Confusing Security with Privacy

Oops, there goes my privacy.

Oops, there goes my privacy.

Eric Schonfeld has a post called “The Privacy Dilemma” over at TechCrunch today. Interestingly, Schonfeld focuses on the dangers from scammers, phishers, and identity thieves. I’d argue that that isn’t privacy. That’s security. When you open online accounts, send emails, blog, etc. there’s an inherent risk for increased attention from online criminals — and security risks such as viruses, malware and bot attacks. Privacy is about having information about your private and professional life made public — voluntarily and, in some cases, not voluntarily.

I think Schonfeld intermingles the two disparate issues. Everyone should take precautions to make sure their online data is protected with strong passwords and not to share personal information with every Tom, Dick and Harry. That’s common sense.

But there is a larger issue at stake as we migrate more of our lives online. The big question is how can people successfully blend their personal and professional lives? We tackled the privacy issue in relation to Facebook in a recent HighTalk post.  We have a good answer yet for the loss of privacy when participating online. I know many people who try to have a “professional” online profile and a “personal” one, but those only work if you’re willing to cloak one of those identities (generally your personal one). And sooner or later, those worlds collide. I also know people who choose one. I’m John the SVP of Sales or John the Amateur Model Plane enthusiast – but not both.

This is a big challenge for those who value their privacy. I can think of many instances why people would want to keep personal and professional worlds separate:

  • You collect comic books, but you’re also a vice president at a bank. You want to join comic book forums, but you don’t want your employees to know that you dig Spiderman and Thor. So what do you do with your Facebook profile?
  • You have very conservative political views and belong to right-wing organizations that have online communities. You want to join, but your boss is left-leaning and very political. You don’t want him to know you voted for John McCain. So do you put a McCain button on your MySpace page?
  • You want to start a Facebook Group for Cher fans, but fear the ridicule of your hip co-workers. How do you participate in all the Cher related activities online without alerting them?

There are dozens, if not hundreds of examples. And, yes, Facebook is beginning to offer solutions that allow you to customize who sees your personal data. But when you have 1,000 friends — that becomes an enormous data management project.

Privacy isn’t discussed enough at technology news sites.  It’s a topic worth further exploration. It would be interesting if a good journalist (like Schonfeld) talked with some of the people who have fully exposed themselves online to see what the consequences and the benefits have been. For example, HighTalk recently interview Marsha Moore, who was fired from her job at an exclusive London spa for blogging.

I also welcome input from readers about how you’re managing your online identity, if privacy is important to you, and how you manage professional and personal interests online.

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