While swimming against the tide of e-mails that was pouring into my inbox last week about the – in my opinion, unjustified – controversy of Facebook® privacy, it suddenly crossed my mind that maybe people spend less and less time thinking. Or, at least, thinking about serious problems. Don’t get me wrong, but it would have been nice to witness the same frenzy about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, for instance…
In the real world, people don’t seem to be so bothered when individuals with common goals and interests congregate in the aim of building communities and facilitating knowledge transfer or simply enjoying some time together. When moving the entire story on to the WWW, it suddenly raises a privacy issue, which, in my humble opinion, is totally artificial.
Just as with any other Web 2.0 platform, people joining this type of virtual communities have a social motivation. The stake – although somewhat narcissistic– is always deeply felt and it should be connected to anyone’s need for a sense of belonging, esteem and achievement.
Developing and sharing personal content – whether it means a simple sentence about things you are working on, some vacation photos or the video of a band you enjoy – is a deliberate act any user should assume as such. Or, to put it differently – what you post on your wall is there just because you want other people to see it.
Privacy advocates will argue that there is a difference – more or less subtle- between sharing your vacation photos with a circle of trusted friends and sending them out to the entire community. True. But in both cases the intention remains the same – advertising your deeds to others.
Let’s exercise a bit of common sense. You don’t fuss around on the street with your photo album showing it to every person who crosses your way and you don’t tell anyone you meet in the buss how cool your vacation was. Then why would you like to do that in the on-line world? Or at least risk ending up doing exactly this?
Privacy advocates will argue, again, that I am missing the point and that the platform is the one to blame. At least in theory, the social networking hub should let users control what happens to their photos, stories and links, while also giving them the option to show the content only to a small circle of acquaintances.
Fair enough, but would you keep on bragging about what you did last summer if you knew there is even the slightest chance that the entire world will know about it? Let’s be realistic. If you don’t want people to find out that you are a party animal, then don’t write on your wall that you spent the entire weekend clubbing. If you don’t want your boss to find out that while you were supposed to be sick in bed, you actually went shark feeding in Bora Bora, then refrain from uploading the gazillion pictures taken by your friends as proof of your tremendous courage. And, of course, if you don’t want to get your hand dirty taking care of the conundrums of social networking, then stay out of it.
Again, don’t get me wrong. Just because it’s trendy or all your friends are on it, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to do it too. No one forces you to join a social network if you don’t feel comfy. Still, if you do want to be part of it, at least read the Terms and conditions, Privacy and About pages so that you don’t sign up for an account blindfolded. Not to mention that there are much worse things that the “invasion” of a type of privacy which, I strongly believe, is no longer that private: ending up with a piece of malware eavesdropping for your e-banking traffic or nibbling the entire content (sic!) stored onto your hard disk. And the list could continue on several pages.
However, if you use your imagination a little bit, you might discover some other ways of getting in touch with your friends (even when they’re scattered across the globe), such as: writing a postcard or a letter, e-mailing them individually, uploading content (photos, videos) on password-protected FTPs, using a more reliable content sharing platform or asking the guys to join you for a cold drink on a hot summer afternoon.
Just remember that sometimes you may need a little bit more than just premium security. That is common sense.