Sunday, July 29, 2012

Privacy concerns

I had an interesting conversation with someone recently. It was about concern over photos someone else had posted to Facebook. Basically, the issue was that people shouldn’t post photos of other people without their permission. As out and loud as I may seem, I fully agree with that.

When I started this blog back in 2006, and my podcast six months later, I adopted a simple policy: I never talk about any of my friends or family by name without permission, and most of the time I don’t talk about them at all.

It’s true that some of the people in question wouldn’t mind if I did, but I respect their privacy and their right to determine how much they share with the world. None of that is up to me.

Some family and friends would be upset with me if I talked in detail about them by name on this blog or my podcast, in part because they consider it public (which it is), but many of those same people would think nothing of sharing the same sorts of information on Facebook because they perceive it as being basically private.

Yet Facebook isn’t private, unless users actively restricts access to what they post, including choosing who can see posts. I have no argument with people sharing things about their lives, including photos of themselves; in fact, I find it interesting. But I don’t think they should talk about others, and they certainly shouldn’t post photos, without permission.

My attitude is that of a middle-aged gay man who remembers clearly the dark days in which accidental “outing” could have had disastrous consequences. In some places, including much of the United States, it still could. So, why should anyone take any chances with the lives of their family and friends? Something may seem innocent—or even fun—to us, but someone else, an outsider, may see things completely differently.

News reports in the US sometimes talk about the dangers of posting drunken photos that a potential employer can later find. If we post such photos of others, we could harm them without ever meaning to. Even if photos of us aren’t bad, linking us to others in potentially embarrassing or compromising situations can still reflect on us.

When someone posts a photo of me on Facebook and “tags” me in it, I almost always remove the tag. I never post photos of friends or family unless they give me permission or they’re dead. Actually, that last part applies mostly to this blog: I stopped posting photos to Facebook awhile back when they changed their Terms and seemed to claim ownership of all images posted. I deleted every photo I’d posted (apart from a profile photo) and I just didn’t resume.

What I’m really arguing is that people should be able to make their own choices about what’s shared with the world, and that we shouldn’t make those choices for them. If we feel we simply must share a photo on Facebook so all our friends (including those we’ve never met) can “Like” it, then we should at the very least be careful, and we should realise that people depicted may not be happy about having that photo posted, for whatever reason.

It comes down to one word: Respect. Well, one other word, too: Courtesy. Come to think of it, if we all kept those two words in mind whenever we deal with others, then this world would be a better place for us all.

And you can quote me on that on your Facebook wall. You have my permission.

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