Personal Privacy in the Social Networking Age

Recent updates by Facebook have many of its users pounding their keyboards in protest. While the uproar may possibly result in some minor tweaks, the reality remains that it will most likely be short-lived because most users have become so addicted to socializing that they will eventually accept the intrusion. Some might choose to drop Facebook for Google+ in protest, but the vast majority will not be willing to go cold turkey with social networking.

Personal Privacy and Social Networking exemplify oxymorons, just like Network Security, Virtual Reality and Legally Drunk. Something “personal” implies private not “social,” and any expectation of “privacy” cannot coexist with “networking” or “socializing.” Such reasoning resembles constructing a billboard of your life in your front yard while expecting that only your best friends will notice.

Social Networking provides a lazy way to share information with a vast audience. Why send eMail messages with attachments to a dozen or so trusted friends when you can post a quick blurb and upload the photos to a Social Network site for all to see? It only makes sense. However, if you are going to take short cuts, do not be surprised when people outside of your neighborhood catch a glimpse.

Remember: Locks keep honest people honest. Anyone who really wants access to most anything can and often will find a way around any obstacles thrown in their path. A Social Network site can offer a host of lock down options and you can use all of them, but to truly protect your privacy, you must not share anything.

Why? Because the second you share something you lose control of it and therefore, its privacy. You cannot know what someone else will do with the information. What if they re-post it? Add a comment that can be taken out of context or shows poor taste? Who sees the subsequent post and, by default, information about you? Where might it appear?

The bigger picture boils down to one thing: Money. Why do Facebook and Google+ both provide free accounts? Is it some grand altruistic plan to help see if we can all just get along through Social Networking? Not likely!

There’s money to be mined in them there postings. It’s called demographics and the type of information posted every day on Facebook and Google+ pages provides a wealth of data, easily analyzed and exponentially more valuable based upon the quantity and variety of information collected. The more these Social Networking sites can learn about you, your Likes, your Dislikes, your Activities and where you visit (physically or on the internet), the more data they have to sell.

Data mining equals money. Facebook and Google+ are in business for profit. In a future post, I’ll give you some examples of how information is harvested and used from Social Networking sites.

In the meantime, say hello to your new Big Brother, (insert your Social Networking site of choice here).

What can you do?

Old School: Go back to writing letters and sending photos.

Extra effort: Build your own Web site. By no means secure but less likely to be mined.

More Reasonable: Send eMail and attachments.

Realistic: Pay close attention to what you post and who you include as friends. Don’t write or upload anything that can be remotely interpreted as incriminating.

Boring? Sure! A waste of time? Or an investment in privacy. Safe? Remember my comment about locks. And as to being tracked on the Web, get real. Companies have been monitoring buying habits since the dawn of sales. The shopping experience you have come to expect from 1-Click shopping to simply making sure sufficient stock is on hand to address demand would not exist without data tracking.

The key is less about whether or not you are being watched but what you let them see. Do you change in front of an open window, one with sheers, closed drapes, or in another room completely away from the window?

Ultimately, you determine your exposure.
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