Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Blurring line between private and public data

In case you haven't noticed, the line between private and public data is really blurring.  Traditional notion of privacy is breaking down due to pervasiveness of social media.  New internet users, especially teenagers, who grew up with Facebook use the network as primary mode of communication.  These next wave of internet users communicate via SMS messages, Facebook posts, share photos on Instagram and watch YouTube videos from their iPhones, and they feel natural communicating with their friends this way.

We need user education on how to
choose communication medium
depending on data privacy need
But if you look at the privacy aspect of data, there is a paradigm shift between how user data is treated.  Email and instant messages are clearly personal data meant to be shared with people that we are directly communicating with.  Their analogies are USPS and phone line.  On the other hand, posts made on Facebook and Twitter can be visible by anyone who cares to see them.  At the time of post you don't know who will see the data because they are analogous to posting a message on school bulletin board.  There is no privacy.

These confusions are leading to privacy foul play such as demanding Facebook passwords to screen employees or students.  What modern internet users have to understand is that privacy depends on what communication channel that you use.  When you send a message on Facebook versus send an email on your Hotmail account, they mean different thing because your intent of how your data should be treated is expressed by your choice of medium.

What's interesting is that these private and public confusion is also happening in enterprises.  Increasingly the line between internal communication and external communication is getting blurred.  In the age where most of employees carries smartphone with Facebook and Twitter app it's too easy to confuse the line and make the mistake of sharing too much information or using the wrong medium to communicate with people.  At the same time the need for flexible communication tool that supports both modes of communication with clear safety measure is that much higher.

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