A question of privacy

There were incredible discussions of privacy during SXSW this year. Dana Boyd led the entire event with a keynote speech about privacy. (You can read what she told the crowd here... It's worth the read.) Since then, I've seen more and more people discuss and post thoughts on privacy. Even Craig Newmark of Craigslist threw his thoughts into the ring earlier this year. Dana wrote an incredible blog post yesterday. Her thoughts and collection of ideas encouraged me to start blogging about privacy. I have had a chance to get involved in great conversations about privacy as well. A long time ago, privacy was easier. The majority of our actions were behind closed doors and they stayed there. Work activity stayed at work. Home life stayed at home. But with the ease of sharing and communicating, we are all much more connected. That means we are also a lot loss private. So what is privacy now?

I am okay with parents at my kids' schools knowing that we spend a lot of time participating in sports and other after school activities, but I wouldn't be happy if Nike and LL Bean knew about it without my permission because I talked about hiking boots or a soccer game on Facebook. I get creeped out any time strange businesses try to tweet me about services just because I mentioned server space on Twitter. But I know every word I see and every action I mention on Twitter is public. I'm more aware and I'm careful with what I say in that social space. So I'm learning about a new level of privacy. And I think many people are starting to realize there's a new level of privacy that we may not have control over.

That's why the changes in Facebook's privacy structure scared a lot of people. I'm fascinated with the Like Button site... and I have shown it to many people who were shocked by how easy it was to see what our Facebook friends "like." I added the "like" buttons to this blog and my mommy blogs. But now I feel like I may have made an error jumping into the "like" craze so quickly. Am I invading my readers' privacy? My fascination may be a privacy invasion to another person.

I have not decided where I stand in my opinion about Facebook. I'm deeply involved in that space. I joined in 2005, I teach my students how to use it as a tool to connect with my newsroom's audience and how to stay in touch with potential contacts that can help get them jobs someday. I use it to link to people I would never stay in touch with but Facebook makes it possible. I do feel a bit used by the Facebook leaders. But I also feel like I am willing to give up some privacy for the service it provides... I'm just not sure Facebook is transparent enough about what privacy I'm giving up by using the site. Have you seen the New York Times graphic that shows all 170 steps to customize your privacy? Wow.

Where does the news business play in all of this? Well, we need to understand how the general public feels about privacy. The challenge right now is each person has a very different opinion about privacy. Our audience/readers/viewers/whatever you want to label people who consume information you produce are in the middle of such an amazing shift of privacy that we are serving them while privacy expectations range from "Not in my house" to "Please make sure you tell me before you share anything to advertisers" to "Aw heck, I don't mind." We need to be mindful. We need to participate in social spaces while being aware of these many different perspectives. We need to be as transparent as possible. We CANNOT do what Facebook is doing. We have to be open at every step. As Dana Boyd wrote as a follow up to yesterday's blog post, Facebook is a utility. Journalism is a service. There's a difference there. I think it's an important one. And it's a conversation that we need to talk about a lot. And Facebook is just one element of a much larger shift in our culture.

(Image courtesy of Horia Varlan's Flickr page)