At PodCamp Toronto yesterday, one of the intriguing sessions was Brad Buset’s presentation about privacy, and how there needs to be more awareness of how much information we’re disclosing via social networks.
It’s an issue that has been lost in the shuffle amid the excitement about sharing what you’re doing, thinking, eating, going, drinking, buying and where you’re located. Everyone is pounding away on their keyboards to broadcast everything and anything without much thought to whether disclosing this information has a downside. In many ways, we’re drunk on social media.
The reality is there’s a dark side to social media that people need to serious start thinking about now. Every tweet, update, video and blog post is micro-chapter of your public profile that anyone can access. Sure, it’s information that is created for friends, family and colleagues but it’s also out there for other people with less virtuous interests.
The appearance of Please Rob Me is probably the best thing to happen to the idea of social media privacy. PRM is a mash-up that taps Foursquare and Twitter to highlight people who have broadcast that they are not home. For break and enter specialists, it’s a great resource.
Buset made a great point when he said that Please Rob Me is just the tip of the ice berg. Using APIs, someone could create a service that would combine updates of your location (Foursquare) with updates of what you’ve bought (Blippy) with updates of what you’re doing (Twitter or Facebook) to create an even better database for B&E specialists.
While this scenarios may seem farfetched, it’s just an example of how your social media information can be harvested and aggregated to provide accurate snapshots of your life. Unfortunately, most people are not thinking about social media privacy. They’re far too happy with the idea of leading transparent lives that can be shared with friends and family.
The problem is the public-private pendulum has swung too far to public. While sharing experiences and ideas is a key part of what makes social media so powerful, people need to think more about what they’re broadcasting and who can see it.
Buset said part of the problem is that social networks have a vested interest in helping people find each other, which means they want to make more information public so that it’s search-able. This explains, he said, why the default settings for Facebook profiles have swung to public from private.
In many respects, the emergence of Foursquare could be the best thing to happen to social media privacy. The willingness to publicly broadcast your location is a major and serious surrender of personal privacy. It’s one thing to broadcast that you need a coffee, you drank too much or think the Olympics are a waste of time; it’s entirely different to tell people where you’re located on a regular basis.
It’s time for privacy to be pushed into the spotlight rather than forced to exist in the shadows. We need to focus on how much information is being broadcast to the world, and how social networking companies are pushing everyone to be public rather than private.
If we surrender our privacy, the way we live our lives is going to be completely different.
Links: For more on Please Rob Me, check out this ReadWriteWeb post.