Big Brother 2.0

1 September, 2008 at 2:07 pm 2 comments

Whenever I receive a Google Alert in my inbox for a search conducted on me, I get a little concerned. Who wants to know more about me? Why? And did they find anything incriminating?

This may seem rather silly or vain, but I bet I’m not the only social media user who’s wondered about their online privacy – if such a thing exists.

We’re the so-called Google Generation that lives a large portion of our social lives online.  Thanks to web 2.0 technology, we’re part of an infinite social web through which we construct our digital identities and connect with friends and family via blogging, facebooking, plurking or instant messaging. 

This type of communication is immediate, cheap and convenient.  It enables us to be users and producers, and share information on an unprecedented scale.  It satisfies the exhibitionists and voyeurs in us all. Our past and present is digitally archived for the world to find, ogle, admire or exploit. But along with this blurring of the traditional private/public boundary comes a barrage of threats to our privacy.

Watch out
IT Security Strategist Herbert Thompson has demonstrated just how easy it is to break into a person’s online banking account using the information they provide about themselves on the Net, via their blog or online CV.  Even little nuggets of your personal information make you vulnerable to exploitation.  His advice is to “think first, post later”, as most of the data we put online cannot be deleted.

Danah Boyd of Harvard University aptly points out that the current generation of social media users – i.e us – embrace a new conception of privacy.  Instead of regarding it as a secret to be concealed, we consider it more an issue of accessibility to information. 

Hence the mass protests and petitions against Facebook’s Beacon and Social Ads systems which were introduced last year. With the Beacon application, Facebook struck data-sharing deals with various e-commerce sites.  If, for example, a user bought a product online, that information would appear on the user’s Facebook profile.

Facebook’s social ads system went a step further – or too far.  If a user posted a positive comment about a movie or book, Facebook would include his/her name and photo in an advertisement for that product, and display it to his/her friends.

Following protests and petitions from users, Zuckerburg and co. have reformed their privacy settings but not enough to leave the privacy-phobes satisfied.

Wake up!
Privacy is not a privilege online. We should quit playing Victim and start taking responsibility for our digital identities in this networked world. These are my three simple rules of thumb:

1. Value your personal information. Most social networks require only your name, email address and birth date on registration. Everything else you provide is voluntary (and can come back to bite you in the rear end).
2. By using a social networking site like Facebook, you agree to its Terms and Conditions. Read it!
3. Do not share information that you don’t want others to know about you.  It’s that clear cut.

For the odd narcissists who demand their online privacy while still posting sordid details and images of their sex lives, I suggest you revert to web 0.0 and keep a journal. Unless the current legislation on privacy is amended, our online identities will continue to be fair game for companies, governments, employers, journalists and stalkers alike.

We’ve got to live with it. Responsibly.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. statsninja  |  30 September, 2008 at 1:59 pm

    I wouldn’t like to be monitored by the Big Bro 2.0. I think social media sites should clearly state what they are doing with our private information.

  • 2. bloggingsocialmedia  |  2 October, 2008 at 9:52 am

    @statsninja See, that’s the problem. Once you put your information on the site and agree to their terms and conditions, it stops being “private”.

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