The Privacy Jigsaw: can you keep a secret?

I am active online: i participate in many social spaces and learning communities. I maintain a number of personal and professional personas, but across them all i tend towards caution when it comes to sensitive data. I tend to trust my bank, but not Facebook. I trust my neighbour more than someone i’ve just met on LinkedIn. I’m willing to be charitable to a stranger i meet in the street in need of a bus fare more so than someone emailing me from Nigeria asking for me to look after some money from them. I trust more in the real world than i do online. I trust people more than organisations. But do i trust too much? At a time when participation in the Social Age drives organisations and individuals to live increasingly online lives, can they keep a secret?

The privacy jigsaw

You can’t tell everything about me from one site, but meta analysis of all my social spaces would teach you a lot. Who is building this jigsaw?

I know that communities rely on trust, that learning is stronger on a foundation of generosity and sharing, that social learning is based upon a willingness to disclose personal information, to engage, to care, but what happens to that data? Who owns these spaces and what do they want to use all this data for? On an individual site or space, someone would get a pretty limited picture about me, but across all my social media spaces, a wider picture emerges, and if you factored in my retail habits and web history, you’d start to get a pretty comprehensive picture of who i am.

Somewhere in my attic are my essays submitted for University: printed out on old fashioned paper. The grades i got, a secret between me and the mice. Not even my dissertation is online. But today, everything i write is archived, backed up, permanent. We’ve seen many times how this permanence comes back to haunt people, but imagine how this will get worse as we engage ever more heavily in organisational social learning at a time when the very nature of work is changing.

One day you are involved in a heated debate, creating a shared story about a future product or service, a year later, in a darker climate, some of that debate is being quoted back to you at a time of restructuring, or being used to share with a manager you may go to work for, or being sent to someone who has asked if you’d be a good fit for their team. You might control what you say in the debate, but you have no control over what happens after that.

Your online life has permanence and we have to consider what happens to all that data. There are already tools that will profile your Facebook life, so prospective employers can vet you. Meta tools that can snapshot your digital self, see who you are connected to, which subversives you talk to, how many of your connections have criminal records or bad debts.

Social learning is effective and engaging: in the Social Age, organisations need to foster innovation and creativity, but we have to take a few moments out to think about secrets, about privacy, about fairness and legality. We can’t wait for the shoe to drop: we have to carefully curate our online selves to maintain some note of caution, but organisations have a duty too, through their social media policies and rules, to be clear what can and cannot be used, or to make it clear what profiling tools they plan to use.

Legal frameworks do not always stop organisations exploiting our data and there is very little awareness or concern within the communities. Better to take a moment to think now than to regret things down the line.

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About julianstodd

A learning and development professional specialising in e-learning and learning technology.
This entry was posted in Accessibility, Agile, Authority, Clarity, Collaboration, Community, Consumption, Culture, Disclosure, Forbidden, Freedom, Integrity, Learning Culture, Legacy, Mistakes, Ownership, Privacy, Social Learning, Social Media and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The Privacy Jigsaw: can you keep a secret?

  1. s0ngb1rd says:

    I understand what you are saying and that is what is worrying. There is the concern about our personal and private data being used in spurious ways. More concerning to me is the use of ‘social cleansing’ as a way to determine ‘fit.’ Just exactly what kind of fit are we talking about?

  2. I smiled Julian for many reasons – mostly because I’m Nigerian…..and the 419 phenomenon is rather annoying for me too! Anyhow, I spent most of yesterday reading your blog, then sending the link to my friend @HansdeZwart……who said he was meeting you for drinks in Amsterdam tonight! Small world.

    You are inspiring, and virtual or not, I am beginning to trust you :-)!

    And at the moment, you’ve got me thinking about ‘curating’…..

    Finally, stay well and enjoy the winding streets of the ‘Dam

    • julianstodd says:

      Small world indeed! Hans and I spent a great afternoon discussing the future of books, learning, technology and society. So quite a lot of ground covered…

      Curating is an interesting idea: as my background is in museums, the process of gathering together various artefacts and ideas around a core story and then adding a layer of interpretation and sharing it seems very natural. Something which, i notice, you do very well on your blog, which is fantastic! A great example of building a curated selection of writing within a theme and adding a personal layer of interpretation around it.

      Thank you for your kind words, and, yes, i’m greatly enjoying Amsterdam: taking time away from your everyday environment can clear your mind wonderfully and let new ideas work their way in…

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