The Illusion of Privacy in a World of Infinite Publics or Why you Should Never Say Certain Things on Facebook.

Certainly, it would seem, the world at large wants you to know that you need to be concerned about privacy when it comes to Facebook and other social sites, but what does that really mean?
When lawyers talk about “privacy” and social networks, they are usually talking about user data, and when they talk about it not being private, they are usually talking about user data being shared for money making purposes without asking for permission first. 
When PEOPLE talk about privacy (as opposed to lawyers, you know) they are usually talking about how “public” what they are saying is that they don’t want certain people to see, thus have a need to adjust their “privacy settings.” 
See, for most folks, public is the opposite of private – that’s how they think of privacy. 
Am I standing naked in my front lawn for my neighbors to see?
Am I naked in my bedroom for just my lover to see?
Is my window open?
This is how people think of privacy as the opposite of public.
But privacy in the context of social networks means something altogether different. Whether or not your “privacy” was “violated” in the context of Facebook and Google is usually rendered by finding an answer to the following question instead: “How much control over who sees what did you already give away?”
We are given, by Facebook and others, the illusion of creating our version of privacy in order to facilitate clear legal distinctions that suit privacy as defined by their purposes. The very nature of modern social networks, however, is such that ALL content is essentially public because no matter how limited or “private” your “public” is, you still grant PERMISSION for at least one other party to be privvy to your private communications – the technical host like Facebook. 
In real life this would look like the following:
Facebook built your home and therefore has cameras placed throughout, tracking your every intimate move – every single one.
Facebook controls the windows on your bathroom, your bedroom, your kitchen – everywhere. 
Facebook can turn your innermost walls transparent any time it chooses and arrange to have any number of eyes standing at the ready to see it all.
You give them permission to do this beause they built your house and after all you need a place to live, right? 

The lawyers come in and say “Facebook, if you want to make these walls transparent, you have to tell the person living in the house first and ask them for permission.” 
Facebook answers “Ok, but we won’t tell you exactly who will be waiting there to watch and make no guarantees that the people we’re letting watch don’t invite friends who take pictures and sell them, plus we’ll make it so that if you want to use the water, you allow us to let the water company peek at you whenever they want – otherwise, no water.”

I don’t spend a whole lot of time on Facebook anymore.

My family is all there, sure; Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, Inlaws, etc… all found their way to facebook through the years. I’ve even “friended” some folks I went to high school and college with. 

But most of my “grown-up” friends (I use quotes because none of us are really grown up, but they are friends or connections I’ve made since being an adult) I connect with using other platforms like Twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn or even just email or texting.

Recently I’ve been having conversations on Facebook, however, that are visible by only a very select number of people. These may seem “private.”

But it simply is not in the traditional sense of the word (as used by people not lawyers.)
I don’t know if you do this, but I’ve found that I’ve slowly been training myself to migrate most conversations out of Facebook as soon as possible. Maybe that’s because my family is all there yet maybe that is because I still believe that there are some situations when a conversation really NEEDS TO NOT BE A PUBLIC CONVERSATION.

The illusion of privacy comes when the user, exercising their “privacy”controls, limits their conversations such that only certain publics can see them. Suddenly private is no longer really private. Private means that, should you choose, you could keep your conversation between your self and your conversation partner only. But like God or Santa, Facebook and Google and your cell phone company (or whoever else hosts your conversations) are always listening.

Digital conversations these days are always public but we are given the illusion of privacy control because we can create an infinite number of limited publics to suit our privacy needs. These infinite publics act as surrogates for privacy but always allow for access on a certain level for the hosts or for hosts who are complying with their governments.

No matter how well intentioned they may be about making sure nobody but you them and God sees your message, the truth is in aggregate they are using data about you and your conversation despite how narrow you think your “limited public” is. The point is, a limited public is still a public and is not the same as privacy. What we have is a world that is in the midst of having those words public and private redefined for them so fast they can’t keep up.

Some day people will look back and say that the companies acted unethically and tricked users into redefining privacy as a series of scaled publics.

Until that time we all must choose our words with care as we navigate communication via the illusion of privacy in a world of infinite publics.

Do you agree?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s