Editorial

Despite what people say, they don't want privacy

The Internet is a strange place. We’re instantly connected to millions of people and can communicate to a broad audience with the click of a button. Service like Twitter and foursquare let us broadcast to the world what we’re thinking, where we are, what we plan to do, and we communicate this at an amazing rate. People are practically addicted to this technology: Twitter alone is responsible for 250 million messages a day and foursquare has over 15 million registered users.

We’re also starting to see more “social” games. Farmville is the classic example and there are even sites dedicated to finding “friends” to add as neighboring farms. In order to do so requires users to blindly accept Facebook friend requests from strangers, but it’s done all the time.  Famous game designer Will Wright is even designing a game that can look into every detail about you, including how much money you have in your wallet, and use all of that information to entertain you. According to an Infographic posted on Search Engine Journal last year, nearly three million photos are uploaded to Facebook alone in an average 20-minute period. That number is surely trending higher.

At the same time, the cry for privacy protection is at an all-time high. Reports of using social media to help determine credit scores were almost universally attacked, and we’ve all heard of people getting fired because of pictures and comments they post on social media sites. The United States Supreme Court recently ruled that law enforcement has to have a warrant before attaching a GPS tracker on a suspect’s vehicle. This ruling was received in a positive light by fans of privacy, but astute reader, thommcg, wisely commented, “Now they can only check your Foursquare, Facebook, Twitter, Google+… to find out where you are.” It was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but it was a very accurate statement of society in general.

So if people are so concerned with privacy, why do we freely give away nearly every detail of our lives? Is there a human urge to be connected with people, regardless of whether we really know them or not? Is it simple narcissism and we have to seem important, interesting, or funny to the people we know and sharing private information is the best way to achieve this? Or have people simply given up and become apathetic? Many comments on the Google privacy policy change sounded resigned to the fact that Google “probably already used personal information,” so there wasn’t a lot of outrage about the changes.

Regardless of the reason, it’s clear that while individuals may care about privacy, humankind as a whole does not.

Image curtesy of hibridals.com, Infographic courtesy of searchenginejournal.com

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24 Comments

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Facebook is the new Open ID; its just awaiting sale to advertising company. Then you as data will be used as curency among companies across the globe. Need to sell some cars, call facebook, need to sell homes, call facebook, games or movies not selling well call facebook!!! LOL can't solve a crime CALL FACEBOOK!

People give all thier information away because: They are stupid, They don't know any better, They get conned in easily, are not educated enough. If people would smarten up and get educated then privacy wouldn't even be an issue.

... Is there a human urge to be connected with people, regardless of whether we really know them or not? Is it simple narcissism and we have to seem important, interesting, or funny to the people we know and sharing private information is the best way to achieve this?...

While it might be easiest to just say there's some really stupid people in the world -- & phrased in that general form you'd find lots of agreement -- it is an interesting question, & I'd be very suprised if it wasn't being researched by behavioral experts. I think we're just not as likely to hear about it since the media probably feels it's counter productive to insult their viewers &/or readers. Maybe worse from their perspective, they also wouldn't want to encourage people to abandon the same social media where they've spent loads of time & money learning to market themselves. The Neowin article: "FBI wants help..." points out how criminals have been identified & arrested based on what they've posted on-line, yet it's also known that criminals themselves scan Facebook etc. to find out when you're not home so they can rob the place. Are we talking different classes of criminals that don't talk to one another, or is it more along the lines of they can't help themselves? Personally I don't think there's a blanket, one-size-fits-all answer... Some criminals are stupid -- you see cable TV shows that focus on nothing else -- yet the occupational hazards that go along with that line of work would IMHO suggest many (most?) can't be that stupid & stay both alive & out of jail.

