2 min read
In discussions around digital citizenship and online footprints, the terms "private" and "public" are often misused.
A couple quick notes:
First, the "private" settings on most social media platforms are a joke. Within social media, "private" often means "just visible to my friends", which in turn means "it appears on my friend's timeline." So, even if you are locking down your content to your friends, in many cases this means that your "privacy" is determined by the judgment of your least secure friend.
And, of course, this doesn't even touch the reality that "private" in most social software means that all content is fully visible and accessible to the mining algorithms of the company providing the service, and their affiliates. This, "private" means "invisibly shared with organizations who exist by selling predictions about your behavior for the foreseeable future."
These public/private conversations also don't mention the constant practices of brand monitoring, social media monitoring in education, and social media monitoring by law enforcement. If you are a kid in a school, ask your district and your school board if they use social media monitoring tools, and how you - as a student - can review what the school has collected.
People often also give advice about tagging photos. The process of tagging photos is simple: it's how companies crowdsource improving their facial recognition algorithms. But not tagging photos isn't the same as respecting someone's privacy. Facial recognition works, and social media companies already know who your friends are - because you tell them explicitly with the "friend" mechanisms they provide, and implicitly via who you interact with. Geolocation tracking makes this easier.
So when you upload a picture of you with three of your friends, the algorithms already have a small pool of people who it might be - and they can use facial recognition software to narrow the field. For example, Facebook's facial recognition software is now accurate to the point where it can use other visual cues to identify a person.
So, let's talk about public and private, but let's also be explicit that true privacy is elusive. What frequently gets called privacy is really surveillance that has yet to be noticed.