Saving People From Themselves: Privacy and Social Media

All Things Considered: http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2013/04/22/178424347/google-execs-talk-privacy-and-security-in-the-new-digital-age

The adverse impact of the internet and social media outlets on privacy is a common discussion topic (and not just in “All Things Considered” and other podcasts). A large portion of the public seems to blame people like Google executives or other figures like Mark Zuckerberg. In some cases (like Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen), responses from people who work at Google (etc.) sound a little defensive. Overall, it all ties into the fact that social media has removed so many people from their comfort zone. The underlying issue is the relationship between digital freedom and personal responsibility: whether or not companies like Google and Facebook should be in the business of “saving people from themselves”.

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My biggest concern about privacy and social media is this issue. I believe that people should use Google and Facebook responsibly, but my observations of user behavior have led me to conclude that this is impossible without providing all the necessary information. When I search for something on Google, I expect to see ads for related content on other websites based on my browsing behavior. It seems benevolent and (somewhat) benign. I would, however, be shocked to discover that friends and other people in my life also have access to this information. I like the personalized experience but hate the feeling of being watched.

The episode of “All Things Considered” was definitely a revelation for me. To what extent is my expectation of having privacy a product of my privileged-western existence? If I were living in a less free society (like Saudi Arabia), I would never have this expectation. I am, like many others, accustomed to being able to say (for the most part) whatever I want without being thrown in jail. It never occurred to me that I might be invading my own privacy by providing information.

The only solution seems to be keeping users informed. Upon signing up for a new social media outlet, I often confront a dense “Terms of Usage” agreement or similar document that I don’t bother to study as hard as I should. I’m sure I’m not the only one guilty of this. Companies like Google and Facebook have a responsibility to make sure the users understand the specifics of how their products work in layman’s terms.  The user also needs to do their part in making sure they know what they’re doing.

Maybe an introductory cartoon? A captivating info-graphic? Something else that’s entertaining and explains things well?

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