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Facebook Privacy Flap--Gen Yers Demand Control.

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on February 18, 2009

The Facebook Flap over privacy shows that the Gen Y cohort may be just as worried about controlling their own data as their Boomer parents. For a while there, it seemed that Gen Y believe in a No-Privacy rule and didn’t care who owned the numbers in their lives—or perhaps even more importantly, the images. The uproar over Facebook’s new policy on ownership of peoples’ posts, unleashed by the consumerist blog, shows the contrary.

Good. It is important for social media—all media—to understand that people need to control access to their private information. Let’s facebook it, retaining rights to content after users leave is pretty outrageous. I don’t know if other social media sites do that. Can people check? It just never occurred to me that once I left a site, all my content remained and could be sold, exchanged or given to the government.

The Facebook Fiasco comes at a critical moment when the Obama administration is launching a major effort to digitalize medical records in an effort to cut costs and improve medical outcomes. Everyone wants to get into this game, it seems, including Google, with its Google Health. But privacy issues have to be considered and privacy problems solved if this major health initiative is going to succeed.

Facebook is soliciting comments on new terms of service on a page called Facebook Bill of Rights and Responsibilities. There really is only one thing Facebook has to do— just assume by default that you don’t want anyone to see whatever content you leave behind when you leave. And if Facebook—or any other social media or health organization refuses, remove everything and get out.

Reader Comments

Jeff Lindsay

February 19, 2009 4:55 PM

Good point. It's easy to be very loose with property rights when you're talking about other people's property. When your own property is suddenly on the table, the need for control and rights becomes more clear.

Ditto for other forms of property. Once you've spent years on a business or invention only to have someone else take it and leave you with nothing, the importance of intellectual property becomes less of a theoretical abstract.


February 19, 2009 7:39 PM

Glad they actually listened to the outcry on this issue. It is about time!

Brett Hummel

February 20, 2009 9:04 PM

While you raise incredibly important points about privacy over the internet, I think it is a mistake to say that Millennials show no inclination towards protecting their privacy. In fact, I know personally and have read reports about how many recent college graduates either take down their social networking profiles or purge them before entering the professional world.

Also, in general it has been the Millennial generation and their main information source (the blogosphere) that has brought to light the problems associated with privacy over the internet from this Facebook story all the way to how Google stores all the information on everyone's search results. Unlike society's impression of this generation, Millennials are extremely concerned about their privacy, appearance, and acceptance in the professional world.

What we have to realize is that the Millennials (as well as people from older generations) have created an entirely new communication system (communication in real time over the internet). Unfortunately, our laws have not been updated or adjusted to this new reality, and as a result you have companies fighting in a free for all for all of this personal data. Taking AOL as an example: in the Terms of Use for its Instant Messaging client they get to keep all details of your communication over their platform, or Gmail where they can refuse to deliver any email message that they want, we can see that without proper laws in place, corporations are exploiting the new medium of communication.

Our laws today provide no privacy protection for a person's email, instant messaging, or social networking accounts, and what we need to realize is that the old ways of communicating: by letter, person, and telephone while not dead are on life support. There is no discernible difference between information posted in these electronic forms from the old protected ways like the mail. Yet unlike electronic forms of communication, we provide incredible privacy protections for the correspondents in the old forms from both individuals, corporations, and governments. I ask what is the difference from a Google server and probably the government reading a person's email and a postal worker opening your mail??? I would say that there is very little difference.

One only has to look at the recent Post Office request to stop delivering mail on Saturday to realize how they have been replaced as the means of correspondence. So in reality, I would counter that it is not the Millennials that have failed to protect their own privacy, it is the lawmakers who have not kept up with the emergence of this disruptive technology and protected the people who they have been elected to serve.

Scott Kilmartin

February 22, 2009 11:34 AM

Very heavy handed by facebook and badly communicated. A class action lawsuit waiting to happen if left unchanged.
Bizarre that they thought they would be able get away with it really.

ari scoblionko

March 13, 2009 2:59 PM

The collision of intellectual property rights and internet platforms is one the most important issues gen-y must face. All very interesting comments...

As a senior in college I am constantly worrying about my virtual presence, and my lovely mother has always encouraged me to do so. (Thanks, mom). Recently, someone very close to me had his name thrown around in a ticket scandal. Posts appeared on multiple websites and all popped up when you googled his name. The scariest part was that he had no way of filtering or removing comments that could potentially make or break his professional career. As an Ivy League graduate, it did not pose ideal circumstances for someone entering the workforce. From what I hear, employers often google an applicant's name to see what comes up. In his case, it was all lies. As a child, I learned the hard way that rumors spread like wild fire. The internet puts an interesting lens on all of the lessons we were taught about the power of words and rumors. There is no law that states "truth only on the internet;" in fact, there don't seem to be any laws that really protect one person from digital danger. So, how does one person even begin to combat the infinite influence (and power) of the internet?


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