Let’s avoid a ‘privacy panic’

By Anne Collier

Because media are increasingly social, media users are more and more public. So – although some publics (like Justin Bieber’s or Taylor Swift’s) are bigger than others – we all have publics now, as social media researcher danah boyd pointed out in the middle of the past decade. I hope by now that parents, or at least the parents who read my blog, have heard that what media users want is not either privacy or publicity but rather control over how much they have of both (for the latest on this, see boyd and Eszter Hargittai’s study of 18- and 19-year-olds’ FB privacy attitudes and practices over 2009-’10). All the more reason not to fall into a privacy panic because of what we hear in the news media. Take Facebook, for example. As my ConnectSafely co-director Larry Magid writes in the San Jose Mercury News, though the site “is often accused of harvesting reams of data about users that it shares with advertisers. I suppose it could do that, but it doesn’t, not only because it would violate the company’s privacy policy but because it would be a bad business decision. Why turn over member information to advertisers when you can make more money by displaying their ads? Once the advertiser had that information, it would no longer need to advertise on Facebook.” The same goes for ads in Gmail or Google search results which help us have free access to such services. What we should worry about, as Larry points out, is “what could happen if some future US government or law enforcement officials conjured up ways to access [our status updates on Facebook’s servers or search patterns and emails] on Google’s servers. Let’s be alert, not afraid, which means modeling and teaching our kids thoughtful use of privacy features and mindfulness of what we’re publicizing about ourselves and our friends online. [See also Larry’s “Let’s not create a cyberbullying panic” and my “Why technopanics are bad.”]

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