In the offline world or the real world as it’s often called, teenagers across the globe cite their right to privacy and insist their parents stop reading their diaries. Most parents respect this request after all, everyone has a right to privacy don’t we?
What about in the online world? Privacy online is a huge interest to me personally, mainly because it I’m not sure if it actually exists. If it does exist, it’s certainly not in the same form or to the same degree as privacy offline. Why? Well, frankly we don’t expect it and privacy in its loosest form has no place online. The essence of interacting online and using social networks is to share information about ourselves and our opinions. Isn’t that what Web 2.0 is all about?
Its undeniable that we use the internet incessantly and we actually enjoy it. However, what do we pay to use Facebook or LinkedIn? Sure, there’s premium accounts with extra features but the majority of us pay nothing to use social networks and we don’t expect to be charged either. We’ve got used to everything being free online from photos to email, videos and music. But these providers of music, video and social interaction are not on this earth to make our lives easier. No. They are, at their very core businesses. And what do businesses aim to do? Make Money.
So, if we aren’t charged in euro for these experiences, what is the currency of the online world? Information. Personally identifiable information like our phone number, email, address or PPS number. Information on everything from what music we like, to what TV shows and movies we watch. This leads to the question of why. Why do companies in the US care what 22 year olds in small towns of Ireland are interested in?
If we look at Facebook and Google specifically, they both try to integrate our experience online. Facebook allow us to share what music we are listening to on Spotify or what movie we are watching on Netflix with our friends. They give us the ability to share our thoughts on clothes and other products online and provide our friends with a link to these products. Google allow us to remain signed in on our Google + account while using the google search engine or browsing on Youtube. Why do these Internet powerhouses want to provide us with a seamlessly integrated, customised online experience? The answer again is information. The volume of information these companies are collecting on us every day is astronomical. The number of uses for this information for them is also huge. Both Facebook and Google generate a significant proportion of their revenue through advertising. The more data they collate on us combined with personally identifiable information allows them to create a digital profile of each individual. This in turn enables them to sell extremely targeted advertising which one can assume advertisers will pay a great deal for. So, for Facebook and Google, as with any company it comes down to money.
At the heart of privacy is the issue of the privacy paradox which faces each individual when operating online, even if we aren’t aware of it. So, we must decide what information to share in order to use the various services available online. The majority of us would give away personal information in order to attain a free trial of certain software or to enter a competition for a free iPad. And we do it without a second thought as to what this information is being used for.
Despite, Europe’s more stringent approach when compared to the US, privacy laws online are at present practically non-existent. After all posting online on blogs or social networks is in essence publishing information thus, rendering it available to the public. Facebook do own this information. So, what can we do? Well, a lot of the time we can’t be wholly sure if our data is being sold and what our data is being used for. For now, the most important thing is to be aware. Facebook and other companies will follow laws that come into place such as the newly proposed EU data regulation. However, they are businesses and they exist to make money. They will possibly give us the option to opt out of certain features but that would require us being aware that we were automatically opted in. Instagram recently announced that from January 2013, they will begin selling user’s photos. This echoes our need to be aware and proactive.
I don’t believe we will get all the privacy we desire online and by choosing to participate in the online space we are forfeiting some control. It is therefore, more necessary than ever to be informed. Consider what information you want to share and what information you aren’t willing to provide to be with a chance to win a holiday in Cancun. My advice as always is to be extremely careful when operating online.