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December 8, 2012

Should Our Privacy Really Be in the Bargain Bin?

Privacy is a fundamental human right. That said, the definition of privacy is not simple— especially in the context of the explosion of data being generated online every minute of every day. For those of us who prefer numerical evidence, Facebook users share 684,478 pieces of content, Google receives over 2,000,000 search queries and email users send 204,166,667 messages every minute. There are millions of other content-sharing and data-collecting websites out there; hence the heightened interest in the topic of online privacy.

Last week, Facebook updated its privacy guidelines… again. Days later, several of my Facebook friends posted a ‘privacy notice’ on their page to protect their profile information from being disclosed, copied, and/or disseminated by Facebook or any of its employees. The text of the notice began,

“In response to the new Facebook guidelines, I hereby declare that my copyright is attached to all of my personal details, illustrations, graphics, comics, paintings, photos and videos, etc. (as a result of the Berner Convention). For commercial use of the above, my written consent is needed at all times!”

The notice states that anyone can copy the text and paste it to their Facebook wall, as a means of protecting him- or herself from the evil social media tyrant who is trying to take advantage of the uninformed. The reality of the situation is that Facebook’s changes are real. However, there is no status update that can protect you (as a user) from being affected by the new guidelines on the site. This is the second ‘privacy notice’ that has gone viral on Facebook since June, when the company debuted as a publicly traded company, and I doubt very much it will be the last.

As online consumers, we often hand over control of our personal data and content in exchange for the use of “free” services. I would argue that we do so, not because we are entirely unaware that data is being collected about us, but because we lack an understanding of the true value of our data as commodity in the marketplace. Because we lack an understanding of the ways in which big businesses monetize our privacy, we agree to an unfavorable ‘privacy bargain’ in which we (as consumers) assume all the risk. We perceive our involvement on Facebook to be low-risk because we evaluate the (potential) consequences of our actions in terms of the present day. What about the future? What about long-term control over our personal information and data?

Returning to last week’s ‘privacy notice’ episode on Facebook, I find it ironic that we declare a high value on our privacy but demonstrate through our online behaviors that we actually value privacy very little. As consumers, we need to think long and hard about the deals we make every day when we go and share content, online.

What are your thoughts? Share with us by commenting below.

AMP Agency

AMP Agency

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