I recently attended a high school reunion where a major draw involved the use of a photo booth. You remember photo booths, right? Kiosks where one or more people hide behind a curtain and take pictures of themselves in all sorts of poses. At the end of the session, the kiosk spits out copies of the pictures much to the chagrin of those who aren’t quite as photogenic as they initially thought they were. In our case, reunion attendees were treated to an assortment of funny hats, glasses, and mustaches before entering the booth. They posed with silly expressions, engaged in silly activities, and in some cases even took silly actions to the extreme (I will leave that to your own imagination).
The point I am trying to make is that once the curtain was closed and the camera light came on people began performing in ways that would be considered unheard of in other settings. Adults who mere minutes before were prim and proper were now raving exhibitionists behind the privacy of a thin veil of cloth. When the curtain was once again opened, they returned to their “normal” behavior and giggled as they left the booth with memories in hand.
So why the sudden change? How did a thin piece of cloth make any difference as to how they acted? The difference was not the curtain, the difference stemmed from their perception of privacy and the context of the situation. People tend to act differently in settings where they feel their actions are private and when the context of the situation is known, they oftentimes let their guard down and act more naturally (or more boldly as the case may be). Just think about Congressman Weiner and his Twitter outing, Alec Baldwin and his fatherly advice to his daughter, or even conversations that you may have had over email, chat, or text when you didn’t think anyone was looking. When people feel more secure in their settings (privacy) and know the rules by which to play (context), they oftentimes act in totally different ways.
The problem with this behavior in a digital society is that you are never truely off the grid and it is all too easy for things to be taken out of context when information is shared inadvertantly. In our current digital society privacy is a facade as few companies take privacy seriously and there are fewer online places where your information is truly secure. Unfortunately, that can also be said of our offline world as more and more of it is becomming digitized as well.
Even within the sacred confines of a photo booth our privacy is not really private at all. Ironically photo booths now take digital photos which are then stored on the kiosk’s computer hard drive. While this expidites the printing process, the possability of those photos being shared with unintended parties is very real. At least that is what I observed shortly after the reunion when pictures from the photo booth began appearing on Facebook. At first I thought that attendees were scanning their own photos and posting them. This thought was immediately dismissed when I saw my own pictures start to appear.
From what I can surmise, the operator of the photo booth provided digital copies of everyone’s photos to one of the reunion committee members who took it upon themselves to post the pictures to Facebook. I am not going to get into the legal, moral, or ethical issues behind this action, but suffice to say, no notice was posted and no permission was granted. Now, I truly believe that those involved had the best intentions of the reunion attendees in mind, but the problem is that they did not have the right to make that decision on their own.
Intersection cameras, movies on demand (on any device), automobiles that act as WIFI hot spots, Internet connected scales, and yes photo booths – these are only a few examples of how every aspect of our life is becoming affected (or even consumed) by digitalization. All of that content is finding its way into the hands of people who may have good intentions, but who do not understand the ramifications that disclosure of such information may have. As such, they may not take the same care that you or I might take with our own information and may share it with others – all under the guise of good intentions.
So what happens to our privacy when our information falls into the hands of others? Is it even possible to assume that they have our best intentions in mind when their own companies make money by selling our data to the highest bidder? Can we assume that the context in which we operated is even valid when it may simply be a ruse to get us to let our guards down? Like Rip Van Winkle awaking from his 20 year slumber only to find a world that he no longer recognizes, we too must take care that we resist our own apethetical slumber or we too will wake up to a world we no longer recognize.
While it brought billions into Facebook’s coffers, one could hardly call the first day of trading a success. They opened at $38/share and ended up the day at $38.27 (a gain of less than 1%).
The only reason why their stock didn’t dip below the opening price was because they were being propped up by bankers who poured in millions every time the stock threatened to go below $38/share. In fact, the stock price was a flat $38/share a mere 30 seconds before the closing bell before the bankers once again jumped in to help save “Face”. (See “How Facebook’s Bankers Saved an IPO, Kept Shares Above $38” for more information.)
They say that people vote with their pocket books. Based on first day of trading, Facebook is ready to be voted out of office. Is this indicative of social media sites, in general or are people getting tired of Facebook?
My daughter said something quite profound when I told her about what happened. She said, “Dad, it’s just a web site. People get tired of it and they go elsewhere.” Wow, so Facebook may be subject to the same fate suffered by mega-giant portals like AOL, Yahoo, and Netscape? Maybe that’s why sites like Pinterest are trending upwards while Facebook is trending down.
Is it possible that people are getting tired of Facebook not adding anything more to their life than just a time-suck?
Do you use Facebook? Since over 700 million people do, the odds are pretty high that you fall in this category. Are you concerned with your privacy and want control over who sees your content? Have you taken all the steps necessary to keep your private information private and feel pretty good about yourself? Well think again. While you may be taking every precaution to keep your data private, some items (such as your photos) are totally open. Still feel good about yourself? Keep reading.
Let’s say that you are on vacation and decide to take a few pictures to memorialize the trip.
You want to share your pictures, but you only want to do so with some of your closest friends (you don’t want these photos to be public). So, you select the upload photo option, point to the picture on your local computer, make sure that the Friends option is selected, and click Post.
The picture appears on your wall where only you and your friends can see it. You verify this by viewing the audience for the picture as follows:
Your friends comment and you all get a big laugh from the picture. But one of your not so close friends thinks it would be funny to show the picture to someone else – outside of your friends community – without your permission. Now, they could download the picture to their local computer and upload it somewhere else, but that takes too many steps – Facebook makes it much easier for you to be compromised.
Simply click on the image to open Facebook’s photo viewer.
Now right-click on the photo and select “Copy Image URL” from the browser menu that opens. You will have copied something like this:
If you look at the URL, you can see that this image is not hosted on Facebook’s site. Instead, it is hosted on Akamai’s site (a place where your privacy settings do not apply). By simply knowing this photo’s URL, anyone in the world can see this picture. All your “friend” has to do is share out this URL and all the time and efforts that you have taken to be private are now out the window.
Don’t believe me? Try this for yourself. Or simply click on the link above to see a picture that I have supposedly made private in Facebook.
Methinks that Ziggy secretly works for Facebook.
He is incorrect, however, everyone needs secret identities.
I posted a status to Facebook that included the words “Sea World” and all of a sudden I received a recommended page for Sea World and other Orlando theme parks in their advertisement section. Does anyone really think that Facebook isn’t parsing every post for nuggets they can glean and use for advertising purposes?
From a technical perspective, it is pretty impressive. From a privacy perspective, it is very very scary.