Yes, Privacy – Again

Recently on This Week in Google, Leo deleted his Facebook account during his live podcast.  He viewed the Zuckerberg amorality with respect to his (and our) personal data as reason to set a positive example for the rest of us.  In the discussion of what might replace Facebook the focus was on a celebrity or business controlling their online identity.  But for those of us that are “private” entities Facebook provides a different function.  It is a one stop shop for finding out what’s up with our friends.

I’m a fan (not in the Facebook sense) of the diaspora project but I question whether the open web isn’t nearly there.  I could just set up a folder in Google Reader that collected updates from my friend’s blogs and online albums, but many of them aren’t public and require me to log in.  Now, if Tweetdeck figured out a way to give me access to feeds from sites that require me to sign in, they could rule the world instead of Facebook.  Anyway, the great thing about Facebook is I’m one click away from seeing what everyone is up to and I really dig that convenience.  So, I continue to wrestle with this issue of privacy and its antithesis – Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.

At Fast Company, Gina Trapani has chimed in on this subject as well – Online Privacy: Check Yourself (Before You Wreck Yourself).   Yes, I have joined in the Facebook bashing frenzy.  I admit that I take strange pleasure in occasionally stirring the pot.  But as the dust settles, some questions arise that I would like to put forward here.

First, what is online privacy?  We share financial information online with businesses such as banks and online retailers.  Clearly we don’t want our credit card information exposed or we could suffer financially.  We try to minimize this exposure through things like the Amazon Marketplace, Google checkout, and PayPal.  Now imagine if that credit card information were sold by these entities?  Our consequences would be dire but so would theirs.  Not only would I change my card I would change with whom I do business.  So, in a sense we’re all in this together.  Keep it private – win win.  Compromise privacy – lose lose.  Remember MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction)?  Quite a motivator.

Now, what about contact information?  Thank goodness we have the National Do Not Call list to protect us from sales calls and Google and AKISMET to protect us from spam.  And it isn’t just commerce that can abuse our contact info.  Some folks have crazed exes they’re trying to avoid or mooching friends and relatives.  Sadly, there is a lot less deterrent to leaking this information.

I’m not a big Chris Pirillo fan so I can’t believe I’m puffing him here, but he does occasionally bury a nugget in his mountain of product promos.  Gina relayed this tweet by Chris,

Posting your personal (as opposed to business) contact information isn’t really necessary is it?  If someone needs this couldn’t they just ask through a Facebook PM or an @reply?  Actually, I think everyone I want to have my personal contact information already has it.   Facebook says they will let you expose this only to friends but their history says they will make this public and it will be up to you to opt out.

I have read posts about stripping all information about you off of your Facebook page – no names of family members, especially kids, no tags in pictures, no school info, likes, or pages, etc.  The argument is that these will be made public by Facebook’s policy of periodically setting everything to Everyone and then making the user opt out.  Their premise appears to be sound based on Facebook’s well-known history.

My question to you is what do you share on Facebook that you wouldn’t want the world to know (assuming you’re not philandering, “liking” porn, posting about cheating, or some of the other stupid things non-readers of this blog do)?  Is a viable solution to leave out personal financial and contact information and  assume that everything else is completely public?

Why don’t we want people to know our kids’ names or what we look like or our taste in entertainment?  Please share the reason with the category that you choose to keep to yourself.

After reading Gina’s article and heeding Chris’ two steps to privacy if you still want to lean on Facebook’s “privacy” settings, try the bookmarklet from this page.  Please help me think this through by telling me that which you will and will not risk going public and why.

Also, what alternatives are out there?  MySpace just announced new simplified privacy controls.  Did Google learn its lesson with the Buzz initial fiasco?  Where else could we go?  You have the power to comment right here.

My grandmother used to tell me to be sure I had clean underwear because “You never know when you might be in a car accident.”  Isn’t that just another way of making Pirillo’s point?  No matter what you think you’re hiding in the cloud there is always the risk that it will become sky writing by accident.  Or to put it another way, you never know when Zuckerburg’s going to pull your pants down.

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