The Privacy Fallacy

Facebook is killing Christmas. Or at least one critical part of it. Every year we used to look forward to receiving nice holiday cards from our friends and relatives, with pictures of their little ones growing up each year. Well, not so much anymore. Thanks to Facebook, we get live updates on their lives throughout the year. Little Johnnie graduated from T-Ball to Little League this year? Check. Sarah has expanded her horizons adding Karate to an already busy schedule of music and dance lessons? Check. All of the Jones family took a nice vacation to Grand Canyon in early summer? Check. We know it all. There are no surprises in those end-of-the-year letters we used to get. Heck, Facebook even tries to summarize your year for you by letting you take highlights of everything you posted throughout the year and creating an album out of it. We decided to cancel our annual card this year – realizing that we had nothing much else to say that we hadn’t already said…on Facebook.

Of course, there is one other thing Facebook has killed for us – privacy. Or, I would argue that Facebook brought to forefront what most knew but never acknowledged. Privacy has been a fallacy in the increasingly Internet-influenced world. It has been true for a while. Ever been surprised by an ad that pops up when you are scrolling a website, and the ad happens to be related to something unrelated you had searched earlier? Behavioral targeting on web has been around for more than a decade, although regulated in some countries. A few years ago, I was in the market for a specific TV, and had looked up prices for it on line at many retailers. A couple of days after my research, I went to an on-line site for a well-known Electronics retailer, and I get offered a one-time deal on the exact TV I had been researching. I took them up on it and had it held at their local store. When we picked it up from the store, the person signing us out was stunned by the price we got since the store itself had not been discounting that particular model. Did I feel that my privacy was violated? Yes, a bit. But was I happy to get a great deal? You bet.

It is above that makes the recent stories about Big Brother violating our privacy ironical to me. Here we are, posting our life-details on Facebook, Googling so much that our profiles are rich with content about our interests for others to target us, and yet, we freak out when a story breaks that someone might be listening in on our conversations? The main argument you hear is that what we do on-line is voluntary – versus what Government is doing is without our permission. Try explaining that to someone who posted an embarrassing video voluntarily but didn’t understand that he/she hadn’t set the permissions correctly on the social media sharing site and now their friends of friends have access to everything about their life. If you seriously want to be a private person in today’s world, you are going to have to live like a hermit. There is no getting around it.  

The issues you should be debating are what you are doing to protect yourself and what services you use are doing to protect you? How much do you know about Facebook’s privacy settings? Are you careful about what you post publicly? Do you know if you like 100 things – everything from specific music to specific retailers to specific games – it is likely that data will be used to enhance your profile and serve back ads to you? Stop expressing surprise over what Government has on you, worry about what the Internet has on you! Or, stop worrying altogether, admit that privacy is a fallacy and adjust your expectations accordingly.

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2 Responses to The Privacy Fallacy

  1. Raju Panjwani says:

    Nicely written, with a purpose, I see.

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