Identity, Privacy, And Web 2.0

January 16, 2008

I’ve broached the subject of privacy in a previous post, but I’ve run into a few more articles concerning the issue since then.

The Kinda Creepy YouTube Video

While looking for other material on this topic, I ran into a video from the government of Canada that attempted to shed light on how social networking sites can exchange and leverage a user’s personal information for marketing purposes.

Don’t get me wrong: privacy is very important, but the issue I take with this particular video is a) the “big brother is out to get you” tone, as well as b) they make the marketing angle sound all bad, i.e., the video says you will only get more junk mail on your doorstep, more email adverts in your inbox. This completely ignores the aim of marketing: in the fracturing media landscape, reach is not the only goal. As a marketer, I want to spend my client’s money in the most responsible way. Thus, I want to reach the people who are the most likely to be interested in buying what my client is selling, so hitting the target is more important than reaching the most amount of people; this is what responsible advertising and marketing agencies should be trying to accomplish.

Projecting Yourself Online

Did you notice the header above says “projecting” rather than “protecting”? We are putting ourselves, and our identities online. Now, we may not be the most honest, but we are the ones making the conscious decision. The New York Times published a fascinating article on how we put our best foot forward when it comes to our online persona, and quite some time ago New York Magazine had an incredible story exploring the shifting values of privacy in a new, digital generation. I highly recommend reading both (lengthy) articles.

My personal attitude about privacy online is pretty cavalier: “Marketers have already known a lot about us before the Internet came into full swing. Therefore, so what if Facebook is using Beacon?!” I’m sure that pisses off a lot of people who treasure their privacy, but honestly, I think the way things are headed your information will inevitably be viewed by someone else; the point is we need to educate ourselves on the measures we can take to protect that information: clear your cookies; actually visit the privacy settings on Facebook; and above all, delete that damn MySpace account already! It’s such a waste!

Don’t Misunderstand Me, Though

Privacy and the identity game does matter. Although many teenagers report utilizing privacy measures, MySpace has recently agreed to devote some of their resources to leading the fight against online sexual predators. There are those who are too young to be adept at protecting themselves online and require more help. I think the most heart-wrenching intersection of the privacy and identity game comes in the story of Megan Meier, a teenager who, subject to a hoax perpetrated through MySpace that turned ugly, committed suicide. I really want to say that in a case such as this, all the sentimental “this is a cautionary tale” is bullshit and is not addressing what happened on the level the incident merits. Being on the younger side, I remember seventh grade vividly; it was one of the worst years of my life. Teenagers can be merciless, and with tools such as MySpace and Facebook, they can be even more underhanded in their quest for doling out pain. It is within this tragedy that the problem of identity and privacy become even more conflated: people want to protect what information others know about them, but then can those measures be deployed to create even sneakier, meaner attacks? It also sheds light on the fact that, no matter how old some people think they are, they need assistance to safely wade through the waters of digital society.

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