Week 6: Are We Sacrificing our Privacy?

In my first blog post I discussed the ever changing internet landscape, the transition from information access 1.0,  to the new found participatory environment dubbed Web2.0 . This concept has been discussed throughout my weekly blog posts, an ideology that has transcended the dot.com bubble hauling a wealth of positive implications in toe; increased collaboration, new user applications & user generated content.

Oh & Social Networks… Maybe a positive although I’m sure some people consider Zuckerberg as the new Frankenstein, these social networks are nearing ubiquity within modern society.

As a society were spending increasing amounts of time using a enlarged set of platforms for a variety of tasks some utilitarian, some purely social. The average UK user spends close to 6 hours per week on their networking needs, and with social networks growth showing no signs of maturity, I pose the question;

Are we exchanging more than just time?

Sacrificing more than just time?

Privacy International would argue so. In their 2007 comprehensive analysis of over 20 leading international online organizations serious privacy consideration’s were raised;

  • No single company achieved a ‘green status’, indicating a organization privacy friendly & enhancing policies.
  • Key internet players demonstrated either willful or mindless disregard for the privacy right of their customers.
  • Despite current technologies, expertise and market conditions perfect for the creation and implementation of strong privacy protection policies, organizations continue to fail in doing so.

Surprising? A host of Web2.0 Companies, social networks and otherwise, such as Google, Yahoo, Live, Facebook & Hi5 are demonstrating considerable privacy insecurities. Let’s consider Facebook, upon opening the can of worms they call their privacy policy you’ll discover their more than happy to extract a vast  amount of your user data you willing submit.

Happy to Extract

Starting with just basic personal information such as hometown, phone number, email etc. I know I wouldn’t disclose this information to a stranger voluntarily and it’s likely you wouldn’t put this information in the bin without shredding it.

Yet based upon earlier figures this hasn’t necessarily deterred sign up to multiple platforms. I’m playing devils advocate here but maybe users aren’t aware of the considerable risk, or perhaps disturbingly the definition of privacy is in a state of flux.

It seems these 2.0 providers like to think so, Google’s founder infamously said in a recent conference;

“If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

While Mark Zuckerberg founder of Facebook similarly declared privacy a illusionary concept;

People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time.

“We view it as our role in the system to constantly be innovating and be updating what our system is to reflect what the current social norms are.

Implying the forever changed nature of privacy, these quotes from founding members of global organisations paint a worrying picture of the future. Maybe Banksy was acute in asserting we would only have 15 minutes of anonymity, it certainty seems that way.

I personally find these definitive judgements completely convenient for ad funded organisations, and tend to agree with Kevin Bankston’s well stated opinion that it’s disingenuous to discuss changing social norms than take responsibility for Facebook’s action in shaping such norms.

“Facebook is pushing those social norms in a direction more profitable for Facebook.”

Of course it’s in these  organisations interest to discuss the changing nature of privacy for this very reason. The provision of free services is supported by an ad revenue model, which in turn requires increasing amount of user data to allow sufficient targeting. As a result our data is now of unimaginable value, one blog going so far to actually calculate Facebooks worth based on user data.

Your worth £78 by the way, and this is just a snapshot of our worth or now lack off. Zuckerbergs and Schmidt’s derogatory views go someway to support Privacy Internationals view that privacy has become ‘the lowest common denominator’. While I agree with this view, I personally believe the point can be extended further. As our privacy becomes of lower importance to such organisations, they are effectively sacrificing our rights.

Whether we recognise this fact is debatable, but by shifting the ‘social norm’ through a range of increasingly common platform tactics, changing T&C’s, complex privacy policies, long-term data retention etc. social networks our centrally positioned to maximise individual data.

Facebook is the perfect example. Their privacy policy is now longer than the United States of America’s Bill of Rights and subject to continuous changes blurring the lines between what was once private, and public. Matt McKeon & Kurt Opsahl summarise a number of these changes, McKeon’s visual summary a disturbing realisation of the increasing amount of user data Facebook can legally access. 

2005 Facebook Privacy Defaults

2010 Facebook Privacy Defaults

It’s important to recognise this legality, as users we sign our rights away within various privacy policies and user agreements. Admittedly the information is readily available before sign up but whether this is enough is questionable.

Who actually considers the complex jargonistic  surrender of rights enclosed within the policies, GameStation brilliantly proved this including a ‘Immortal Soul Clause’ within their online T&C’s effectively ensuring legal ownership of thousands of  customers souls. Added as part of an attempt to highlight how few customers read the terms and conditions of an online sale. GameStation claims that 88 percent of customers did not read the clause, and I believe this is directly applicable to social networking platforms complex privacy policies.

Of course, the most worrying issues here is that all this information is the controllable. When you delve further into the realms of social networking you begin to discover our data is sacrificed even without permission. The days of Facebook Beacon are over, but the recent revelation of the intentional data leaks within applications such as Pandora, and transferrable real time ‘location files’ stored within all iOS devices raise greater concerns. With the desire to develop the mobile payment phone via NFC, data leaks of confidential financial information are truly disturbing.

With trust and privacy two of the driving factors for the acceptance of mobile applications and branded advertisements, for the advertiser the risk of such compromises is particularly concerning. Perhaps there is an opportunity for the ethical social network or app where all information accessed is transparent, easy to access and not shared with third parties. Of course, as the marketer we are the third party  so perhaps it’s best to end on a final alternate viewpoint, my personal favourite…

Our individual privacy is ultimately a trading card. In our quest for the full participatory web experience, we are increasingly used to accepting reduced privacy in return for the provision of free services we have become so accustomed to, so adept at using. Whose responsible for this fundamental cultural shift? It’s likely a mixture of social network providers and early adopters but as a result of this privacy paradox we are fundamentally sacrificing our privacy.

My mother always did say

“Theres no such thing as a free lunch”

Maybe Facebook are looking for a new slogan…

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