Webcology Privacy Debate

Today on Webcology Jim Hedger and I discussed privacy.  I should note that when it comes to privacy I have a fairly right-wing approach to most aspects of it (though not all).  Jim on the other hand tends to be a little more left-wing on the subject (reminding me of the Net Neutrality debate we’ve had numerous times). 🙂

The discussion spanned Facebook and Google (with a little general issues in there) and started with the fact that Facebook has come under attack lately for selling information to third parties to advertising and has this included in their privacy policy.  Jim of course understands the desire to capitalize on the data but has issue with the practice of violating people’s privacy like this.  I don’t quite see it that way and here’s why …

When you enter any information into an online source you are giving it to the world.  That’s about that.

People seem to believe (falsely) that when they enter their information into Facebook (or any other online source for that matter) that the information is somehow only called on by their closes and dearest friends.  That somehow Facebook is the benevolent entity that is allowing developers to build tools around their system for the good of mankind and somehow shouldn’t profit.  And magically – there will never arise a situation where Facebook (or similar entity) has their data taken by hackers.  This belief by people that they can enter copious amount of personal data into Facebook assumign that Facebook is somehow collecting it for the good of all mankind actually annoys me.

So the onus lies on …


Who has hold of all the information that could be abused?  You do.  Facebook didn’t launch one day with all the information about everybody on the planet.  No – they just asked and you told them.  If we stop and ask ourselves, “Do I want the world to know this?” about the information we give away then the privacy issues won’t exist.  I’m OK with the world knowing I’m an SEO, I went to Cairine Wilson Secondary School, I watch Arrested Development and I play Bioshock 2.  Information that I wouldn’t want the whole world to know – never makes it into Facebook or any other social medium.

I was lucky to have a father who was a political adviser and who is now a lawyer.  He would say, “Never write anything down you don’t want the wold to know.”  At the time he was referring to print but the same can be said for the digital world.  Don’t give your information to a  third party if you don’t want the world to know.  The onus lies with you – not them.  They have to protect their interests (profit) and you have to protect yours (privacy).

Let’s also remember that capitalism has an uncanny way of self-regulating.  If your information is used for purposes you don’t approve of enough times – you will stop using the service.  So if Facebook violates your trust you will stop using Facebook and the slow and steady decline will begin.

The exception to my rule …

For the companies out there who think I’m given them an all-clear the are some exceptions.  I only put the onus on the individual when there is reasonable reason to believe you are giving the information away.  When I search on Google I know my behavior is being tracked (heck – they’re personalizing my results based on it) and then I enter my favorite shows into Facebook I know it’s being stored.  But what about pre-installed widgets and toolbars that come with your fancy new computer.  They can track your behavior but in my humble opinion – I believe this is where the scrutiny should lie.  If my new PC by default is monitoring my behavior, preferences and web patterns then this is private information and the consumer likely isn’t aware this is going on.  If they search int eh toolbar (for example) then it is the individuals responsibility but if it is data gathered when the individual likely didn’t know and and shouldn’t reasonably have known that data was being collected – herein lies the potential violation of implied privacy.

But of course this is just my opinion.  The rule of the day though: Don’t write anything down you don’t want the world to know.

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