Public vs Private

A look at the difference between public and private forums, and why the problem is not what people think it is.

Decorative Image - Public SpeakerFollowing a previous post on giving away too much information and some recent scare news here is my opinion on the differences between public and private content, in particular some common misconceptions and misplaced blame…

In recent news the social media rating service Klout! has been getting some bad press and I think it’s (mostly) undeserved. The issue that’s been picked up and reported is that Klout have created profiles for people (minors in particular) that have never used and are often unaware of their service.

Now the reason I don’t see this as being a big deal is that the only information a Klout profile contains is already publicly available. Granted Klout may be making the information more readily accessible but then the people likely to use Klout would be familiar with social networks anyway and so could easily find the information directly had they wanted to.

Decorative Image - Judges GavelIn the recent UK Riots GMP were both praised and criticised for tweeting about sentences being handed down to those convicted in the unrest. Criminal convictions are public record and GMP were merely making the information more accessible. This is akin to publicising registers of convicted sex offenders and generally the only people who would complain about such a move are those on the register.

The source of these conflicts is the same; once information is public in any form it can’t be taken back. Often the greater the effort to remove content from the public eye the more widespread that content becomes, sometimes referred to as the Streisand Effect.

Returning to the Klout issue, while a person’s profile on a social network like Facebook may be private, any interaction between that profile and any public forum is inherently public. If you’re having a conversation on the telephone that might reasonably be considered private, but if you’re stood in a crowded place then at least your half of the conversation is taking place in a public forum and you can no longer hold a reasonable expectation of privacy. You can’t complain that random strangers inadvertently overheard your story when you chose to say the words out loud while stood next to them.

The challenge then is educating people (minors in particular) about the differences between public and private, and highlighting the boundaries. This is not an easy challenge though and people seem reluctant to learn or accept change until they’ve suffered some detriment themselves.

The problem is exacerbated by people happily ‘friending’ total strangers; a recent study has shown that 1in5 people would accept a Facebook friend request from a total stranger (actually an automated bot) and this rises to 3in5 if there is a mutual contact. If someone will let a total stranger into their personal circle of friends I think it’s unreasonable to then complain that personal and private conversations have been leaked outside of your supposedly protected circle.

In short, if you don’t want a comment, photograph or other snippet of information about you to become public, don’t post it on the web. Furthermore, if you don’t want your children’s information to be available on the web it is your responsibility to either educate them about privacy and safety, or to prevent them from establishing any presence on the web until they are old enough to be responsible for themselves.

This is likely to be a contentious issue so I look forward to your constructive comments down below…



2 thoughts on “Public vs Private

  1. Stephanie Darkes

    Hi Gary,

    I agree with your blog for the most part but that doesn’t stop me from being worried about Klout using info without requesting to.

    I have to say that since the recent FB privacy changes I have considered only using FB for business because I had quite strict privacy settings and I felt that my privacy had been compromised without my prior agreement.

    I also think that because SM is the ‘norm’ for children growing up now, they might not be aware of the dangers of sharing information and while it’s our job to teach them, some times they don’t want to listen (I asked my 13 yo niece 3 times to make her photographs private, she would say yeas and then not do it, eventually she did).

    Of course social responsibility is important but it is also important for SM companies to take their responsibility seriously.

  2. thegaryhawkins Post author

    Hi Steph,
    Thanks for your comments 🙂 Glad to see I’m not alone in taking a balanced approach to these issues.

    I’d like to see Facebook et al introduce parental supervisory access/control over accounts for minors but not sure how that would be enforced seeing as age verification is very difficult to achieve without some heavy handed interference.

    One consideration that I omitted from the article for brevity is that every time you (or your children) walk down a high street your movements and activities are tracked and profiled by a blanket of CCTV but you never ask for that; approval is assumed by your presence on the high street and the same is true of SM and web profiles. If somebody is ignorant of the implications of their actions then is the problem with the profiled subject or the profiling company? I think it’s the former…

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