Are Privacy and Social Networking Incompatible?


The privacy furor stirred up over the past couple of weeks by the launch of Google’s (s goog) social tool, Buzz, caused the search giant to make some fairly radical changes to the service. It also threw the issue of privacy in social networking into sharp relief. However, Google’s stumble in this space is just the latest in a long line of privacy flubs from nearly all of the vendors in the market. In my latest Long View over on GigaOM Pro (sub. req.), “Can Enterprise Privacy Survive Social Networking?,” I ponder whether social networking and privacy are fundamentally incompatible, and what individuals and businesses should be doing to limit the damage that can be caused by privacy leaks on social networks.

Privacy and social networking is something that we’ve discussed at length here on WWD; I particularly liked Dawn’s comments in “Private or Personal in Social Media?” Unlike Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg I don’t believe that the “age of privacy” is over, but there’s no doubting that the more of your “stuff” that you share online, the less control you have over your privacy. Perhaps social networks will evolve to give us reliable, granular, context-sensitive privacy controls, such as those that ReadWriteWeb’s Marshall Kirkpatrick argues for. But until they do, we all need to be careful about who we share our stuff with, and where we share it.

Do you think that privacy and social networking are fundamentally incompatible?

Photo by Flickr user rpongsaj, licensed under CC BY 2.0


Dan Latendre

This is a big issue for many companies who are trying to figure out their social software strategy. For me… I don’t believe security is the issue… many social applications are very secure – access controls, data transfer, data storage, rights and priveleges, auditing and more.

What I think the real issue for most companies is around corporate and regulatory compliance and overall governance. Sprinkle in the culture issues… and now we have an oil and water issue.


Thanks to Facebook, I know many of my friends’ date of births, high school, mother’s maiden name, first car, etc. Even scarier, some of them are sharing that information with the whole world.

Eric Barrett

I think for the short term a “death of privacy” is likely. But everything seems to move in cycles. We all rebel against the “last generation” so to speak.

Most people have no idea how much private information is being shared. And just how much of it is being collected by well-intending, but not always customer-first companies.

As people begin to realize just how much private information is out there we’re going to find out just how much people are willing to share. If companies don’t create a feeling of “I need social media or I’ll die” in consumers, I think we’ll see a pretty strong backlash against all this open data.

Kimmo Linkama

I’m not sure why the privacy vs. social media issue keeps popping up so frequently.

It’s relevant when we’re talking about young people using SM as a way of keeping in touch with friends, which in essence is one-on-one communication. Young people perhaps don’t always understand that the whole discussion is actually open for anyone to see.

For more seasoned SM users, marketers and other heavy users in particular, this is nothing new. I’m a little perplexed why anyone using SM for business would post anything online that infringes on their privacy.

Maybe it would be a good idea to do what we’re teaching others: when we are selling, we create buyer personas and talk to them. We might craft a “communicator persona” for ourselves and publish from that platform. Let’s keep private communication in private channels.

Simon Mackie

I agree people who are using SM for business and/or marketers will likely not have a problem.

In my GigaOM Pro piece, I discuss the impact on businesses of privacy leaks from employees using social media in their own time (e.g UK retail group DGSi’s staff were caught insulting its customers via an employee Facebook group:

My argument is that casual users (not just younger users — I think it applies to most of the general public) are often unaware of how little privacy they have online. I’m sure that the employees of DSGi thought that their group was “private,” for example.

“Let’s keep private communication in private channels.” is a good way to put it.

Marc LeVine

This is always going to be one of those unsettled issues that offers a different answer for different people. Using social media involves taking risks. In a sense, it’s like playing with fire. One must weigh the risk; make a decision; and live with whatever it is. The question for each person to ask himself is “will I get more value out of Social Media than suffer the downside should things go wrong?”

Everyone must think hard before they post whatever it is they are going to post. Realize that the post, once released, will live forever on the Web. The consideration must always be whether or not it can ever come back to haunt you resulting in damage to your reputation, damage to your relationships, damage to your business, damage to your hiring prospects, loss of you jobs and even breakup of your marriage.

If you use Social Media wisely, you can easily avoid bad results from happening. Just think ahead of posting.

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