Little Comments, Big Privacy

(via Chuck and Beans)

By Jason Brandt (@JasonDMG3)

“Great story. Loved the last part; very moving.”

“I disagree completely – this is whats wrong with America today!”

While adding a comment to a blog post or a news article may seem trivial, its part of a larger and very important story.

Interactivity – the idea that you can offer your own opinion or information right next to what the original author has said – is the cornerstone of todays online experience. The desire and the ability to not just receive or publish information, but to converse, is one of the most important features of the Internet, inspiring everything from Wikipedia to crowdsourcing to social networks.

There are, however, privacy implications. In some cases, the information you submit as a commenter is up to you. On most blogs, youre required to provide a name and an e-mail address – but no more – and your e-mail remains unpublished. Some cases can be more complicated. Many news sites require membership, and many sites (most notably Facebook and Google) have been hit with complaints about the privacy they afford to their users and their users activity, including commenting.

Both Facebook and Google have provided feedback to federal legislation for the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet. Its been discussed for years, but the current bill was introduced in mid-April. What the final version of such a law could be – what restrictions and requirements it could ultimately implement – remains to be seen, but the big players will have a say in it – and your participation on their sites gives them their lifeblood: data on you.

When it comes down to it, just visiting a website provides the host with a wealth of information, whether or not you comment. If you manage your online privacy with care, the way you comment should be taken into account. This is the crux of the matter. Commenting on or even just “liking a post or article feels unimportant, but it needs to be considered as part of your broader privacy management philosophy.

Your what?

Your privacy management philosophy.

What is your privacy management philosophy? Its based on your own concerns and your own goals, and its necessary. Do you consider what information youre providing and how it can be used? Do you check the privacy settings of the services you use and personalize them? Do you define the separation, or lack thereof, between your personal online activities and your professional ones?

If you havent asked yourself these questions, its past time to begin. Whether the reports of the death of privacy are a great exaggeration is debatable. Whats certain, however, is that the concept and concerns of privacy are very different today than in previous years – and so should our thoughts on them be.

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