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Geek by profession, thinker/writer/artist by passion. Part-time blogger,social media enthusiast and a tramp by nature :) A Man Of Mud


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Privacy is a Right, Sharing a Pregorative

As I write this,the could-be-epochal Privacy Vs Openness Debate is raging on, Zuckerberg and his men are now announcing the changes they have been making to offer users more control over their data. However, I must admit that the whole privacy issue  in context to a social networking site seems a bit confusing,after all, social networks are all about sharing information. In fact, its not just social networks, sharing data is one of the fundamental aspect of the Web 2.0 paradigm.

Privacy,anonymity were essential in the early days of the Web  until the first half of this decade. Back then, Web was a new world, uncharted, deregulated, much like the Wild West depicted in Hollywood classics ! What matters us most is that in Web 1.0 there was a lack of trust among users, Web 2.0 saw evolution of radical trust, Wikipedia is the biggest example of radical trust. But it was Twitter that first demolished privacy on the Web, but far from being criticized, Twitter went on to become a phenomenon. Perhaps it was Twitter's success that forced both Google and Facebook to rethink.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt's statement, “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” was subject to much criticism but Zuckerberg's proclamation "Public is the new social norm" was a far more acceptable proposition. Yet, in practice, Google introduced Buzz with its privacy flaw almost experimentally as it has been doing in most cases. After, the public uproar, it apologized took corrective measure and controlled the extent of damage this issue might have caused. Now Google as we all know is not the biggest adherent of privacy, but it does look at it with a little more sincerity. After all, the mechanism which is its main source of revenue does depend upon personal data of its users.

Zuckerberg on the other hand introduced the new features in a much publicized manner,drawing attention of everyone on Social Web. One would be living under a rock to be unaware of the severe backlash Facebook's move created among its users, tens of thousand of them are outraged have threatened to quit the social network. In fact, some have gone on to declare May 31st 2010 as the "Quit Facebook Day", currently the site boasts of more than 23K confirmed quitters. It has raised eyebrows among the elected representatives also with Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) petitioned the Federal Trade Commission to look into privacy policies of social networks. 

Most likely, Facebook would be able to weather the storm, especially after introducing the new "simplified" privacy control feature but may be Zuckerberg needs to stop for a moment and reflect on where he went wrong. He is after all only 26 year old , perhaps he still doesn't understand what the brouhaha is all about. Even after apologizing and simplifying (read giving control back to users) privacy controls, he continues to believe that more users want to and will share information with just about everyone else. He is not completely wrong, people do want to share, that is why social networks exist ! But he is wrong to assume that everybody is willing to share everything with everyone else on Facebook. Most people share within their own network only,  it might seem public if you are in that person's network but when seen from outside, the information is still private since it is shared within groups only. Then there are people like me, bloggers, social media enthusiasts, marketeers who actually want to take their content to the widest possible audience which means  the whole web, but even I wouldn't share stuffs like family pictures etc with the whole online world. And Facebook selling information about me to advertising firms would infuriate me.(Zuck has later denied this charge) 

It is not much about sharing or not sharing, its all about who controls the information- the users or Facebook.
Privacy  is a right but sharing is a prerogative of the user    



Subhendu said...

Nicely put Danish. Have been a regular reader of your posts.

danishctc said...

Thanks a ton Subhendu and sorry for the delay in responding :)