I have read numerous articles suggesting that Facebook along with other social networking sites are redefining privacy. If we are suggesting redefining privacy, perhaps we are using the wrong term altogether. How can one be private on a platform made for sharing? It’s the expectation of privacy on a public platform that’s causing the problem.
Privacy hasn’t changed, we’ve changed. Information that is not shared is private information. Information that we share is public. Social networks have us sharing aspects of our lives from the mundane to the incredible – but we want to share and we do realize we are sharing. The problem arises when information we post travels beyond our intended audience. There is no way to prevent this from happening. As in the offline world, we rely on the integrity of the person that we’ve shared information with.
“Privacy preferences” do not protect our privacy, but simply place limits on who can initially view the information that we’ve posted. Perhaps the better terminology, and one that would resonate more with young people, is “sharing preferences” because that’s what they really are. But, understanding that once information is shared with just one person it’s no longer private and we no longer have control of how it will be disseminated or used in the future.
The overarching question before posting to a social network is, “Do I want to make this information public?” Then, with whom should I share it – with everyone, my friends, friends of friends, or customize to certain individuals? Lastly, ask yourself, “Am I OK if the information is circulated to a larger audience than what I initially intended?” This is a key question as there is high probability that it may be and, if what you’re sharing would seem inappropriate in a larger setting or reflect negatively on you, then you may want to think twice about putting it out there.
Private is still private. Sharing with the expectation of privacy is leading us down the wrong path.
By Holly Hawkins who has more than 15 years of experience in online child safety and forging best practices for AOL in the area of kids and teen protection. In her role as AOL’s Director of Consumer Policy and Child Safety, Ms. Hawkins works closely with both domestic and international child protection and Internet safety organizations. She serves on the Board of the Family Online Safety Institute and is an advisor to Enough is Enough, a member of the European Commission’s Social Networking Principles Task Force, and on the UK Council for Children and Internet Safety (UKCCIS). She is the co-creator and frequent contributor of Safetyclicks.com, and she is a member of the International Association of Privacy Professionals as a Certified Privacy Professional. Image Credit: Open Source Way via Flickr.