The contentious issue of privacy in an age of sharing

1 Jul

I was thinking about privacy last night. Whatever form it takes, it always seems to polarize – from Facebook with their unclear privacy policy, to the protection of the names of children who are known to Community Services (bear with me, this isn’t a totally out of the blue topic).

My flatmate (who is a child protection case worker) was telling me last night how she’d love to write a blog or something similar about her experiences – but the legal issues associated with doing so make that impossible. We then got on to the the topic of how Community Services has a bad name in the media, because the only time they get mentioned is when a child dies. There is no focus on the thousands of children they have helped, or the often extremely hard conditions they work with. As my flatmate said, they need a reality show to follow them and show the public how hard the job actually is (and I don’t think anyone could deny that they’d find it facinating) – but because the children and parent’s names have to be protected this would be impossible. Just an interesting and different view on privacy.

Another thing that made me thing about privacy recently was Facebook. And no, I’m not talking about the confusing privacy settings – I’m talking about what people use it for. And who they want on there.

For me Facebook is a place for friends I’ve actually met, and that I want to keep in contact with or share things with. It’s not a place where I’ll network or add people who have similar interests to me. I have the tightest privacy settings that I can and I’m not even searchable. On the other hand I do have a unique name, so while my profile won’t come up you can get a lot of other information – but again, I keep a close eye on what that information is.

But now, the line is becoming slightly blurred. After months of encouragement, I’m finally managing Facebook pages for four different organisations – two through my work, and two as volunteer work for an Aboriginal rights not profit. Shameless plug for a good cause – the organisation is Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR) and their campaigns on Facebook are A Better Way and Respect. Probably the most well-known of their campaigns though is called Sea of Hands – but this was set up on Facebook before it had pages, so it is a group with almost 2,500 fans.

Last week I got a slew of friend requests from people I didn’t know. It confused me for a few days – I’ve tested with unfriending a friend and checked that I am totally unfindable on Facebook. Then I realised that the reason for the requests was because I’m starting to try and move those 2,500 fans over to a Facebook page – but when you post on a group, you post as yourself.

So now I’ve locked down even tighter. You can only add me as a friend if we have a friend in common. I’m also going to start creating levels of privacy for groups of friends – I don’t want the people I add through work to be able to see just how much fun I had at University.

I wonder if I’m unique in my approach to Facebook and how I use it. Or if I’m silly to even try and make Facebook my only private network. The whole push to Facebook pages is based around the idea that people want to be able to interact with brands and organisations online. Is my super tight privacy policy restricting this? Do other people in my industry have the same approach to their Facebook privacy?

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3 Responses to “The contentious issue of privacy in an age of sharing”

  1. mandi July 10, 2010 at 1:12 am #

    Interesting points! I tell clients that they should never put anything on Facebook (or anywhere online for that matter) that they wouldn't want seen by their mother. I of course don't practise what I preach but my Facebook profile has always been locked up with customised privacy settings. I put them to the test with http://www.reclaimprivacy.org/ and was pretty happy that I'd had the restrictions I assumed I had!You raise really significant issues around departments like CPS who so need community support yet don't have the opportunity to benefit from social media. Defense is in a similar position – any attempt to create a public forum would be immediately overrun by angry posts of "babykillers" without any attempt to facilitate a constructive debate. Also any baby steps they take to get into social media are shot down by industry types who say blogs without comments or heavily moderated forums aren't doing it right and they shouldn't be doing it at all. Would love to see some discussions around how we can help this!Great post!

  2. Gavin Heaton August 24, 2010 at 2:12 pm #

    There’s no one right way to do this – and just when you think you have it nailed, Facebook goes ahead and changes the settings 😉

    I’d agree with Mandi – if you don’t want people to find it, don’t publish it. Facebook, after all, isn’t your friend.

  3. tashily August 30, 2010 at 10:14 pm #

    Thanks Mandi and Gavin for your comments, and I’m sorry it has taken me this long to respond! I agree with both of you that if you don’t want people to find it, don’t post it. But I wonder still if that awareness only comes with being involved in the industry that we are. And as you both are involved on a business/career level with social media, don’t you think that it goes against the reasons why we advise using social media for businesses? We want people to be open, to like brands on FB and interact with them through Twitter etc. I also know that another way that social media has been sold is as an insight into what people REALLY think about a brand/organisation/business… so if we hold back and don’t hit that publish button, don’t we go against our own ‘kool aid’ in a way?

    With regards to the defense and community services organisations that struggle with privacy issues when using social media (and against social media ‘purists’ who say that everything needs to be open and commentable), one of the key things is what their objectives are for becoming involved in social media mediums in the first place. I only just today responded to a criminal lawyer client of ours who asked if he should have a FB page. For the moment I replied no, because the audience that he is trying to reach through his marketing/advertising activities wouldn’t be one that would benefit from or be interested in interacting publicly with his firm through FB.

    Interesting subject though, and one that I don’t think is addressed enough in currently conversation 🙂

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