The Privacy Illusion

Bruce Schneier on privacy:

To the older generation, privacy is about secrecy. And, as the Supreme Court said, once something is no longer secret, it’s no longer private.

That statement sums up very nicely the precise reason the ‘older generation’ doesn’t understand why today’s youth likes social networking (be it Twitter, Facebook or others).

Schneier continues:

But that’s not how privacy works, and it’s not how the younger generation thinks about it. Privacy is about control. When your health records are sold to a pharmaceutical company without your permission; when a social-networking site changes your privacy settings to make what used to be visible only to your friends visible to everyone; when the NSA eavesdrops on everyone’s e-mail conversations–your loss of control over that information is the issue. We may not mind sharing our personal lives and thoughts, but we want to control how, where and with whom. A privacy failure is a control failure.

Schneier summarizes one of the larger reasons I don’t use Facebook and in fact despise the service. It is also the reason that I don’t trust Google with my email. With both companies I don’t get the sense that I am truly in control of anything.

I like Twitter, but there is little to no privacy — unless I lock my account or I send a direct message. I have no problem with that because I have no expectation that I can control the privacy levels of the service. With Facebook they ‘give’ users control over what they share, but at the same time allow app developers to capture sensitive data like your phone number and home address.

Perhaps MG Siegler sums up why I don’t mind the lack of privacy on Twitter best:

It’s like having a conversation in a crowded room where anyone at anytime can stop and listen to you if they want. Why would they want to? I don’t know. Why does anyone want to follow anyone else on Twitter?

If I think about it in that sense then, yeah, I have no problem with Twitter. If you assume everything you say on Twitter (outside of DMs) is being said in a crowded room then you have your privacy standard. Don’t say anything you don’t want others to over hear you saying.

The privacy expectation is different on Facebook — it’s more like you are in a room with just your ‘friends’ and occasionally, without you knowing, Zuckerberg swings by and opens the doors and windows to that room so others can stop in.

Originally posted for members on: January 16, 2011
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