Social networks and the death of privacy

So now we have all become Big Brother. Has social networking killed privacy?

Now we have reports that Twitter has just rolled out a new feature that tells the world where you're tweeting from. The tweets link to a Google map of the area the user is in.

According to the New York Times, Facebook plans to add a similar feature.

So does privacy matter any more? Does anyone take it seriously?

Peter Cashmore, founder of the social media blog Mashable says privacy is dead. The cost of keeping everything private now outweighs the benefits of participating in sites like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

"Those who insert themselves into as many channels as possible look set to capture the most value,'' Cahsmore writes. "They'll be the richest, the most successful, the most connected, capable and influential among us. We're all publishers now, and the more we publish, the more valuable connections we'll make.Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Foursquare, Fitbit and the SenseCam give us a simple choice: participate or fade into a lonely obscurity."

Commentator Declan McCullagh agrees. He says no one cares about privacy any more and that in any case, privacy is overrated because it's all about concealment.

McCullagh writes: "Norms are changing, with confidentiality giving way to openness. Participating in YouTube, Loopt, FriendFeed, Flickr, and other elements of modern digital society means giving up some privacy, yet millions of people are willing to make that trade-off every day. Of people with an online profile, nearly 40 percent have disabled privacy settings so anyone may view it, according to a Pew Internet survey released a year ago. The percentage is probably higher today … The truth about privacy is counter-intuitive: less of it can lead to a more virtuous society. Markets function more efficiently when it's cheap to identify and deliver the right product to the right person at the right time. Behavioral targeting allows you to see relevant, interesting Web ads instead of irrelevant, annoying ones. The ability to identify customers unlikely to pay their bills lets stores offer better deals to those people who will. Anyone who's spent a moment reading comments on blogs or news articles knows that encouraging participants to keep their identities private generates vitriol or worse. Thoughtful discussions tend to arise when identities are public. Without that, as Adam Smith wrote about an anonymous man in a large city in The Wealth of Nations, he is likely to 'abandon himself to every low profligacy and vice'."

He has a point. No doubt there will be some who will say we need to change laws to protect people. But there is a more common sense solution. If social networking and privacy are incompatible, then surely we all need to be careful about who we share our stuff with, and where we share it. It's not that difficult.


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