It’s not that I ever meant to give Facebook your contact information. I wanted to know if you were on the site, and if you weren’t, I wanted to invite you because a lot of other people I knew were there, and I thought you’d have a good time too. Like inviting you to the party where EVERYONE ELSE is. Who doesn’t want to be invited to the party?
I always like to come back to issues that we don’t seem to talk about much, such as privacy and the use of information on the web. There was an interesting post awhile back by Roger Kondrat about privacy on the web. His post brought a few things to light that I’ve never really thought about before, and that I’m sure many people don’t think about. The issue of how we share each other’s information so freely in social networks, sometimes without the permission of the owner of that information. Who decides who shares your information? Certainly not you… surprised?
Is it too much to ask for a feature where you get to decide right off the bat whether Joe can give your email address to Facebook (using their address book through the social network to search for other contacts and grow their network) or Sally can send you a spammy email chain letter that you’ve seen 500 times before? Because you’ve signed up for the service, does that automatically mean you have to put up with it? Is it buyer beware? Or should we even really care?
From my perspective, the internet so far has remained relatively governed by the people using it. When the masses don’t like something, typically a change happens. When the masses remain apathetic, behaviours continue on the way they were going. So far, some people may have been mildly irritated by requests they get from friends and solicitations to join various networks, but enough people haven’t been irritated enough to warrant any action. What are the implications of passing along someone’s email address so freely? Sure, if I’ve been passing it out, it’s free game.. like that phone number on the bathroom stall. But what about my private number, the one only a handful of people are allowed to know? What do I do when they start passing that out? I get calls from the gym they signed up at, from the Mary Kay lady, from a random business contact that I didn’t ask to receive a call from.
My friends have the courtesy (at least they seem to) to ask me before passing along my phone number to anyone. They ensure I’m comfortable with who they’re given my number to and generally tell me the reason why. I haven’t seen the same etiquette shown with regards to email addresses and the likes. Is it because the internet is such an open and sharing place anyway? Because email addresses don’t seem quite as personal as phone numbers? Because we are connecting with hundreds of people everyday that we may never meet in person? What is it that makes this behaviour okay online? And is it something we should be concerned about? Should the big companies put in some measure of control for the user over who is sharing their information and who they are sharing it with? The technology certainly exists…
I haven’t figured out what my stance on this is yet. It’s opening up a whole can of worms that the internet has avoided so far (like how we control what’s going online, who’s laws apply… do we need a governing body?). What I cherish about the internet is the fact that it can be so many things. And so many people are able to connect and converse about virtually anything they want. It has the power to do so much good, yet if things get out of hand, the potential to become locked down and so ridiculously corporate. So far it’s been about the citizens taking control. This is our place to have a voice, to band together and make a difference on so many social issues.
So, is control over your information important to you? Or is it okay to let others decide with who and when they share what they know about you?
I’m not sure what the answer is here, but I think it’s definitely something worthy of discussion. What do you think?