Online Privacy and the Social Media Paradox

Whilst Sydney was embroiled in discussions around social media not being a one night relationship at Adtech last week the debate surrounding privacy and social media was very much at the forefront in Dana Boyd’s keynote speech at SXSW.

How the open internet keeps in balance with people’s privacy is a hotly debated issue, on the one side you have the digital natives whom have been brought up on the internet and think it is perfectly normal to share their lives in public on the internet whilst on the other end of the spectrum you have the privacy advocates that would be quite happy in their walled gardens just communicating with only their friends. 

So when Google Buzz launched recently privacy advocates were quick to jump on the fact that was a default setting that disclosed a users list of Gmail contacts. Boyd explained that this was seen as such a huge privacy flaw because Google was integrating something very public with something very private. 

The brand republic ‘reports from the floor’ video below summarises the main points from the keynote in a Venn diagrams format  


Live Mural: Dana Boyd from Albion London on Vimeo.

Balance this up against the latest social networking phenomenon Chat roulette and we have two very opposing schools of thought about what it is ok to do on the internet and not?

Whilst it is ok for us to invite some complete stranger into our living room we do not want Google or Facebook to misuse our personal information. Fair enough but Google might add this is how they can build a better picture of our needs as internets users and serve us better so how do we find the balance?

It’s seems to me that we are in the midst of a social media paradox in that we love the thought of what social networking offers us but sometimes it can come back and bite us when we least expect it so we where does the line get drawn on issues of privacy ?

Boyd would argue that privacy is not dead and perhaps the most interest assertion was that Boyd saw this as a trend of making social communication tools “public by default and private only through effort”

This seems to be a common thread across social networking discussion and Listening to a lively podcast  debate between Mitch Joel and Joseph Jaffe around Foursquare  recently I was intrigued with jafee’s  premise  that ‘ 50% of the internet population is dumber than the other half ‘ because it points to a very real need  for online education around social networking .

What are we signing up for when we accept terms and conditions of various different social networking services?  With foursquare for example do we really want everybody on our friend list knowing where we are at all times and how carefully should we pick and choose our friends between all these different services? For example do we really want all our friends on Facebook signed up to us for Foursquare and vice versa?

My advice is to read the small print when we sign up for the latest shiny new toy and read up as much on it as possible before you start using it – As with any new technology there will be early adopters and people who will experiment and be successful so don’t be afraid of failure but just be mindful of how much information you give up and to whom. Jaffe argued why would he bother befriending people on foursquare apart from his close family and friends as he didn’t want people knowing where he was all the time?      

This effort seems to be supported “When people say that privacy is dead, it just warrants others to disregard it,” Boyd concluded. Privacy is still very much alive and in need of defenders and only through that realisation can we be sure that we are creating the future we want to live in.

We are still it seems still in the early phases of social change via the internet and Calls for the need to educate the consumer online just as we educate our client’s has echoed the very real need for an online social media association that educates users to issues of privacy online.Maybe 50% really are dumber that the other half ! 

What do you think?

Is there anything you’d add to the above debate ? Anything you disagree with? Any research you know about educating internet users that might be useful?