Tech Talk Tuesday: Facebook, Privacy, and Social Media

Facebook has changed their privacy settings again, and if you don’t live in a tech space you might not understand why all the geeks are screaming about the end of their illusions of privacy.

What often happens in social media (as in every part of our lives) is that one person makes a valid point about best practices not being heeded, and it spirals into an Orwellian tirade about Big Brother. Which is wrong.

If you hear folks yelling about Facebook breaking their trust, then please send them to me. I have a bridge to sell them. The moment you enter your personal data onto anyone’s site but your own, it is public. Frankly, your own sites aren’t all that secure.

Anything you write down in any venue, be it paper, email, text or forms is public information. If you have a secret, whisper it, do not write it down.

What are best practices as they relate to online privacy? Unfortunately this is a question that will get a fluid response. Some Social Media Enthusiasts have come to expect that social networks will protect their private data. I do not expect anyone to protect me online, but me. Until recently the default for sharing information online was for companies to ask you to “opt in”. With both Facebook and with Constant Contact, I am finding that they are relying on you to “opt out”. To many people this feels like a violation of privacy. Though, I agree with the feeling, I’m not at all surprised.

Opting In means that in order for a site, marketer or application to share your data you would have to choose to make it public. When you sign yourself up for a email newsletter, you are opting in. Opting in has traditionally been considered best practices.

Opting Out is exactly the opposite. When you opt out, you take your name off the newletter list, or disconnect your facebook profile from your twitter… etc. Until the most recent Facebook announcement, and my own personal experiences with spammers taking over Constant Contact, opting out was something I’d always thought folks did after opting in. This is changing. Yesterday I put in a call to Constant Contact and had my email address blacklisted with them. I was in the uncomfortable position of removing myself from 2-3 email blast lists a day, not one of which I’d signed up for, and not one of which had any value. Unfortunately when you ask people only to opt out, without first giving them an opportunity to opt in, they dislike you. This is what’s happening with Facebook.

The issue with Facebook isn’t so much that information is being shared, it’s that information is being freely shared, but at the time of posting, people thought it was private. Facebook went from an “opt in” network to an “opt out” network. This is bad for Facebook users, but it’s a good teaching moment.

As parents and pioneers in the social web we can use this moment in time as a teaching tool. When our children post their first pictures online (which I’m hoping won’t happen until at least age fourteen) we can say, “Remember when Facebook went from private to public? Even though these photos are private now, they won’t always be. Will those pictures embarrass you in five years?” We can ask the same questions about our words, our numbers and our infographics.

The reality is that a more open web is a more forgiving web. When teens do silly things we often sigh and say things like, “it’s a good thing he got that out of the way now.” We routinely seal juvenile police records. During this, the infancy of an open and accessible web, we forgive one another their blunders, not because they are children, but because we think, “that could have been me.”

I’ve been moving away from Facebook in small steps. I removed about 3,000 Facebook Friends this spring and implemented a litmus test, maintaining only those who had been in my home within the past six months. I did this partially because I wanted some of my privacy back, and partially because I am laying the foundation for my children to enter social media.

Here are a very few of the steps I have taken to ensure some levels of privacy. This list is far from comprehensive, and I’d really like to know what actions other parents of tweens are taking, in preparation for our children.

  • Use an office address and telephone.
  • Do not friend anyone on Facebook that you don’t know
  • Do not post family photos in public venues (this is tricky as some venues change from private to public with little notice)
  • Do not name your child’s school on your blog, “like” it on Facebook or follow it on twitter. The same goes for Little League, AYSO or other sports
  • Ask before you post anyone’s photo, if you walk into a room with people taking pictures, it’s fair to ask them to not post your photo in return
  • Register your websites to your office address or with private registrations
  • I’m asking people to connect with me at my Facebook “like” page, and I’m all but shutting down my personal profile.

Tell me what you are doing to restore privacy. Are you bothering? Are we living in public now?

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