Defining privacy is easy. Hit up Dictionary.com to read that it is “the state or condition of being free from being observed or disturbed by other people.” Other definitions place the right to control information squarely on the individual or group in question. We in this industry already know that privacy partially melds with such security precepts that Wikipedia defines as “appropriate use, as well as protection of information.”
The problem with privacy as a general concept is in this connected world we have enthusiastically embraced we often give up information freely. When sharing glimpses of our respective lives on any number of social media platforms or when trading our personal details to access free websites or download whatever useful apps, our privacy wanes.
If we think we're getting something out of the deal, we give up some data about ourselves, knowing we might get chased by some advertisers or that the organization that collects it will use it liberally to create products and services.
Transparency, then, is key. That's where Facebook failed. And, if we're being real, Facebook likely is not the only one. Others, such as LinkedIn and Twitter, which have faced their own controversies/data breaches, are probably just as guilty of skipping the transparency thing, of obfuscating how personal data is used.
At the time we were going to press with this hard copy edition, Mark Zuckerberg was due to appear before lawmakers. In prepared testimony he discusses the Cambridge Analytica breach, Russian interference in Western elections, and Facebook advertisers and app developers, alongside all the steps his organization is taking to address these instances' associated problems of security and privacy.
His company and so many others do have a responsibility to the people who opt to use their products. Transparency and truthfulness are, indeed, key elements in our barter with them.
But, make no mistake, we have a responsibility, too. Privacy, in its more traditional sense, does not exist any longer. If we're deciding to showcase more of our lives freely through this or that website or this or that social media platform, we should understand our data may get used. Now, we should be fully informed of how it's used and be able to decide if we wish to capitulate to it. And we should be able to walk away at any time with the assurance that an organization won't continue to leverage our data.
But that's not really the case. Private details are harvested by tech firms of all sizes. Facebook aside, what controls do individual citizens really have?
Maybe the everyday consumer now is beginning to understand that. Maybe they'll be more selective. Maybe they'll be more aware. Maybe they'll decide to skip this one app or site this go-round.
And maybe not. After all, while Steve Wozniak and Elon Musk have left Facebook, most of the organization's some two billion users haven't modified their behaviors much at all.