A small discussion yesterday on Friendfeed after I posted a video that puts up a big warning about the way Facebook deals with your privacy. I do not know if any of the claims in that video are correct. Jason Kaneshiro pointed me to an article posted earlier that mentions some of the same assumptions here.
Privacy and Social media. An interesting contradiction. Social Media allows us to interact over any content on the web. It’s pubic by nature, people are stimulated to join an open conversation, become public figures. Social media does sometimes provide us “private” back channels (the direct message in Twitter). It is an unstoppable process. Any website, channel or technology is making the move towards the usage of social media. We love to be part of any conversation and by doing that we increase the value of any service for the service provider and ourselves.
And it feels good too. I don’t care a bit about the aggregation capabilities of Friendfeed for example. But I like the ability to join in a conversation about that content that gets aggregated. Same thing goes for Twitter. Tweets essentially broadcast something to anyone that wants to listen, and every once in a while, it leads to responses that make you smile, laugh out loud, sad, surprised. All emotions are addressed in a way.
The sad thing about this is that Social Media and privacy are holding each other in a death grip. But privacy is slowly choking and turning blue. Social Media can’t really exist unless it facilitates public interaction. But underneath lies the trouble. I can’t think of a single web company that isn’t using the free ad based business model to exploit social media. And it is this business model that really fights the battle with privacy. And unfortunately it is winning, big time.
The generation that grew up without social media still has a grasp of what privacy means on the web. The generation that lives with social media now is already losing sight on the concept. And that i a real threat in my opinion. Privacy control is as important as controlling your own finances. It is not something to think lightly about. That doesn’t mean that there should not be any public interaction through social media! But it’s crucial that the participants can decide for themselves which aspects of their online lives an interactions are accessible and reusable by others, and which aren’t.
The only way Social Media and privacy could co-exist, because that’s what is needed, is to make the user himself responsible for his privacy control. These controls can’t be implemented within the social media. They need to be implemented within the on-line presence of the user!
To explain this consider the following (its’s from that Friendfeed discussion I mentioned earlier). Facebook allows you to set all kinds of privacy controls. Within Facebook you can decide what your friends can and can;t see, and up to a certain level you get to control 3rd party access to your profile. But there is one control missing. It is the ” Facebook, stay away from my profile” control. Facebook helps you to protect yoursef from anyone except Facebook.
Privacy is something the user needs to be in charge of. Who are you to think that you can do this for me? To implement this one could think of a highly localized version. Every user has his own privacy controls on his computer. But a much better solution would be to use the banking model. Create large privacy faults on the web where users can store their interactions and controls. Interacting using social media then simply passes by the controls we have within those vaults. Some will provide full access, some will put constraints on them. And the banker that provides this privacy service only has one business model, that is to protect the user’s privacy. And just like with banking, we want to have choice, privacy banks that compete to provide us the best, simple, easy to use, cheap, customer-centric service possible. A service that can connect with all social media and allows instant, fin-grain controls accessible to the user.
A simple idea, but almost impossible to implement due to the mainstream free ad based business model. Do we really need privacy controls in Social Media? You bet. We haven’t seen the last of this. As more Beacon-like services appear, feeding upon our personal data I think that privacy will wrestle back. Privacy will become a powerful counter force to the public addiction of this free ad based business model and get balance back into this death grip.