Privacy is not dead

Back in December, Facebook changed the default settings for all 350 million users to ‘encourage’ them to share more content publicly. The reality of the situation was that many people were confused by the new settings and that a lot more content is now public than before.

Earlier this month, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg said that the age of privacy is over, and that we should all get used to it. Michael Zimmer has an excellent post on the subject:

Even if we accept that there has been some changes in how people share information online, Zuckerberg claims that Facebook is merely following these supposedly shifting norms. Such a sentiment clearly ignores the role Facebook itself is playing in creating — no, forcing — these shifts. Facebook regularly thrusts new “features” on its millions of users: forcing our status updates into news feeds, injecting our actions into advertisements on Beacon, suddenly making certain personal information permanently “publicly available” without any ability for users to limit or control access. These actions force people to share information in new ways, and when 300 million Facebook users are suddenly forced to share their friends list with the word, perhaps it does look like social norms are changing. But, in reality, it is Zuckerberg pushing the buttons.

As does danah boyd:

No one makes money off of creating private communities in an era of “free.” It’s in Facebook’s economic interest to force people into being public, even if a few people break up with Facebook in the process. Of course, it’s in Facebook’s interest to maintain some semblance of trust, some appearance of being a trustworthy enterprise. I mean, if they were total bastards, they would’ve just turned everyone’s content public automatically without asking. Instead, they asked in a way that no one would ever figure out what’s going on and voila, lots of folks are producing content that is more public than they even realize. Maybe then they’ll get used to it and accept it, right? Worked with the newsfeed, right? Of course, some legal folks got in the way and now they can’t be that forceful about making people public but, guess what, I can see a lot of people’s content out there who I’m pretty certain don’t think that I can.

Both posts are worth reading. And the issue is an important one for Enterprise 2.0. Not only do individuals within Facebook need to make sure that their privacy settings are correct, but businesses need to make sure that they don’t end up invading staff’s privacy, accidentally, unintentionally, or on purpose. As I wrote in CIO Magazine (also here) in August 08:

But when companies do use tools that are usually associated with personal social interactions for business interactions, the lines between personal and professional can become uncomfortably blurred. Often this is because personal use has bled over into the workplace in an ad hoc manner, without consideration of the business use case and without providing users with good-practice guidelines.

One woman, who preferred to remain anonymous, talked about her experience in a large media company.

“When I started to use Facebook it was because of work pressure,” she said. “Everybody in the office was using it, and it became difficult not to be there, because everybody was swapping photos, arranging work nights out, and even swapping shifts on Facebook. I held out for as long as I could, but eventually I signed up.” At that point, she didn’t understand how Facebook worked and didn’t realise that as soon as she put her work email address in, it would sign her up to her company network.

“The minute I did that, I got lots of people requesting me as a friend,” she said, “Several members of management, six or seven layers above my head, requested me as a friend. I would never have requested them, but you can’t say no because if you reject them they can tell, and so you end up being stuck with these people.

“One of the worst moments was when my boss messaged me at 11 o’clock on a Friday night and said, ‘Why are you still online? Aren’t you working tomorrow?’ I was sitting at home with a glass of wine in my hand and I thought, ‘That’s too weird’.”

Facebook isn’t just about personal lives anymore. We need to think very carefully about what role it plays in business, officially or unofficially, and what impact these privacy settings changes may have.