I was inspired to write this post after I read Farhad Manjoo’s post on privacy. He questions the fact as to whether privacy really matters or not when in actuality, all we really want according to Manjoo is “some semblance of control over our personal data, even if we likely can’t be bothered to manage it.” I have to agree that he’s got a point, but I also think that it takes two to tango in the case of privacy.
As a consumer, I am responsible for setting my privacy settings just as the service provider is responsible for giving me control over them or an easy way to make changes.
It’s 2010 and I’m pretty sure that in 2007 I wasn’t telling everyone in the world that I was at Starbucks getting my favorite morning jolt via Twitter or Facebook or that it was my fifth time at Starbucks this week via FourSquare. No, those little tidbits of information I kept to myself, maybe told a co-worker or a friend.But certainly I wasn’t in line to take a billboard out about it.
These days we have the likes of Foursquare, Twitter, Google Buzz and Facebook advertising every millisecond of our lives and we get our panties in a bunch when someone steals our identity over the internet. Or, better yet, robs our house because, well, they knew we were going to Starbucks every morning at 8:35am would be gone the next 8 hours at work because after I Foursquared that I was at Starbucks, I tweeted that the commute sucked on the way to work.
The thing today about the internet is that it’s not just an information highway anymore, it’s an ugly traffic jam with a five car pile-up. There is so much information out there, both true and false and there are so many different outlets to post information and get information, that it’s like a haven for criminals.
The article further goes on to mention that it’s control that matters, not privacy and gives the example of Google targeted ads. Google wasn’t a “privacy piñata” because they gave the user a dashboard to opt out if they wanted. It turns out that only 1 in 15 who actually visit the Ads Preferences Manager actually opt out of the targeted ads. I wonder how many people even know where the dashboard is to access the opt-out settings?
But the reason most people are sharing everything these days is that most of the opt out settings default to “share everything” and are far too complicated for the average Joe to understand or sort through. Take for example, Facebook privacy settings. Are you kidding me? Whoever created these should be smacked upside the head for not keeping it simple. Seven pages of privacy settings where some settings trump other settings but there is no warning to that, you just need to read between the lines. It can take upwards of an hour to go through all of the Facebook privacy settings to make sure you set them up correctly. And how about when Facebook adds a new setting and doesn’t alert you? Ugh.
It’s more than just control, when it comes to privacy. It’s also a company’s social responsibility to keeping it short and simple when giving you control and informing you when changes are made.
This is why we have privacy watchdogs out there. Someone has to keep these companies in check and help us navigate the what should be simple settings.