Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
September 24, 2011 7:26 AM

Keep Yourself Alive

Who will protect your rights, your opportunities and your privacy online?

Do you think that it's the role of government? Is it the corporation's responsibility? Should Google and Facebook be securing your privacy online? Technology, connectivity and the great untethering of our society as we become more and more mobile is our own, personal responsibility. Yes, the government can support this evolution through legislation, enforcement and ensuring that our most vulnerable have equal levels of protection and access. Yes, corporations must make sure that what they offer consumers is something that they can understand (in relation to the terms and service) and a product that is secure for them to use, but beyond that, you - the individual - should not rely on anyone else but yourself when it comes to your online persona (and this includes the content that you create and your privacy).

Keep yourself alive.

Remember that with every friend, like, plus, tweet and website visit, there are breadcrumbs that are being gathered. Those breadcrumbs are then being associated with your usage and who else you are connected to. Should this make you paranoid? While some of the information is not personally identifiable - as an individual - remember, that it's not all that hard to make the link between what is being tracked and the information that you're freely contributing.

Here are some tips and tricks that may help you out:

  • Don't link to spouses and children. If you don't identify that these individuals are tied to you in the physical realm, it's hard for platforms like Facebook and Google to know the difference between a spouse and a friend or your child and a friend. By not identifying them as family members, they can still connect to all of your information. Remember this trick when tagging photos or naming folders as well.
  • Don't publish anything private. Someone I know was concerned about registering for a website because they were worried about what the company might do with their email address. This same person has been publishing pictures of their young family to Facebook and Flickr forever, for all to see. If you don't want your privacy exposed, be very leery of what you are posting.
  • Be careful of groups you join. People seem to think that groups are more private. They're not. Even private groups are just bits and bytes. The information is readily available for those who are interested in it.
  • Make your acquaintances as close as your friends. One of the reasons I like having so many friends and followers is that, in the end, it's a bit of a mess to sort through. It's hard to tell who is family, who is a close friend and who is an acquaintance. Yes, this requires some filtering in terms of signal to noise when it comes to usage, but it makes all of my connections "equal" in terms of the raw data.
  • Be leery of platforms with open APIs. Not to get technical, but understand the platforms you're using, try to read the terms of service and be aware that if they are allowing third-party developers to create apps and the like, it may also mean that the data (or, your information) is being shared as well.

Be responsible.

This is all on you. It's easy to take all of the information in this Blog post, get paranoid and think that I'm telling you to avoid any sort of personal engagement via digital channels. That's not what I'm doing. This is much more about ensuring that individuals take full responsibility for their actions by understanding that Facebook and Google aren't here to protect your most personal information. They're here to make money. They are a business... not a cause for the social good. Yes, if they want happy customers, it's critical for them to maintain your privacy and have a secure product (which they do), but as the business models evolves, so too will their terms of service (nothing new here - this is the kind of stuff that keeps getting Facebook into trouble with their community). Remember, it's on you to be the true gatekeeper.

You must take responsibility for your own rights, opportunities and privacy online.

By Mitch Joel

Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Steve Dodd
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch, this is a terrific example of what the "experts" in the social media world need to be communicating, and communicating regularly. Thanks for putting your name to such an important message.

    Although I agree that it is ultimately the individuals responsibility to protect themselves (just like not leaving a wallet full of credit cards and identification on a park bench) the problem with this new world of social technology is that most people (including many so called experts) have no clue about what's going on behind the scenes. Do you think the average user knows what an "app" really is or is intended to do? Or what those complicated "Terms of Service" (written likely with the intent to confuse users anyway) really mean? Is it realistic to assume that the typical web user really knows how all of this intertwined technology works? Let alone, how it is used?

    I personally don't think so. We, as an industry, have conditioned people (using this great technology against them) to believe this is a safe, friendly, helpful and fun place. I don't think there is anything wrong with that as long as WE own the responsibility to protect them against what they don't understand. That may mean foregoing a revenue opportunity because it’s just not in the best interest of our user community.

    Why’s that an important consideration? Here's a crazy thought. If something’s "Free" then its users are the product. Like all businesses, if the "product" is not properly protected, enhanced and nurtured it will eventually go away (and get taken out by something seemingly better or more relevant). Therefore, over time, if our industry and the players in it don't protect the most important component (users) which is their product (at least the raw materials) when all is said and done, if users stop, all of their billions will as well. It’s possible we are already seeing the initial evidence of that happening.

  • Posted by Jeremie Averous
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch, thanks for this great post which reminds us that literacy in the field of social media still needs to be defined - and taught to the next generations as part of the basic literacy. As the Fourth Revolution develops, that's the type of knowledge we need to impart our children at school.
    Where is the limit of the private data that can be published? Yes we can probably publish 90%+ of our data but need to retain a few % absolutely private. The trick is to have the confidence of publishing a lot while still protecting the absolute private.
    We need to codify this literacy and teach our children!

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