Privacy is a privilege PDF Print E-mail
Social networking is about sharing information, but where do people draw the line on who sees what about their lives?

In SA, we build high walls, topped with electric fencing. The Rottweiler named Daisy is a constant in most front yards. These measures are as much an issue of privacy for many as it is an issue of security.

For years, I have had similar constraints on all my social networking services. I don`t allow friends of friends to view or comment on my photos, I don`t accept people I don`t know as friends, hell – I spend hours agonising over whether I should allow acquaintances access to my online profiles.

The privacy of online services has become a hot topic in the industry over the last few months, specifically with the highly controversial changes to Facebook`s new privacy policy, and the flippant comments made by founder Mark Zuckerberg that accompanied them.

The Facebook changes basically scrapped all my security settings, making me prey for the thrifty and fast-thinking. Being focused on my current gaming exploits, I was totally unaware that any changes in my Facebook security settings had occurred.

My first indication was a flood of spam messages with comments on my photos, or better yet, the virus that circulated among my friends linking me to a Web page that spewed a mass of infectious code.

Trouble is, the terms of use of the platform give me no recourse to complain about the spam, or block the viruses. Apparently, I have to live with it or “unfriend” my infected friends.

Zuckerberg`s response to my drama is: “The age of privacy is over.”

Open up

He says that if he were to create Facebook again today, user information would by default be public and not private as it has been since inception – at least until the latest changes.

“People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time,” he said in a controversial statement.

His statement is terrifying. I am not even that open with people in the real world; I generally don`t talk to people I don`t know. I don`t tell the guy in the bar, trying to pick me up, where I live. I don`t tell the woman at the bus stop my cell number, and I certainly wouldn`t tell a hobo in the dark alley my salary.

As a former techie, I know the value of information, and the high price we set for protecting it. It is no secret that attacks on blogs and social networks are on the rise, and the information criminals garner from simple sweeping statements we make to our friends on Facebook can be exceptionally valuable.

“Sadly my gran passed last week, but has left a fortune to me and my brother,” is one Facebook update of a guy in Canada, who I don`t know. But I know where he works, and what clubs he visits and I know what he looks like after browsing his 345 photos. What is to stop me from hightailing it to Canada to make my own fortune?

Despite having family and friends across the globe, I have started using Facebook less and less. Those friends, who are not really friends, are being culled from my list and I have actually turned back to traditional e-mail for more intimate communication.

Tough task

With Internet leaders, like Zuckerberg, declaring the death of privacy, I am less inclined to share any information that could be accessed through the Internet. A tough task, since I love the accessibility of the service.

But avoiding online altogether is becoming harder and harder. I make banking transactions online, pay my taxman online, order pizza online – complete with credit card details.

Luckily, most of these services can be considered safe, and private – although as a security expert at one of ITWeb`s summits pointed out last year, nothing on the Internet can be deemed safe.

If it`s online, it`s available – for those who want it; which does gives Zuckerberg`s statements some credibility. The problem I have is that his attitude towards privacy makes it easier for people to gain access to the information you don`t want out there – even as insecure as the security is.

It appears that online privacy has become a privilege and not a right, as I believe it should be.

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