Privacy In A World Of Online Social Networks

Privacy is a really hot issue these days with many people debating how this or that online social network, of which so many have popped up everywhere, is violating our privacy and exposing us to the whole world against our will.

Of course, user privacy is not an issue to be taken lightly, and should be one of the most important and respected points for any of these social networks, and I think that even though they understand that, it’s good that we keep an eye open for the occasional blunder from their sides.

However, I think most of the problem comes from the users and not the social networks themselves.

I’ve been online ever since before there was such a thing as an online social network, and have witnessed the whole transition from nothing where everyone was an anonymous faceless person to this time we’re in where we know what every single one of our contacts is doing at any given moment in the day, where they’re doing it and who they’re doing it with; with photo and video footage of it too.

We’ve obviously come a long way, and in a pretty short time; the only problem is that some people never took the time to stop and think about what it is they were doing and how much information they were sharing and whom with.

Today, we live in a public world, anything we push out publicly is found, archived and made accessible to anyone interested; and sometimes we forget about that, and we make mistakes that come back to haunt us; we blame the social network, but most of the the times we’re the ones to blame.

We also forget about the differences between the plethora of social networks out there, and are lured to find our friends from our email contacts and other social networks on every new one we join; but we forget to wait and ask ourselves whether we want our twitter friends who we share general thoughts and links with to be the same people we have on foursquare tracking our every single move or on blippy seeing every single item we buy.

In our lives, we have different sets of data about ourselves that we can share; the key is who do we share it with, and how much of it we share.

I make no claim to be another one of the thousands of social media experts who came out of nowhere all of a sudden, but I think a lot of it boils down to basic common sense.

In my case for example, I like to have the people I’ve personally met on Facebook, where I might share more personal stuff from time to time, so I know who they are and how much info I want them to see or not see, and have them organized into groups with different levels of access.

On Twitter, anyone can follow me, and I can follow almost anyone; that’s what’s great about it; and I share my quick thoughts and things I find interesting; always keeping in mind that whatever I say goes on the internet’s permanent record for me. Same applied and still applies to this blog.

On LinkedIn, I only like connecting with people I’ve done business with, people I’m introduced to by my contacts or people who introduce themselves and explain why they want to connect with me. I also don’t like people I haven’t worked with asking me for meaningless endorsements. I don’t believe my activity on Twitter belongs on a more serious place like LinkedIn and so haven’t linked my accounts to do automatic updates.

Foursquare and TripIt are a whole other story; these tell people where I am or where I’m going to be at a certain time. This is not data I want everyone to know all the time obviously, and so again I have to make choices who to connect with and who not to on them. Also when making updates, I choose on a per post basis whether I want that specific item to be shared or not.

Blippy is still new as a service, and most of the people I know aren’t on it yet, but in this case, the information being shared could potentially be even more sensitive, seeing as it’s what I’m buying and spending my money on; so again I have to make the call on what I share exactly and who gets to see it.

The list goes on; and if you just analyze it a bit, it’s clear the questions we should be asking ourselves are: How much information is ok for us to share? And who is it ok for us to share this specific bit of information with?

These are actually questions we ask ourselves on a day to day basis as we deal with people in the real world, but the problem is that when we go online, maybe because it’s all easier, we let our barriers down and stop asking some of the basic questions that we know we should be asking.

But in the end, it’s really simple: nothing goes on these social networks that we haven’t chosen to share, and nobody sees it but the people we’ve chosen to share it with. So it’s really up to us to make the right choices.