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Should We Increase Online Privacy, or Increase Professionalism?

The issue with Internet privacy has been popping up all over the place in recent weeks. Google and Facebook are currently the two largest targets, but the issue at hand now isn’t one that hasn’t already been dealt with before. Eleven years ago, in 1999, Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy told reporters that consumer privacy issues were a “red herring,” after their competitor Intel disabled identification on their Pentium III chips. He said, “You have zero privacy anyway…Get over it.” (Sprenger, 1999).

The Battle Over Professional Privacy is Over. Privacy Lost.

Michael Schrage, a research fellow at MIT with close connections to Facebook addresses the current issue in this way, The focus on Facebook misses the more important story. The battle over professional privacy is over. Privacy lost. Deal with it… What was controversial a decade ago is today’s indisputable fact and tomorrow’s human capital destiny. Less personal privacy equals greater professional productivity. Better yet, less personal privacy assures greater professional safety.” (Schrage, 2010). He goes on to talk about how CCTV cameras in public places – useful for forensically recreating events – and GPS-enabled iPhones and Blackberries – useful for the companies who provide them to track their whereabouts – are now facts of life.

CTV Calgary reports that Alfred Hermida, a specialist in digital communication technology, and professor at the University of British Columbia, believes that the Facebook privacy issue is only a symptom of a much larger problem. More and more people are going online and posting information about themselves and others. “When we share pictures, videos, and personal details online by using sites such as Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and Facebook, we leave digital footprints all over the Internet,” he said. “We’re doing this to ourselves and have got to a point where we haven’t quite realized how much of our privacy we’ve really let go.” (Owsianik, 2010).

And so, as a way around privacy issues, many people develop aliases. However, Facebook moderators don’t approve of aliases and will delete them if they find them. One political blogger named Jon Swift had this happen to him in 2007 because he wasn’t discrete about his alias. (O’Niell, 2007). Rhodri Marsden, reporter for The Independent newspaper in the UK writes, “There are a number of reasons why Facebook is so strict on this. One is simply to stop spam; MySpace has shown that if you allow aliases to run rampant, people can register dozens or hundreds of profiles, and your network of “friends” becomes an unmanageable mass of bands, clubs and comedians hell-bent on self-promotion…By demanding that we present our true identity, Facebook has become a more authentic social network.” (Marsden, 2008).

One of the benefits of Facebook is its authenticity. Generally, when you find someone on Facebook, there is a high likelihood that they are who they claim they are. But, as Marsden writes, “in doing so it has unwittingly unveiled our presence on the internet when we might have wanted to remain anonymous, and gathered a huge amount of personal data that we might otherwise have chosen to keep to ourselves.” (Marsden, 2008). Therefore, I think a different approach is necessary when dealing with Facebook and online privacy – as there really is no longer any such thing as online privacy.

How do you measure the success of your social networking?

One of my classmates had some great thoughts about his own social networking. He wrote, “Currently I measure the success of my social networks by asking myself one question. Would someone hire me based off my latest interactions?…First and foremost, I have two simple rules for what I share. One rule is that I never post anything I wouldn’t mind showing my conservative parents. This takes care of vulgar language, and other obscenities that take away from my professional image. Rule two is, stop complaining. Venting is essential, but I find I can do it too often…By following those simple rules, it’s easier for me to be professional and be myself. Whether we admit it or not, our employers or our clients are looking us up. It’s easy to set privacy protocols up, but that’s not really social networking.”

He’s right. Whether we admit it or not, our employers and clients, our friends, families, and even casual contacts, are looking us up online. That’s why it is imperative to strive to always present ourselves, our profiles, and even our social interactions (online and off) in a professional manner. After all, I would hate to be passed over at a job interview in favor of someone who didn’t have a picture of a wild night in his Facebook profile. Employers care, we should too.

What about you?

What do you think about all the privacy concerns on the Internet? Are you worried? How do you play it safe and keep your public life separate from your private life online? How do you maintain professionalism online when you really want to post those crazy pictures you have?


Sprenger, Polly. (1999, Jan 26). Sun on Privacy: ‘Get Over It’. On Wired. Retrieved May 31, 2010 from http://www.wired.com/politics/law/news/1999/01/17538

Schrage, Michael. (2010, May 26). Facebook’s Privacy Debate Misses the Point. On Harvard Business Review. Retrieved May 31, 2010 from http://blogs.hbr.org/schrage/2010/05/facebooks-privacy-debate-misse.html

Owsianik, Jenna. (2010, May 30). ‘Quit Facebook Day’ highlights privacy concerns. On CTV Calgary. Retrieved May 31, 2010 from http://calgary.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20100530/bc_quit_facebook_100530/20100530/?hub=CalgaryHome

O’Neill, Nick. (2007, Nov 1). Should Facebook Allow Aliases? On AllFacebook.com. Retrieved May 31, 2010 from http://www.allfacebook.com/2007/11/should-facebook-allow-aliases/

Marsden, Rhodri. (2008, Jun 4). Cyberclinic: Why can’t I use an alias on Facebook? On The Independent. Retrieved May 31, 2010 from http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/features/cyberclinic-why-cant-i-use-an-alias-on-facebook-839426.html

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