Openness is the new social norm

Someone is always watching you - On average we are said to be caught on surveillance cameras 300 times day on the 4.2 million cameras in the UK (2009). No I’m not a conspirist, but it is interesting. Even more so online. I can’t count how many of my friends provoke reactions via facebook status’ and for that matter, leave their privacy settings open. I use the main social network sites; facebook, twitter and linkedin. My facebook profile is 100% closed down and twitter I predominantly use professionally so it’s open but I’m fully aware that the whole world can see any status I post, whether they know me or not. I’ve had random people across the world retweet some of my status’ and it does sometimes make you wonder, how on earth did you find me.

So what is privacy? And more importantly where is it?

“the claim of an individual to determine what information about himself or herself should be known to others... This, also, involves when such information will be obtained and what uses will be made of it by others.” (Westin, 2003).

Everyone who uses online tools, leaves a footprint. As I mentioned, we’ve had this debate in a seminar and I’m still shocked that whilst we’re applying for placements, several of them still have their facebook privacy settings open, showing comments, status’ and photos. I find that a little scary, most of us go out, but I stand by you wouldn’t walk into an interview drunk, hungover or with pictures from ‘the night before’ so how is it any different? It’s just unprofessional.

I remember once having a conversation about employers looking at your facebook and being told something I’d never thought of, that they’d rather the employers found them, and found their facebook so it looked like they had nothing to hide, but there be nothing on the account to be judged – manipulative or just clever? I never worked that one out.

AND say I was wrong, say it didn’t matter for professional reasons, what about safety? They say that you shouldn’t announce when you’re going on holiday online, for fear you’re opening your house up to burglaries.

Headlines last week, cyber stalking... yes it exists. I mean all the facebook applications are a sham... to my knowledge. However, I do see this everyday on my LinkedIn. Believe me, I find it interesting to see who’s been on my profile and when, LinkedIn is a purely professional site, and three of the people below are personal. As it’s a professional site, it is useful to see who’s been viewing.. and for that reason, I leave the option on so people can see when I’ve viewed their profile. But, you quickly learn who visits your profile often and it can be surprising.

None of that bothers me though, if past, present and future employers are viewing my LinkedIn.. I take it as a compliment, along with coursemates too.

What scares me however with online privacy is this blog. Having a blog with Google automatically gives me access to Google Analytics. Along the many pages and statistics you can see, you can also see what people search for in Google and then click through to your blog. These are a few of the recent searches leading to my blog. “and how the” is impressive I must say. But some of the searches that have come up are just.... well, someone is always watching.

So why do we want privacy? According to Westin, there are four functions of privacy.
  • o Personal Autonomy (not to be manipulated by others).
  • o Emotional Release (relax and ‘downtime’).
  • o Self-evaluation (reflection and planning).
  • o Limited and protected communication (selected sharing personal information with others).

Even with more trivial headlines such as the intern at Marc Jacobs earlier this month. They tweeted continuously about how much they hated the job, and how about working for Marc Jacobs was awful.. bad enough on a public platform like twitter, even worse when you consider it was on the Marc Jacobs twitter account. So with PR activities like social media, it requires a level of trust from the employer... can’t say I’d ever be tempted to do that!

“The reality is, online life is a trade. You pay for the free web with the currency of information about who you are as a user and what your clicks across the web say you are interested in. Every day, in this way, we are handing over every minute of our lives for free and convenient online space.” Krotoski, 2010.

According to Mark Zukerberg (creator of Facebook), “Openness is the new social norm”.
The obvious risks of online privacy can include: -
  • o Identity Theft
  • o Online/Physical stalking
  • o Embarrassment
  • o Blackmailing
  • o Reputational Damage
  • o Phishing

The digital world has changed PR for good.. journalists are supposedly using facebook to find images. Along with just copying and pasting press releases (churnalism).

How do you use the internet to help you in PR whilst still keeping your consumers trust? If you’re anything like me, I didn’t really give privacy a second thought, I do all the obvious things like shut all my platforms down, don’t tweet when I go away for the week, don’t allow third party companies access (when I’m aware of it).. but that’s not enough in this day and age. Wired Magazine scared Channel 4’s Benjamin Cohen in an earlier issue this year.

Perhaps it would take a wake up call like this to each and every one of us before we start taking online privacy issues seriously. Even “private” settings for information stored online is not necessarily private. Each photo uploaded to Facebook becomes their own, all your data in your basic information, is used to aim more suited adverts at you. I’ve had Public Relations software come up, beauty offers for Bournemouth, shoes or dresses I’ve recently looked at on ASOS... it knows everything. All that data, about you, is just stored somewhere for the company to use as and how they see fit.

Jessica North

Author & Editor

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