Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Privacy and Confidentiality

The concepts of privacy and confidentiality are even more important now than they were before the internet reached the point it has in today's society. However, this increased importance only came about because technology today makes it even harder to maintain that sense of personal privacy.

Before Facebook and even sites like MySpace, privacy was much easier to maintain because not everyone was expected by their peers to update their status with everything they were doing.
Before e-mail enabled phones, weekend vacations were times people could relax and forget about office e-mails when they were out of the house and had no access to their computers.
Before Twitter-enabled phones, people were not expected to tweet about what kind of sandwich they had for lunch until after they came back home and were already in the process of eating dinner. People also didn't have to worry about something they did or said appearing on the internet literally minutes later.

All these technological advances have made it harder to maintain privacy, but only if the people using technology lose control over it. Privacy can still be maintained on social networks simply by choosing the right privacy options and actively screening people with access to your profile. Of course, those privacy options won't mean much if someone with that access posts your information publically (indicating that the screening process probably failed). There's not as much that can be done with work-related e-mails and phones compared to what can be done with social networks, unfortunately. Even without owning an e-mail enabled phone, people are still expected to check their e-mail constantly when they should be relaxing. One way around this is to have a work-only e-mail and a separate address for personal things.

Twitter is also rather hard to control from a privacy and confidentiality standpoint. With phones that can access Twitter, people have to really be careful with what they say, do, or don't say or do because someone with these phones might just post it online without them knowing (such as with Obama's unofficial comment that Kanye was a jackass).

References: "Obama, Kanye West and the trouble with Twitter", by Matea Gold, Los Angeles Times, September 16, 2009.,0,3179288.story

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