Update: welcome to the Techcrunch and Cnet readers, please be sure to check the 2010 follow-up post on the matter.
Privacy is not dead. It just went global and public, which doesn’t mean you can’t control what people know about you. Actually, it is now the other way around. Let me explain.
Every time I hear someone alarmed about “the death of privacy”, I remember my grandmother telling me her childhood stories, memories dating back to the beginning of the 20th century. Only a few decades ago, life was very different. You were part of a small community, spent all your life basically surrounded by the same people who ended up knowing almost everything about you.
Peoples’ horizon was family. Families, those constructions who often end up trapping human beings into roles. There was the one who’s successful, the one who’s rich, the one who’s cheating, the one who’s funny. Every person was tagged by the group, and everybody knew everything about everybody else. Any information would end up circulating, then become an eventual chip on one’s shoulder for all his or her life. There was much less privacy than today.
Is that what we are missing? Is what we have today really worse than that?
What happens with social networks is they publish information about you to the world. Two kinds of information: the ones you control, and the ones you don’t control.
The solution to fight the ones you don’t control has been known for years. If you can’t control the conversation improve it! Become the one stop source of info about yourself. Have a profile, more active than any other profile for all matters related to you. This way your content will always beat others’ content, and you get your control back. Then it’s up to you to not being photographed while drunk at that Spring break party. But that was a good ideas (not being photographed) well before Facebook right?
Now that you are back in the driver seat, you have your privacy back. Just of a different kind. You have built a space that could be called “publicy”, or “the plausible me”. It is a credible space where people expect to see information about you. Whatever credible information you say in there will be taken as true by the world.
That is your new privacy. A space that is public but that you control, where you can say anything you want and have it taken as true.
I love doing one thing on Facebook: using my status to say what I am NOT doing. I sometimes write “Laurent is in the train to Zurich” while I am sitting at my desk in Geneva. It’s just a way to prevent last minute calls for lunch on a busy day. I do it sometimes and mostly for fun, but I could also be lying on my relationship status, telling the world I am working on a project I want my competitors to think I am working on, saying I am at one place to cover the fact I am going to another. Your privacy is the fact that, through computers and distance, nobody can really cross check information anymore.
Privacy is here and doing well. It is just different, and not something that is granted at birth anymore. You have to create it, using the tools that were supposedly taking it away from you. You used to have to build your public image, now you have to build the private one. It’s a small change if you know how to do it.