push me to share what I’m listening to and when, and I find it distasteful when I see repeated pop-ups on Hulu nagging me about sharing my viewing habits with people who happen to know me through another website. And frankly, most people probably don’t care what we’re watching or listening to. This level of “open” sharing decreases the value in social interactions, implying that a view or listen is some kind of endorsement. Or at least that’s how I feel when people in my network bombard me with a million and one updates about everything mundane in their lives.
- We all make mistakes. Chances are good you’ve done something stupid during your lifetime, quite possibly when you were young. At that time did you honestly believe that relatively small mistakes could come back to haunt you decades down the road? For kids today, they just might. We’ve gotten second chances. And young people today deserve the same opportunities to learn and grow without the world watching every little thing they do. I feel it’s time we put more emphasis on teaching them what shouldn’t be shared publicly on social media sites and less energy as a society convincing them that privacy is (or should be) a thing of the past.
When do you think social networking should remain private, whether conversations in private groups or between individuals? How do you feel about social media sites monitoring even private conversations in an effort to “get to know you” so they can sell you out to advertisers even more than they already do? Or do you think all social media interactions should be public? Share your thoughts in the comments.