It might simply be that in today's world we're desperate to say: "I'm here & I matter", or maybe it's much more complex, something hard-wired into the so-called primitive areas of the brain? However you personally feel about evolution etc., we do share traits with chimps, like reacting instinctively to shapes that look like snakes or spiders, while we find flowers & the fruit/berries/nuts that can result appealing. Maybe narcistic impulses are involved, the same way males of so many species try to signal they're worthy of mating? Or perhaps again like some other primates, we're trying to establish rank on the social ladder -- it's certainly true that even in modern society the lowest rungs still have a hard time getting fed. Is the number of followers you have on Twitter a measure of your success on or with Twitter, on-line, or in the real world? Do you, can you separate the 3?

The only thing certain is that marketing types are working to master every facet & nuance of our behavior, on-line & off, and if there is bleeding edge research, they'll be the one's most likely paying for it. Controling your people is essentially marketing too -- it's all about manipulating people [see the Neowin article: "Foxconn head compares company workers to animals"] -- so those in politics &/or running countries will join with biz execs in supporting/following this research too, behind marketing only because marketing usually has the bigger budget.

There is also the aspect that it's absolutely not black and white (complete privacy or no privacy).

I'm fine with sharing items with friends that I'm not okay with sharing with relatives. But because I'm okay with sharing something with friends doesn't mean I've no desire for privacy.

Where possible, I try to keep myself off of the internet. In fact, I have been actively closing accounts for things I don't actually use anymore.
I don't tweet my location, nor is where I live on Facebook either. Those who DO tweet it out and such don't care about privacy, but there is still a good number who do.

I think a sweeping statement like "Despite what people say, they don't want privacy" is wrong. I want privacy, I want control over my data, but at the same time, the benefits of using Facebook to communicate far outweigh what little there is to be gained about what I say on there. I'm smart enough to only put onto Facebook what is a deemed generally acceptable, and bitching about my boss and the like are kept inside my head. Comparatively speaking, the few friends I have that aren't on Facebook are much harder to co-ordinate with than the many I DO have on Facebook. I had until recently a close friend who wasn't on Facebook, and organising events, the last comment would always be along the lines of "OK so we'll meet there at this time, who's going to text Rick and let him know?".

The same applies to photos. I like that Facebook allows me to tag myself and friends in photos because it automatically sorts them all for me. Again, I don't have a problem with that, the internet is welcome to see who I deem to be my friends.

The problem is that people have become too trusting of the internet. They seem to think that putting your status onto Facebook keeps it private, when in reality, it is publicly available information. I don't think people don't want privacy, but people need to be better educated about what the internet really is, and why it's not private by its very nature. Also, people don't care about their privacy because they don't have reason to (thus far), but the people campaigning for it DO see the potential disaster that could come from publicising too much information online, and rightly so. The reason we're seeing this rising tide of people wanting privacy online is because we're gradually becoming better educated about the internet and it's potential pitfalls.

I do however think that privacy online is something that should be tackled now. Having true privacy online would benefit almost everyone universally. A Facebook-esque social network with complete privacy protection? Where do I sign up?

TL;DR People need educating on the potential problems of over-publicising on the internet. Lack of privacy is a problem, but people just don't realise that they're publishing onto a public domain, and not some private message board. People are perceived to perhaps not care about privacy simply because they don't know they don't have it.

Majesticmerc said,
I think a sweeping statement like "Despite what people say, they don't want privacy" is wrong. I want privacy, I want control over my data, but at the same time, the benefits of using Facebook to communicate far outweigh what little there is to be gained about what I say on there...

Myself, FWIW of course, I think it's more a matter of personal perspective... there's an awful lot of data that can be gathered or mined from what most would consider generic, harmless posting, & it can be useful either directly or in profiling. Using the example of shopper loyalty cards, many people think they're harmless when weighed against discount benefits, but those who really believe in privacy abhor them, considering the data tracking the company's paying you for [with discounts] terribly invasive. Just two different perspectives. I think at least some of the strongest privacy advocates are just worried many people don't realize that when they're posting whatever on Facebook etc. they're selling data that can be used both for & against them, while others make the [often wrong] assumption that you're not smart enough to have already done the risk/benefit analysis for yourself.

... The problem is that people have become too trusting of the internet...

Again, obviously FWIW, I think many people are too trusting in general, both on & off line.

