In social media, there is no ‘my privacy’ all by itself!

By Anne Collier

It’s about time this was noted in the mainstream media: “On Facebook, Your Privacy Is Your Friends’ Privacy,” goes the headline at The Atlantic. This is not news. Among others, my ConnectSafely co-director Larry Magid and I have been speaking and writing this for years, and it was in our Parents’ Guide to Facebook from its first edition. Even some privacy advocates (I think of the Future of Privacy Forum) get this, but many still refer to privacy as an individual not collective proposition. So maybe this is momentum – more parents will notice this important social factor in parenting and educating social media users cited by Atlantic writer Megan Garber: “As our [digital] social networks grow and normalize [she’s referring to the digital expression of the social networks we all have, and had long before there were social media], though, it’s increasingly more accurate to think about privacy as a communal affair, something heavily contextual and owned, collectively, by networks [absolutely, but I hope she means “networks of people,” not “social network sites”]. Which means,” Garber continues, “that privacy is something that all of us, as individuals and as a group, are responsible for.” Hear, hear! That last sentence, which is indisputable, means that our children’s safety, privacy, and reputation protection are a shared responsibility, sometimes a negotiation.

Garber goes on to cite a study that showed “tagged photos, in particular” can be used by third parties such as “malicious hackers” to steal identities, commit other crimes, and generally create problems. Good to know, but it’s also good to know there’s a solution to that in Facebook make sure you check tags of you in posts and photos before they go live. Garber quotes the researchers as saying the tagged person has no control, but that’s incorrect. Here’s how to take control in FB: Click on the little arrow in the top-right-hand corner of your FB page, then on “Privacy Settings,” then on “Edit Settings” to the right of “Timeline and Tagging”; then just “Enable” the setting that says “Review posts [includes photos] friends tag you in before they appear on your timeline.”

So what does it mean that the safety of our physical and non-physical selves and property (our psyches, identities, reputations, computers, networks, and intellectual property) are both individual and collective? It means we can’t possibly, logically, expect either governments (laws) or corporations to be fully responsible for safeguarding it. It’s also partly up to us and the people we interact with online, phones, and all digital devices. Safety and privacy are now as user-generated, social, and distributed as our media are!

Important links (added later)

* Our new privacy reality from author, speaker and digital-age consultant Don Tapscott in Part 4 of his “Living Out Loud” series at

We are collectively creating, storing and communicating information at nearly exponential rates of growth. Most of this data is personally identifiable, and third parties control much of it. Practical obscurity – the basis for privacy norms throughout history – is fast disappearing. More and more aspects of our lives are becoming observable, linkable and identifiable to others…. Yes, these are used to provide us with extraordinary new services, new conveniences … undreamt of by our parents and grandparents. At the same time there are novel risks and threats are emerging from this digital cornucopia. The availability of so much detailed personal information can be used for secondary purposes, many of which are not known or intended by the individuals [Tapscott does need to update his sourcing on teen “sexting,” however – he unfortunately chose to use the highest and now outdated figure for it (see this)].

* How technology is affecting our privacy rights (from an organization I’ve long trusted, the Center for Democracy & Technology): “Disappearing Phone Booths: Privacy in the Digital Age,” a talk by CDT senior policy analyst Erica Newland to Washington, D.C., Superior Court judges this month

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