The privacy norm or not norm debate

This week I want to reflect on the comment Mark Zuckerberg made that Privacy is no longer a social norm.  I want to start by addressing two concepts he raises:

1) What is privacy and

2) What is a social norm.

Privacy: A simple definition was provided in this week’s lecture and are from the Oxford Dictionary, which states Privacy is:

1. A state in which one is not observed or disrupted by other people.

1.1 The state of being free from public attention.

The Office of the Information Commissioner (OAIC) on their What’s Privacy page focus on is the Privacy Act and the protection of personal information.  Now personal information is information about someone such as a name, address, photo(s), personal opinions and beliefs.  The Privacy Act applies to all government agencies and some organisations and protects the personal information (and other types of information) for all individuals not government agencies, organisations or corporations.  Now I could go on for days about Privacy and the Privacy Act but that’s another blog 😉

I believe State Records South Australia has hit the nail on the head when they say Privacy can mean different things to different people.  The detailed information on their website focusses on Information Privacy, however the description they provide about privacy I feel is really important (check it out here: What is Privacy?).

The point I wanted to make is that there is such a variation in the interpretation of what ‘privacy’ is an as an individual we will have a different interpretation of this.

Let’s for the moment move onto social norms.  Social norms are essentially the expected behaviours with a specific group or community.  There’s no one size fits all for social norms, it is based on the environment, beliefs, customs and traditions of the people that make up that group or community.

Here are a couple of example which could challenge the perception of social norms:

So why are the definitions of these relevant?  Well, Mark Zuckerberg is claiming that Privacy is no longer a social norm, but what social norm environment is he talking about? If he’s saying, it’s a social norm for everyone not to be concerned about privacy, well sorry Mark, I don’t think you’re right.  But if we look at the definition of privacy (being fluid) and social norm (being a group or community) then depending on the information being ‘exchanged’ and the beliefs of that group then I suppose he’s correct.

I believe there should be a common sense approach when it comes to social media but unfortunately this isn’t something that is static either.  This article simply highlights the perspective of privacy on Facebook, which follows my theory.  Rick says “…only things that are truly private on Facebook are the things that never get posted in the first place.” This statement is something I take quite seriously and people who aren’t my friends on Facebook will see different information about me than my friends do.  I have a number of things which are restricted to “friends only” so I have to admit I’d be pretty unhappy if my ‘not public’ information made its way out there into the public realm.

The way we do things has changed over the last few decades (and even years), we are in a technology flourishing culture where social media is prevalent.  The way we provide organisations our information (we rarely fill in a paper form anymore) and search for information has changed (I can’t remember the last time I went to the library for a book).  With all of that personal information being maintained in computer system(s) (cloud or on premise) information is still getting out there.  Whether it is released through intentionally or unintentionally leaks (here’s an interesting article on unofficial official leaks of Apple) or accessed via a cultivated and strategised  hacking expedition.  I came across this interesting data-visualisation which identifies the world’s biggest data breaches.  It’s incredible to see what was happening in 2005 and what’s happening today.

We can’t change the world and protect everyone from personal information hacks or the dissemination of personal information.  But I believe each person should be conducting in mini risk assessment in what they do online.  So if a government official wants to use Ashley Madison and use their work email or someone wants to host a public event on Facebook we can’t really stop them.  I think as a community what we can do is guide them in making the appropriate decision and raising the awareness of the potential repercussions of their information being released to the public.

6 thoughts on “The privacy norm or not norm debate

  • Great quote about the only things being private are the things never posted! I think we often forget that once something is out there, it’s out there and very hard to take back.

  • Hi Janine,
    I liked your inspection on the definitions of privacy and social norms. When it comes to privacy it’s really complicated, in my opinion when someone’s asked the definition of privacy, it will widely change according on what and how much people are keen to share parts of thier private life in public. Everyone of us has a different “intimate limit” and I think that the subjectivty of this is the main problem when trying to standardize privacy rules. I agree with you when you say that people still care about thier privacy, but in the same article a good point was made, the borders are expending everytime, it’s enough to think that nobody forces you to share contents on social networks, but along with the introduction of new tools, lots of people started sharing thier photos, positions, exercise stats, weight…

    • Hi Fabio,
      I found his claim an interesting one and initially I thought “has he lost his marbles” so then I thought I needed to break it down more to see the context in which he’s applying it. I like the concept of the “intimate limit” and think that’s a really good summary – we all feel comfortable and one thing or another and it’s up to us to make that call – no one can force us (unless you were hacked as part of the Fappening) to share things we don’t want to share. It’s all a big juggling act I think.

  • Hi Janine,
    I really like what your wrote. I agree with you about “We can’t change the world and protect everyone from personal information hacks or the dissemination of personal information” very much. But for everyone’s risk seems not such mini, sometimes it would be a big risk. Actually I think, somehow, we all exposed since we used to put everything online. Everyone’s information could be hack, whatever online or cloud. I haven’t been hack, just because I’m not famous, no one is interested in me. hehe..

    • Thanks Joy and we’re all famous in our own right 🙂 However, I think you’re right, the more famous you are the more susceptible you become to these attacks. I have had my PayPal account hacked where my they cleaned out my credit card. I had it linked really for the purpose of saving time but let’s just say I learnt my lesson and it’s no longer linked. It’s unfortunate that these things happen but again all we can do it think before we link/share/save on the internet.

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