... Having true privacy online would benefit almost everyone universally. A Facebook-esque social network with complete privacy protection? Where do I sign up?

Unless you use someone else's connection, & aren't being monitored at the time, being able to remain absolutely anonymous isn't likely. [That's not to say something like TOR doesn't help.] Unless you pay for it, there's no profit in a social network that allows you to keep your data private, plus it wouldn't/couldn't model Facebook because Facebook is all about advertising yourself -- IMHO what you're talking about would be the on-line equivalent of the old time gentlemen's clubs. And even then your privacy would boil down to the trustworthiness of the people you shared with... I read somewhere some politician said something like if 2 people knew about a secret that's one person too many. At the end of the day I think it all comes down to, as you've posted: "People are perceived to perhaps not care about privacy simply because they don't know they don't have it.", though I'd humbly add, more are beginning to see they couldn't have it anyway.

If you don't want something seen by the entire world, don't upload. If you do want it to be seen by the entire world. do upload. If you have mixed feelings, edit out what you're unsure about.

The more you know!

bjoswald said,
If you don't want something seen by the entire world, don't upload. If you do want it to be seen by the entire world. do upload. If you have mixed feelings, edit out what you're unsure about.

The more you know!

100% this.

agggggggggggggg trending IS NOT A WORD! Somthing CAN NOT BE TRENDING only on Twitter for the love of non existant god its not a word!

Sylar0 said,
agggggggggggggg trending IS NOT A WORD! Somthing CAN NOT BE TRENDING only on Twitter for the love of non existant god its not a word!

Fail?

the trend of images uploaded has little to do with privacy concerns....or, are you assuming every image uploaded to Flickr is of a person and tagged as that person?

i personally think its because people actually don't know what privacy really actually is. Throughout history more and more of our lives have become less and less private. Now adays, more then ever, you every move is tracked. From your cell phone company knowing all the details of your calls and what towers you are connecting to, your money information is known to the government and banks through the form of taxes and your investments. Travel is logged internationally, email is recorded, downloads and internet history is stored in your ISP, How much power you use, water you use, even garbage removal is tracked. There is no privacy anymore, so just ignore it and move on..... and if your worried about "big brother" don't be, they don't give a rats ass about what you do until illegal activities set off red flags AND THEN they care to look into it. (and you don't need a tinfoil hat)

I think people want control over their privacy and personal data.
My facebook is private, my twitter is open.
Some applications I allow Geo-location, some I refuse.
Some companies I allow use of data, others I opt out.

I wonder if there is a difference in attitude between North America and Europe. Europe tending to have stronger privacy/data protection laws.

acnpt said,
I think people want control over their privacy and personal data.
My facebook is private, my twitter is open.
Some applications I allow Geo-location, some I refuse.
Some companies I allow use of data, others I opt out.

I wonder if there is a difference in attitude between North America and Europe. Europe tending to have stronger privacy/data protection laws.

Aptly said. It's more about the control over the privacy itself....like the way we should have control over the doors of our homes and should only let those people enter whom we trust.

I agree with the narscissistic point made in the article. People are unconsiciously becoming too much self-obsessed.....

acnpt said,
I think people want control over their privacy and personal data.
My facebook is private, my twitter is open.
Some applications I allow Geo-location, some I refuse.
Some companies I allow use of data, others I opt out.

I wonder if there is a difference in attitude between North America and Europe. Europe tending to have stronger privacy/data protection laws.


exactly, I use different sites for different things.

"So if people are so concerned with privacy, why do we freely give away nearly every detail of our lives?"

Because people who complain about it are idiots. If you don't want people to know your ****, don't post it online.

But to reply to the actual thread title, people want to post whatever they want, but no one else is allowed to use it.

metallithrax said,
"So if people are so concerned with privacy, why do we freely give away nearly every detail of our lives?"

Because people who complain about it are idiots. If you don't want people to know your ****, don't post it online.

But to reply to the actual thread title, people want to post whatever they want, but no one else is allowed to use it.

People often also want some feeling of control over WHAT is posted online for others to see