What’s So Wrong with Privacy in the Social Media Age?

Creepy stalker guy at computer

My friend Zetah* who is not into social media at all asked me a question the other night.

Why would you post something online telling people you are on vacation?

Good question, I told her. Any of you guys want to explain to her why you post your vacation details online for all to see? Or why you post your kids photos on very public sites for pedophiles everywhere to copy and paste and drool over?

I know you are probably responsible people, loving parents, etc. It’s a good question though—do you think about privacy? Do you even care?

There are whole networks now based on just telling people where you are—single women are using them, celebrities are using them and even kids are using them. I can’t help but think that’s not a smart thing to do.

LinkedIn offers a TripIt app, which I’ve seen many prominent social media professionals use. I often wonder how their wives feel, with them advertising the man of the house will be away for the next few days. (Not that women can’t take care of themselves, I’m just saying, it’s a security thing.)

Don’t get me wrong. I love social media, but I also love my privacy and security, so there are some things I just don’t get.

We seem to be in this new era—or maybe just a technological limbo—in which privacy has been flung to the wayside. Social networks, advertisers and other businesses are pushing our limits to see how far we will let them go.

I’ve done a few posts on online advertising and the different ways users get tracked online. And my overall sense is that more and more people are okay with advertisers tracking them online. Why?

Isn’t that the equivalent of someone following us store by store through the mall?

We wouldn’t dare allow this behavior in public, yet why are we so accepting of a lack of privacy and even safety in our online lives?

Two possible answers

1.  Being online for some people is like a sort of fame. People love the attention so they tend to overshare. And many times, everything turns out perfectly okay so most people feel pretty comfortable. But is this a false sense of security?

2.  The consequences can be difficult to see. You see, you don’t know if someone is actually downloading pictures and videos that you post of your kids and using them for their own personal pleasure in some dark room somewhere. You probably don’t know someone who had embarrassing photos or information spread about him online and was ridiculed so badly that he killed himself, even though you’ve heard similar stories on the news. And, hopefully, no one has robbed your house while you’ve been on vacation or attacked your wife while you said you’d be away for three days.

Maybe you’re thinking that can’t happen to you, right?

As adults, I think we’re pretty confident, maybe too confident in our ability to protect ourselves online. But what about your kids?

I know many parents who do what they can to protect their kids online, but is it enough? Shouldn’t online entities—advertisers, social networks, etc.—bear some of the responsibility too?

For example, Facebook should have automatic privacy settings for anyone who creates an account who is under a certain age (like 16, 17 or 18). A social tool like Klout should not be able to create profiles of people, especially minors (see Is Klout Using Our Family to Violate Our Privacy?), without some sort of permission.

All I’m saying is there needs to be limits…for our own good. And there can be limits without ruining the social nature of social networks.

If people are comfortable sharing their whereabouts and their life’s details with everyone, that’s okay as long as it’s their choice. But the rest of us should still be able to protect our privacy online (and offline) as much as we desire.

Still not convinced?

If you’re my age, your parents probably told you when you were young not to take candy from strangers. Well check out Take This Lollipop and see how easy it is for strangers to get too close for comfort.

Something to think about.

If you want more info before you try it (and want some tips on staying safe online), read Steve Olenski’s Take This Lollipop – An Interactive Movie On The Dangers Of Facebook Stalkers.

And hey, let’s be careful out there.


*Zetah is a fictional name used to protect my friend’s privacy and to protect her from any ridicule and embarrassment she might receive for not being on any online social network even though we are in the 21st century. Of course, given the way things are headed, we might all be envying her pretty soon.



  1. Kristine Elkins · November 1, 2011

    The “Take This Lollipop” site is very creepy. I have to say, I really enjoy sharing things on Facebook – my life is so busy, and it’s hard for me to keep in touch with friends and family with telephone alone. Posting pictures and status updates on FB keeps me close with my peeps. But I keep those privacy restrictions pretty tight, and I NEVER authorize FB apps. When I launched your link above, I immediately stopped and closed the page, then Googled the phrase “Take This Lollipop” to see what I could find out about the site. HOWEVER – it now occurs to me that my KIDS are probably not taking these same precautions! I will be having a little talk with them tonight…

  2. Kristine Elkins · November 1, 2011

    Oh, wait – I did authorize an app so I could post to this site with my FB credentials. So it’s not quite “never”…let’s say “very infrequently, and only after some research.” 🙂

  3. ctmarcom · November 1, 2011

    I agree…Facebook is an excellent tool for keeping in touch, sharing photos with family and friends, etc. It’s too bad that Facebook so frequently makes changes that requires you to reset all your privacy settings and makes it difficult for you to completely bar anyone other than your target audience from seeing certain things. It should be easier.

    Yes, that Take This Lollipop is very creepy, and, even though I’m like you and “never” allow apps access, I did so for this one. With the younger generations, I think they’re not as aware of the dangers and with the older ones, we should know better but for some reason act differently online. There’s a better way, and hopefully, we’ll get to it…before too many people get hurt.

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