Privacy vs The Social Web

Dec 30, 2009

A few days ago I asked what you are hiding. And suitably, I just came across this story about Eric Shmidt saying that “secrets are for filthy people”.

I know this is going to spark some huge disagreement, but I can’t say I completely disagree with him. But that’s besides the point. What I want to bring attention to is how everyone seems to be protesting vehemently and insisting on their privacy.

Yes, I do understand where they are coming from, but the fact of the matter is this. Privacy as we know it is a thing of the past, and that trend is not likely to stop. These people insisting on their privacy sound very much to me like Tiger Woods’ request last month for “some privacy” after his accident.

It may seem like a reasonable request, but like it or not, it was never going to happen. We all know how that turned out for him, and how he’s suffering from it now. The basic fact is, as a celebrity, people are always going to be “intrusive”, and having privacy is almost impossible. He can’t have it both ways – he can’t be in the limelight and make millions while he’s doing well, and ask to slink into the shadows when things don’t go his way.

And neither can we. We can’t say we want the benefits of micro-celebrity and the value of social interactions that come with the web, but refuse the intrusion of privacy that comes with it. It’s tough, but that’s the way it is.

So what can you do? You are left with one of two choices, in my opinion.

  1. Refuse anything that comes with branding yourself/getting known on the web, and get your privacy with it. This means minimal or no Facebook or social networking, no blogs, etc. You lose the huge opportunity the web gives you to stand out, but you gain your privacy. Some people are perfectly happy with this option, like my mother, and manage it quite well.
  2. Embrace the social web, and everything that comes with it. Make use of it to develop your personal brand and build connections. Try to be as authentic as you can, and with nothing to hide, of course. But be prepared that if you have secrets (and face it, we all do), they might easily come back to haunt you. And learn to manage that scenario accordingly.

I think it’s obvious that I’m in camp number 2. What about you? Are you ready to accept that you have little (or no) privacy, as a trade-off to the benefits of the social web? Or do you think there’s a middle ground?

Photo by stevendepolo