Only Old Guys Care About Privacy

David Rowan is the editor of Wired UK and he recently wrote about why he is not active on facebook. This interested me. I’m much older than David – who admits to being the wrong side of 30 yrs while I try not to admit to being the wrong side of 50. I, too, am very inactive on facebook. It’s partly a brand thing – feels more relevant to my kids than me – but I confess to a certain unease about sharing too much stuff on a social site motivated by profit.

David Rowan is much more explicit about his worries. Apart from the general point that sites like facebook are not motivated by your self – interest he goes on to list several other concerns. Giving away too much information makes it harder to reinvent yourself (mature maybe?) in later years. Information supplied for one purpose will invariably be used for another that you did not sign up for and indeed, may be used against you – are you happy to share everything about yourself with a prospective employer? People can be selective in what they choose to republish about you to paint a less attractive picture – people like journalists. Social sites lull us into revealing more than we realize and clever search allows that to be singled out.

Facebook have a Privacy policy that runs to some 5,830 words, nearly a third longer than the US Constitution, but it amounts to “we can do what we want with what we know” apparently. If this seems alarmist on David Rowan’s part you might like to bear in mind that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has been quoted as saying he believes the world would be better place if none of us had any secrets. Hard to argue with that. We would behave better if we felt every thing we ever said, did, wrote or thought was freely and readily available to all our fellow citizens. We would be good – but not for goodness sake. Not sure that’s the world I’d like to inhabit (it is of course the world you already inhabit if you believe in God and divine retribution).

Rowan wrote his piece in response to a colleague’s taunt that only old guys care about privacy. In fact the proportion of younger users of facebook who are becoming more circumspect and private in terms of their use of the site is higher than the older users. We all care about privacy, perhaps if you are older you are better able to understand why. You have more experience of the benefit that comes of mistakes you were able to keep private versus the downside of the ones sadly you were not.

I am a firm believer in Permission Marketing especially in today’s ‘Wired’ World. I think the transaction must be clear – I tell you certain things in return for you using them to my explicit benefit. I am involved in one such business and am aware of others that are being developed. I think we’ll see more and more of this. People will share information about themselves if they can see you will use it responsibly and transparently and they get something out of this. No harm in marketing to people if they want you to. I love cars and would happily share insights on what I own, what I like, what I think about cars etc. if you promise to reward me with great deals and interesting content about my particular hobby. However, I’m not sure I want you to market some diet pills to me just because I confessed to being worried about my weight on facebook to people I thought were my friends or if I uploaded some photos where I looked a bit podgy (which would be any photo of me).

Young people (and old people) read about their favourite celebs in magazines like Heat and Hello. Their facebook page is their chance for a bit of fame if they share what’s going on in their lives. They are copying what they see celebs do (or have done to them) in terms of publicity, reaching for their 15 minutes of fame.

So, I have adpated an old Cat Stevens song as a warning to young people who, in their search for internet celebrity, are not sufficiently wary of facebook:-

Oh, baby it’s a wired world,
It’s hard to get by just upon a smile.
Oh, baby, baby, it’s a wired world
I’ll always remember you just like a child, girl.

At least I will if you are not careful about the photos you upload to facebook.

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