Do Google and Facebook give you the creeps? Even just a little? You know the niggling feeling that your privacy might not be completely protected when you’re using these services? If you answered yes, you aren’t alone, in fact, you’re in the majority. A poll released by USA Today said that 65% of Facebook users and 52% of Google users are concerned about their privacy, security, and other Internet threats (like viruses) when using these two giants of social media. So what does this mean? Are we just shrugging our collective shoulders and giving up? Are we accepting that there are risks to being online and we’re okay with that? I think the issue is more complex than that. I think that while we might be cognizant of the risks and do try to mitigate them as best we can, we don’t have the tools to make a real difference in our own personal privacy and security.
I try to limit what information I put online, and when signing for things I rarely give my real birthday (that’s an easy thing to do), but I know that Google is scraping my emails for juicy information that will help them target ads better to me. I am under no illusion that Facebook is using the information about me for promotion. The reality is that Gmail, Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc are too essential to me as a community manager, marketer, and individual to just stop using the services wholesale.
I’m not sure whether government oversight is the answer either. Think about it, we’re enjoying a lot of great services for free that are paid for by advertising. If advertising becomes less effective (face it, targeting does work) then that revenue gap will have to be made up somehow. That “somehow” might wind up being having to (gasp) pay for services. I don’t know if I’d pay for Facebook. I might pay for Gmail. Would you consider paying to access Google?
In the interim, what are our options? I think we all need to be more introspective about what we share online. Maybe we don’t need Google or anyone else to gather anonymous data about us to help with product improvement. Maybe we need to ask why companies need information on sign up. What’s truly needed to use an email application? Maybe ad targeting can be done a different way. Whatever the answer is, I’m glad that privacy and security is still a concern for people and that it is top of mind. Now the trick is to do something about it.