Is sharing natural? Is privacy?

To someone like me, who works in the field of privacy, Facebook and similar services have always represented a challenge. Pretty much every time Mark Zuckerberg gets up on his feet to make another announcement, I find my stomach churning, and my mind turning. When he suggests that privacy is no longer a social norm, when he tells us that we all want to share more, when he implies that Facebook does what we want it to do, and that anyone who’s at all concerned about what it does is an old stick-in-the-mud or a luddite, I always wonder, just for a moment, if he might be right. Is privacy an outdated concept, a kind of social construction that has outlived its purpose? Is openness and sharing how we’re ‘meant’ to live? Is Facebook about liberating us, allowing us to be how we’ve always wanted to be, how we naturally want to be?

I wonder that for a few moments every time. I wondered it when the new features on Facebook were launched a week or two back. I wondered it when the mini-furore over Facebook ‘continuing to track us after we log out’ happened two days ago – though the truth or otherwise of that tracking continues to be debated. Am I wrong about privacy? I wonder that for a moment – and then something brings me right back to earth. I have a five-year-old child….

For my child, privacy seems something entirely natural, something deeply desired, something clearly needed. It has done since she was six months old – and perhaps even earlier. Now that she’s at school, it’s even more important to her. She doesn’t tell anyone all her secrets, she carefully controls who she tells what, and I’m quite sure there are many things she tells no-one at all. Privacy, to her and to her friends, is something very much natural.

What about sharing? Well, I can’t imagine that there are many parents who have found that there child wants to share ANYTHING as a matter of course. And that applies just as much to secrets as it does to things. Sharing is something we have to almost force our children to do – often kicking and screaming, and entirely against their will. It takes a long time before they do it willingly, if they ever really do. Even many adults find sharing very difficult – and again, that applies as much to information as it does to material goods.

Of course my evidence is entirely anecdotal, and I have only one example to follow (plus her friends (in the real sense of the word), classmates and acquaintances, while Zuckerberg has 800 million or so – but to my eyes and ears, and to my mind, that anecdotal evidence is pretty compelling. Privacy, to me, is far more natural than sharing. The kind of denial of privacy and enforcement of sharing that an unfettered Facebook would have us believe is ‘natural’ is far from it. For me, at least, it is something that should be resisted, and resisted with vigour.

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