Facebook and the Lack of Public Privacy

I realize that the ultimate super blogger would link to about five million different articles, blogs, and videos that backed up any point he made. But let’s be honest here; the Facebook privacy controversy is in essence ubiquitous these days. If you slung a dead cat in a coffee shop, it would hit a lap top that was open to an article about same. So I’ll provide one link here. That will eventually lead you to several trillion more, I am sure. I have a point to make.

And actually, the point is not merely about Facebook, though as the largest social media entity currently out there, and the one with the most problems concerning privacy at the moment, it does get most of the press. My point is about social media privacy in general. But I will refer mostly to Facebook, just because I don’t want to write “Facebook, and other similar social media websites,” about 75 times in this post.

The general point is that I don’t buy into this notion that people want to be more open, simply because social media is growing at an exponential rate. Nor do I accept the often stated position that, “if you have anything to hide, don’t go on Facebook.” Or my favorite, “you need to let potential future employers friend you, so they can check up on you, and see if your private life fits in with their company image.”

True, there may be fewer walls up between us now, and many welcome that. But too often I hear the arguement that people shouldn’t object to concepts on Facebook such as Instant Personalization, because…

After all, Facebook is a public forum. Why would you ever want to put something on Facebook that you wouldn’t want your mother or priest to see?”

I’ve slapped my girlfriend’s ass while at a coffee shop before. That’s a public place, but I wouldn’t proceed to make contact if just anyone was there with us. My mother, for instance.

Here’s a less bawdy example. Join me on my imaginary journey into the land of metaphor.

Let’s say there were a new local coffee shop. Call it, Cuptastic. It’s a public place. It has bulletin boards for jobs, posters for bands, business cards in the window sills. Free Wi-Fi. Clean bathrooms. Very comfortable booths, great coffee and scones, or whatever coffee people eat when they go into such places. In other words, a great place to get coffee, to study, to hang out. Take a date. In short time it becomes the local place to get coffee.

After a while they offer regular customers free membership in their Club Cuptastic, with all kinds of wild benefits. They have cards and everything. With a card, you can get concert tickets, plane tickets, hotel reservations, and all sort of other semi-vital services right there in the store! Popularity spreads, and several more Cuptastic chains begin to open up all over town.

As you can imagine, once this happens, people are going to start getting used to the way things are, and though they can take care of all of that business elsewhere, why wouldn’t they take care of it all in one convenient, hip place, at one time?

Then one day you take an out of town date into one of the stores. She has to see this place. And there is something new. Microphones at each of the tables. Puzzled, you order and sit down, staring at the mike. There are no signs anywhere talking about this strange new addition. You didn’t get anything about it in the e-newsletter for Club Cuptastic. It’s quite a surprise. What is it for?

You look around, and finally you see it; in really tiny print under the table, you finally see the explanation for the new additions. Turns out each conversation at each table is now being recorded and saved by the management, so that the next time you come into that store, you can be given a copy of it, and share with your friends what your experience was like the last time you were there, word for word. What’s better, anyone else who is a member of your chapter of Club Cuptastic may request a copy of your most recent conversation at table five, and listen to it at leisure on his I-pod.

Wait a minute…

Enraged at this, (and feeling pretty sure that not everyone in the place is aware of what the mikes are for, given how and where they are explained) you walk up to the front desk and demand to know more. You are told of course that although nobody that is up to any good should be at all worried about having their every word shared with the world, there is naturally a way to opt out of this, and get the mike at your table turned off. What a relief, you think.

All you need do is take the form the manager provides you, and get it signed by the managers of all five branches of Cuptastic, bring it back to the original branch, certify that you are a Club Cuptastic member, notify in writing each other member of your branch of Club Cupastic that they are not authorized to listen to any recording of your conversations, sign on the dotted line, and in just weeks, you can enjoy a Cuptastic Cup of Java once again at any table you select, without your conversations being recorded.

Oh, and by the way, we now take your picture automatically every time you pass through the door, and we post it, without your permission, to Cuptastic chains all over the country. If you are uncomfortable with this aspect, you’ll have to leave Cuptastic, and resign your membership in the club. Sorry.

But are you sure you want to do this? This is, after all, a whole new world evolving, and very soon, Cuptastic will be launching partnerships with restaurants and grocery stores around the state! Just think, everytime you buy something somewhere else, an email of your purchases is sent from that store to your local Cuptastic, where it is put on file, and researched so that they can make your next visit even more personalized for you!

Cuptastic knows you will love this new service. It is, after all, a public place. If anyone would be bothered by it, they would have stayed in their home, right?

You can of course opt out of this service, too. Simply obtain four copies of each form from each partnership company…

If you are like me, you would at this point grab your date, haul ass to the nearest Starbucks, and never again come into any Cuptastic anywhere in the world. Life is too short, and no coffee is that vital to your everyday existence. No matter how delicious. And no matter how many other grinning idiots tell you so.

That’s not coffee, folks. It’s kool-aid, if you catch me. And that’s exactly what this business about “more openness” with social media is too. And an awful lot of people are drinking it. Gen-Y and younger in particular, but certainly not only them.

Of course the above scenario wouldn’t happen so easily. Because I would venture to guess that all of us value our “public privacy”. In other words, conversations that are held in a public place do not automatically open themselves up to public consumption. The fact that we are studying in a library does not indicate we are happy to have four or five people stand over our shoulder and watch us take notes. There is an assumption of privacy even when making use of public utilities. The argument that anybody has a right to get a piece of you as soon as you leave your home doesn’t hold water outside of the internet. And it shouldn’t hold water within the net either.

Personal privacy, even in a public place, is something we have the option of protecting, by sitting in a booth, whispering, and so on. Facebook usage should be the same way. We should have the option. The easy option. Not because we have “something to hide”, but because it is our right, after ingraining the old Facebook into our way of life, to expect that previous safeguards on privacy for this social media giant will continue to apply.

Most will just swallow it, I imagine, because Facebook has become too convenient to abandon. I admit, things would be a pain in my ass if I deleted my account. But they would not come to an end. I would adapt, and move on, as would anyone. Because no social media site is worth me swearing loyalty to its mission to become the one and only world wide social mainframe. Just as no coffee is good enough to give up all the Cuptastic wanted you to give up.

Remember that you’re an individual, and not a digital pattern on somebody’s hard drive.

Know all privacy settings that are available to you. Hold on to “public privacy”. And whatever you do, don’t buy into the notion that is being pushed on everyone that “openness” means “no privacy”. Don’t feel ashamed to want to keep something to yourself even if you have done nothing wrong. And if that means weaning yourself off of social media totally, so be it. Just don’t drink that kool-aid.


  1. Duuuude, you are awesome.
    Love this post for unknown reasons.
    glad i opened up my rss feed after so long.

  2. As always, I am glad you got something out of it!

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