(Lack of) Privacy in a Digital Age by Amanda Kleinhenz, social media strategist at AKHIA Public Relations and Marketing Communications, Ohio

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In an age where the average person owns three mobile devices*, spends 3+ hours on social networking sites per day** and breaks news before major media outlets utter their first interview question, today’s consumer has the ability to create endless amounts of unique content to share with their inner (and outer) circles in the blink of an eye.

Personal privacy in 2013 is already hard to come by. But in the wake of The Washington Post’s report of the National Security Agency’s surveillance program, PRISM, U.S. citizens are left feeling fully exposed knowing that major companies including Apple, Google and Facebook are potentially providing access to their personal data for the government to analyze.

So what does this mean for that average Joe carrying a smartphone, a tablet and an eReader?

It means that with these new widgets and gadgets comes responsibility. Responsibility not only to use the technology as it was intended to be used – but also a responsibility to understand how snapping a seemingly harmless picture can be misused, misinterpreted or mishandled if shared with the wrong person. Responsibility to review terms of use statements and user agreements on all electronics. Responsibility to update privacy settings on online pages and understand the privacy policies of every social media channel you sign onto.

As consumers of technology, we’re empowered to create really incredible works of art, preserve precious memories and even make history. But it’s important not to lose sight of how “public” this content really is.

Take, for example, these three instances where the lines of personal ownership and public possession are blurred:

  • Social Media – As 2012 came to a close, photo sharing social network Instagram stirred up controversy when it introduced a new agreement that caused users to believe their content could be repurposed by the company for its own use and profit. Instagram reworded a few things and re-released the agreement, which interestingly seemed to quiet the noise despite clear disclosure of privacy invasion through targeted advertising. But the bottom line is that Instagram is still granted “non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free” use of published user content.
  • Search Engines – Even search mega powers like Google have clearly stated terms of use regarding content that is uploaded to its services (which includes Google+, Google Adwords, Waze, YouTube and more). Whether current or former, users agree that Google can “host, store, reproduce, modify, communicate, publish, etc…” their content however the company chooses.
  • Mobile Devices – Privacy policies aren’t limited to the Internet alone. Content taken on mobile devices (smartphones, tablets, etc.) is subject to ownership by the OEM, such as Apple. Users who snap pictures, record videos or create other types of content and store it on a provider’s server relinquish certain rights to privacy. And it’s not as enough just knowing what your device manufacturer has access to – it’s equally as important to review the terms of use for the device’s operating system (Android, iOS) and service provider (Verizon, AT&T).

Bottom line: You can’t play with the new toy until you read the instructions. Twice. It’s easy to scroll through a long terms of use and click “I accept” without really reading what you’re agreeing to. But as an individual or a brand, consuming technology using ethics and common sense is critical to maintaining what little privacy we have left – while also not taking accidental missteps that inflict harm on others.

* Source: PCMag.com

** Source: Marketing Charts

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