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Prediction for 2011: Privacy & Social Media

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Privacy. This is something we used to take for granted, and I think many of us still do. But the internet has changed everything. And as anyone who has prematurely sent an email knows, once it’s out there you can’t take it back.

While it used to be easy to determine if your privacy had been violated, this is not so for the online environment. And to make matters worse, due to the different language used in privacy policies, and how few people actually read them, much less understand them, it’s not always clear as to what a user has agreed.
My prediction for 2011 is that there will be a land-mark case, most likely involving the alleged privacy violation of a minor, that will finally bring this issue to the mainstream. I believe this will cause some percentage of online users to immediately close or delete their social media accounts — not that this will do any good since virtually everything you have already contributed has become property of the company to which you’ve subscribed. I feel it is almost certain that there will be some attempt at legislative regulation. I also think it is inevitable that some entity in the business community (perhaps an insurance or financial institution) will be sued for using personal information obtained through a social media site in order to deny service or goods to an individual. And finally, I am sure that this will be an issue not easily resolved.

Consider a couple of possible scenarios …

You open up and share on Facebook the challenges your family is facing due to a circumstance of cancer. Coincidentally, you are denied life insurance. Or, some old friends post a few indiscreet pictures (now 10 years in the past), of you at a wild college party. Oddly enough you can’t seem get a job offer, even though your resume is impeccable and your job history is excellent.

This is not a consumer issue of sharing too much, and sadly I don’t think it will be one of ethical standards for business. Those are all subjective. Unfortunately at the end of the day I believe that privacy will be defined by legislators and judges. If that thought scares you, you’re probably not alone.

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