Privacy (Take 2)

Locked KeysKashmir Hill (@kashhill) wrote an article about Trial by Timeline and online privacy on and I found it a much more interesting take on our tool than any of the others I had read! (And trust me, I’ve scanned through quite a few blog posts and articles and even featured in a few!) I really liked how Ms Hill used it as an example to show how Millennials (of which I am one as well) have varying degrees of what they consider privacy. In fact, coincidentally, it was a post on online privacy that launched this blog!

I agree with her completely that vague hypothetical questions are hard to base conclusions on. In fact, as a budding sociologist, I despair when online polls make definitive claims and conclusions, with no regard to a representative sample, or any sort of control group. I do disagree with the idea that the Trial by Timeline tool would be a better measure tho 🙂 This is not just because I have been involved with it, but (I like to think) more to do with how I treat my online identity versus my offline one.

Online privacy is something I’ve had a bee in my bonnet about for a while. I’m one of the camp that believes that once it’s “online” there is no “real” privacy. Facebook is a free tool provided by a company who makes the majority of its profits from advertising (yes, even using your images to advertise with) I’m cynical enough to know that there is never anything for free, why would someone looking to make billions of dollars have any scruples about YOUR privacy. I was asked by the Sunday Star Times last year on how I felt about all this, and in particular with regards to my young son. At the time he was 4, and they asked me whether I would “let him” use Facebook before the arbitrarily created age of 13. I replied that it wasn’t an “age issue” it was whether I felt he was mature enough to understand the concept of Facebook, namely (and most importantly) the idea of online privacy.

However, having said that, both him and his little brother have had public blogs online with their full names since before they were born. I do live in a much freer country than some of the ones we showcase in TrialbyTimeline, so no, I don’t use any sort of geo-scrubber on the images I post. I don’t try to blur out the locations or their faces, I feel that we’ve taken enough “real” offline protection to keep them safe. (Yes I understand that there will be others out there that disagree and are shocked)

To come back to TrialbyTimeline, Ms Hill says that it is too high a privacy price to pay for an imaginary sentence, and I respect her opinion. My opinion differs only because I am one of those she quotes as “ok with trading some of my personal information in exchange for more relevant advertising”. Advertising, per se, doesn’t annoy me, non-relevant advertising does. So if I was a person who is interested in Human Rights and one that knows a little about what Amnesty does (the people we are aiming this tool at) then I would be willing to give the tool access to my Facebook profile to see what it was all about, and perhaps then have more targeted communication from Amnesty. I am inherently lazy when it comes to discovering new products/services and even information and news. If it was served to me by targeted advertising, then all the better! However, note that the majority of my own facebook profile is actually “public”, and, furthermore, I don’t believe, even when you set the posts to “private” that it is really that much more private, and therefore I just don’t post anything that I would consider private. (yes, there is that whole other issue of “friends” tagging you in posts that they post, but I really have segued too much already!)

I am interested in commentary from people with a different attitude, somewhere between Ms Hill and myself. Are you someone that firmly believes that your locked down Facebook profile is “locked down” and therefore, something like Trial by Timeline would actually open it up unnecessarily. Is the privacy price too high for what is essentially a novelty?

After all, Amnesty’s main aim for the project was to show how online posts could incriminate you when used against you by more oppressive governments, but is the flip-side in countries such as New Zealand still too high a price for you to pay?

Disclaimer: I am the ICT Manager for Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand, and therefore have been intimately involved with the implementation of Trial by Timeline 

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