An interview of Mark Zuckerberg (CEO of Facebook) with Mike Arrington of Techcrunch has sparkled a new wave of criticism and discussion about Facebook’s attitude to privacy.
in his blog on ReadWriteWeb, Marshall Kirkpatrick heavily criticizes Facebook’s spin on privacy, and so do many of those who posted comments. Although I did not feel Zuckerberg’s statement were so outrageous, it is a fact that Facebook has pushed the boundaries of its users’ privacy settings a few times.
This debate drives two main reflections.
The first one is that attitudes toward privacy are changing. I did say so in a post last year, which sparkled an interesting discussion with Bob Blakley (now a colleague of mine after Gartner’s acquisition of the Burton Group). Social networks are already pushing the boundaries of how much information about ourselves is available. Some of that information is under our own control (which pictures we post, who we are connected to, etc), and some is outside our control (a picture including us posted by somebody else, the connections of one of our friends, etc). Whereas I agree with those requiring social media platforms to provide more granular privacy settings, I would argue that going forward there will be more information about us that we cannot control, and therefore we may have to behave as if we were being watched. This is something that law enforcement and intelligence agencies know and leverage well. The real question is for governments to understand how attitudes toward and sensitivity about privacy are shifting and continuously strike the right balance between getting closer to their citizens, and respecting their desire for and right to privacy (which may be subject to emotional swings as a consequence of external events such as changes to Facebook default privacy settings).
The second reflection is that, as I said a few times, we need to appreciate the inherently transient nature of social networks and social media platforms. Facebook is hot today but may not be in the future, should its users find that its attitude toward privacy or advertisement is no longer tolerable: committing to it (as as well as to any other platform) as the only place to be to establish a government social media policy would be a mistake. One of the uncomfortable truths of gov 2.0 is that if you really want to engage with citizens you have to follow them on their platforms of choice. This is not dissimilar from what governments have been doing with their channel strategies: the only substantial difference is that most if not all of these new channels are outside government’s control.