IndustryThe Privacy Debate Should be a Conversation

The Privacy Debate Should be a Conversation

In a perfect world, the debate about privacy matters should be just what social media claims to be: a conversation. What do we want to see and what do we want to give away to Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple? It’s time to openly talk about it.

The Privacy Debate

Privacy is a hot topic these days, just as it has been for years now.

I began following and taking part in the privacy debate many years ago, when I briefly chatted with Kara Swisher at a conference and asked her what it takes to be a successful blogger. One valuable tip she gave me: “focus on the privacy scene, that is going to be big.”

This was many years ago, when nobody had mentioned the word privacy in relation to online. That is quite different these days.

Privacy vs. Relevance

Privacy is a difficult topic. Because wanting “total” privacy collides with that other thing we really want: relevance. We want to see relevant ads, we want to see relevant search results, and we want to be “close” to our friends.

In a way, we’ve gone back to where we came from before the introduction of mass media: we want to rely on the opinions of those closest to us. Where we used to be going to a theatre play because someone told us it was a good play, these days we go see a movie because somebody we know “liked” it on Facebook.

It is quite similar to what we’ve always done, there are however a few vital differences:

  • Our number of friends has grown. I recently talked to a family member who turned 16. She had a Sweet 16 party for which she had invited 160 friends! Now, I had some friends when I was 16, but 160? No way. The difference can be explained in the use of social media (and in the fact that she is a 16-year-old blonde). Not only because there is more reach, but also because it is easier to keep in touch. Where in the past you used to “lose” friends because you just wouldn’t see them anymore, they stay within your social circle.
  • The speed of things. The web has increased speed immensely. We can act and react a lot quicker than in the past. This means we want much more relevancy in what we do online. We don’t want something which is a week or even a month old, we want relevant stuff, right now.
  • We want to be able to share with a lot more people and we want to see what everybody is doing instead of just our closest 10 friends. We want to know other people’s opinions, respond to them, and act based on them.

These three major changes make that we have to give something in return: our privacy. In order to receive information quickly, from a lot of people and act on it, those people have to tell us what they think, do and like. In order for them to see what we think, do and like, we have to give out our information.

For Facebook and Google to know which information to show us, they have to know who our friends are and what kind of information we want and don’t want to see. That means we have to give Google and Facebook that information, which we do by using their products. We’re giving them our information so they can give us and others the most relevant information, as quickly as they can.

Controlling What Others Know About Us

Now, some will rightly say that Facebook and Google aren’t doing this to give us the most relevant information, but to make as much money as possible. After all, they are companies ultimately driven by the bottom line. That they are using what they do best to make money is neither surprising nor a bad thing.

The problem with privacy matters, however, isn’t that we don’t want other people to know our stuff. We want to control what other people know. And we want to understand what is going on.

The problem with Facebook and Google now shouldn’t be in the fact that they get information from us, but what they do with it and how we can understand and manage that.

Both Facebook and Google keep secret what they do with the data. Facebook might be selling the data to third parties, Google might be connecting the dots behind the scenes. We just don’t know.

Google, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft should be much more open about what they are doing and give us the choice whether we want that. I know they won’t, because god-forbid somebody might decide they don’t want it.

But as long as we understand what is happening to our data and what we get in return, we will be much more likely to be actually give away that data. And at the same time we will realize a lot more that we shouldn’t put everything on the web we are doing now without thinking about possible consequences.

The average user doesn’t think enough about consequences, Google and Facebook aren’t open enough about what they are doing and we as an industry aren’t telling people enough what is going on. Instead Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Apple are all trying to trick each other and blame each other for not doing it right.

Lessons Learned

Now Search Engine Watch is a site filled with information you can learn stuff from. Many posts have takeaways or lessons learned. This post might not be a list of things you can do, but there are some lessons to be learned.

We as an industry should be explaining the end-users what is going on and make them understand. And we should all think about what we put online. And Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft: grow up please.


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