Weighing in on Privacy (with a capital P)

Cathy Brooks over at Ideas Project asked last week where our boundaries were in respect to privacy. She asked because of the recent noise made over Facebook’s privacy changes and how angry some users were about Facebook taking control of “their” content. 

After reading the myriad blog posts and articles written this week about privacy in general and Facebook specifically, I spent time thinking about what my thoughts are to sharing online.  After all, I’m not a member of Generation Y and don’t share everything online, therefore I must have some unformulated criteria for sharing. Well, here they are:

1. Nothing online is private except items shared with a very limited number of pre-specified people.  For example email and photo albums on Picasa where I hand-pick the participants/recipients. Everything else is public even if I have “friends” and “followers” and “contacts” the content I share on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn is available to anyone.  In short, aside from a few clearly defined exceptions, everything is public.

2. If everything is public, then how do I decide what to share? Anything that I wouldn’t be embarrassed to post on a billboard on the way to work or at my children’s school.  My Ethics professor David Vogel said that a simple test for ethical behaviour is to ask yourself this question:  do you have a problem with your actions being printed in a newspaper? If the answer is “yes” then reconsider the ethical implications of your actions. My criteria for content sharing is the same.

3. Nothing about my family, I’ll let them decide what to share and how. I admit it’s tough not to break this rule and I do waver occasionally and share anecdotes.

All in all I do think that social networks and especially Facebook offer a fair trade for my content: I get to reconnect with some amazing people from my past and maintain relationships with people I meet that I otherwise would loose touch with. I’ve reconnected with friends from elementary school, from my student exchange in Denmark, from graduate school and the list goes on. I maintain contact with work colleagues and industry leaders.  I consider this benefit worth the cost of sharing bits of myself online.

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