Social Media and Privacy


I am often asked about how people can protect their privacy in the age of social media. I was asked this at the NHC Digital Inclusion Conference in Manchester last Thursday, and I have been further prompted by something I saw on Twitter today from Paul Taylor.

My take on this is a bit different from the standard answers, I believe; and it is this:

  • Our modern concept of “privacy” is an anomaly in human history, which has probably only existed since the eighteenth century. Before this everyone lived in circumstances where there was no opportunity for privacy and they would have struggled to understand why it might be necessary. Social media, CCTV, and covert surveillance are all returning us to an earlier state in this respect;
  • Social media is changing society’s views about what privacy is. Eventually, we will stop being surprised and shocked at things other people do;
  • Society will get better at educating people how to protect the privacy of those things which are necessary to keep private, and many of us will learn from painful experience. That set of necessary things will be a much narrower field than what we currently think of as “privacy”.

I’d be very interested in your views on these issues

3 thoughts on “Social Media and Privacy

  1. I think we confuse privacy and secrecy. The world is becoming less and less private making it much more difficult to reatain secrets. A world without secrets would probably be a better place.

  2. Just reading Dave Eggers book The Circle. In which technology seeks to make possible a wolrd where ‘All That Happens Must Be Known’. Not sure it will end so well.

  3. I rather like your take on this John. I know diddly-squat about pre-18th century life, though I imagine the absence of anything we might now call privacy was in the context of small numbers of human beings coming in to contact with each other. Maybe privacy is less important if those who know things about us are people we can name, or easily trace our connections to. Perhaps what we are reacting to is thousands and millions of people knowing things which (until a decade or two ago?) only tens or hundreds would have done.
    (This is obviously different to concerns around governments or companies having/holding/using information about us.)

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