Really, It’s None of Your Business!

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Mega web companies harnessing users’ social media want privacy to go away. Consider Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who recently opened up the privacy settings on the social network to end social networks. Facebook users’ photos, home towns and friends lists are all public now, and the CEO would redesign the network to make all data open. Is it any wonder that Facebook has had numerous Federal Trade Commission complaints filed against it by the Electronic Privacy Information Center?

The general belief is that everyone’s data should be available, for users’ personal searching, and for organizations to extrapolate data for content, social and purchase recommendations. They’re dead wrong.

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While using the semantic data — or the harnessing of social information to serve users with “smarter” content — these companies, and increasingly nonprofits, sacrifice that most important aspect of the social web: Human relationships. In return for receiving users information in a trusted relationship, they move away from sincerity and return back to the 1.0 machine of consumer exploitation.

The side effects can be hazardous. People find their information online and used in ways that they never wanted, in embarrassing ways. From friends and family seeing things that could be questionable to data used to oversell them or against them in business or legally, users can expect their private data to become publicly served.

Shonali Burke thinks organizations need to return to relationships.

Really, companies need to understand, it’s none of their business! Yes, data can be used to make better decisions, but they are in the people business, not the database/email list business. A personal email gets answered, spam gets deleted.

The social web’s great promise to organizations remains better relationships, but the exploitation of personal data will yield the same result as mass media spam did: Distrust, anger and lost customers. Unfortunately, it seems we will need to learn that lesson again.

There are additional side effects. The semantic web has been a long time coming. But as we harness the terabytes of data, our content choices seem to become “mush,” creating a digital collective that unfortunately takes the uniqueness out of individual voices. Kind of sounds like an artificial concentrated version of mass media.

Personal Recommendations

Frankly, Facebook has a long history of loops in privacy with Google and through friends of friends pages. Individuals who think a private network like Facebook is truly private should think twice.

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The real answer for privacy seekers is don’t put it online, private or public. An increasingly hard task, but if you think it can hurt you or embarrass you, remember a screen shot by even the most trusted individual can be posted on a blog. And frankly, if you are posting it and it comes back to bite you, then you have no one to blame but yourself. Its kind of like hitchhiking.

Further, trust with data and information served needs to be doled out with thought. In this era more than any, skills that matter include being able to discern quality information. Keep in mind, each person has their own benchmark for quality, but be intelligent about those personal decisions instead of simply saying yes to anything said or done online.

15 Replies to “Really, It’s None of Your Business!”

  1. What scares me is that, while I agree with you that we all should be careful what we say online, in reality lots of people are not.

    Try explaining this stuff to a teenager. They just can’t project that far into the future or understand the consequences of a throwaway comment made to a pal on Facebook.

    And what about people who engage politically, but keep that apart from their work life to avoid losing their jobs? They use a different moniker online, and trust that their privacy will be respected. maybe that’s dumb, but for them the alternative would be to disengage from the things they care about.

    And finally, so many grown adults just don’t get it. They don’t read social media blogs, or know anything about reputation management. They just get online and start arguing about sports or hyperventilating about their favorite American Idol, or cursing up a storm, and they have no clue that what they say may one day be found by a potential employer.

    I don’t know – maybe there has to be a generation that learns the hard lessons and suffers so that others don’t do the same in the future. I guess it’s the teenagers I worry about most because I don’t think teenagers have ever, in the history of the world, been good at thinking through the long-term consequences of their actions.

    Thanks for the food for thought!

  2. If open the walled garden (without asking us) will mean getting messages we have not opted in for, then, it’ll lead to, as you say, deranged customers flocking to other sites where privacy is taken into account.

    I like targeted ads (e.g gmail) but I’d hate random spam just because I became a fan of a movie or an artist on facebook.

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  4. My rule of thumb is if I wouldn’t say it to my boss or my mother, or if it would make me feel awkward if younger family members read it … I simply don’t post it, say it or write it. Once out there … it’s always out there! Great post, Geoff!

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