The great privacy debate

Some time ago I took part in some market research, where I was asked to go online each day and answer questions about my attitudes towards technology.  One of the questions asked about Facebook.  I said I thought it was great, I loved staying connected with people, sharing interesting info or links, and seeing photo’s that my friends have taken all around the world.

But it seems that my view was not in the majority.  In fact, quite the opposite.  Most people said they used to like Facebook, but more and more they are becoming concerned with their privacy.  They seemed to think of Facebook as some benevolent company gone bad, that had made it’s privacy settings intentionally difficult to navigate, and was selling user information to advertisers.  Many had closed their accounts as a result.

This kind of fearful talk about “invasions of privacy” is something I’ve been noticing more and more lately.  Most recently with the 2013 census.  Many people posted about mis-answering or skipping certain questions in “protest” against them being asked, or not filling in the census because they didn’t agree with what their information would be used for, or who would be able to access it.

Last week Anna wrote a great blog about how some census questions could be more inclusive.  However, the privacy debate seems to be something a bit different.  It seems that with technology becoming more and more pervasive in our every aspect of our lives, people are becoming more protective of their personal information.

I have to wonder though, what exactly is there to be afraid of?  The census had been around forever, and the information it collects is governed by privacy laws.  That means people can access general statistical information eg: household structures, incomes, information about who drives/walks/buses to work…but not your name associated with that data.  As a student, I don’t really have a problem with this, because I know how useful this kind of data is for research.

And as for Facebook, I’ve long been of the opinion that you shouldn’t share anything online you don’t really want other people to know – even if you have the strictest privacy settings.  Because once something’s online, it’s pretty hard to remove it.

Like many people I share photos of holidays, job information, educational details and daily musings.  I’m not particularly concerned with any random people in the world knowing this information…even advertisers.  I figure I’m going to see ads across all media, regardless of whether I’m on Facebook or not.  Why should I care if they are more targeted to my life?  Maybe I’ll see something I actually need or want!

So I have to wonder if people do really feel like their privacy is being invaded, or afraid of their information getting into the wrong hands.  Or is there an underlying fear of the rapid pace of change that technology brings?  Perhaps when Facebook was new, people eagerly uploaded every detail about their lives, and now it’s come back to haunt them.  Or perhaps being more connected and living our lives more openly makes people want to keep something of themselves hidden from the world?  I’m not quite sure yet, but I’d be interested in what you think.

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