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What is Online Privacy?

November 20, 2012

At Krowdthink we seek to offer our users online privacy as a foundational building block of our service.  So we had better be clear from the outset what it is, or at least to offer up our definition. Even the wiki definition of internet privacy struggles to express this concept succinctly, but we will try.

One thing is clear from reading a plethora of learned writings on the subject – privacy is user defined.  We all have our own standards as to what we consider private and how we wish our privacy to be respected.  Everything from the standards our parents instilled into us, the painful object lessons learned in life, to the culture of the country we live in, through the religious and other beliefs we hold dear, all these define what we consider to be private.  Yet at the same time, we are social animals, continuously accepting that through social interaction we give up some small element of privacy.  Only a hermit could properly be defined as a private individual.

The Social Network is now woven into the fabric of our society as delineated by the leadership position facebook has taken, but Zuckerberg, while oblique about his position on privacy, is clear on issues of transparency and identity. See this awesome Venturebeat write up – and the associated commentary. So if we are to use social networks and maintain online privacy, the question is how?

Our answer is to think in reverse – rather than what is online privacy, for which there is a unique answer for every person in the world, instead ask the question ‘when is my online privacy intruded upon?’  For which we believe there is one answer:

“When the information I provide is used for a purpose other than that for which it was understood to be provided”

There are two requirements for addressing this – the first is that the service provider for your social network must make clear precisely how your provided information will be used, and this definition should be simple, explicit and readily understood.

The second is that the users of the social network service should be encouraged to act as good privacy citizens, through online social network policy and tools, as well as mutual respect.  It is notable that as soon as facebook opens up a new feature and makes your information more public, its actual usage levels go up – we humans are not, by nature, nice – we are happy to intrude on others privacy but less than willing to accept it when our privacy is intruded upon.  Fostering positive privacy etiquette is the responsibility of the social network provider.

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