Privacy: The 21st Century’s Greatest Myth

Instagram. Snapchat. Facebook. Fitbits. We are all connected these days, sharing everything from our latest meal, to our new step goal. As a whole, we continue to share private information we wouldn’t have shared 10 to 15 years ago. Now, we find ourselves agonizing over what we should and should not share online. With every post, we must ask ourselves, how will this affect my job prospects? My relationship? My friendships? My relationship with my Grandma who is now (regrettably) on Instagram?

It used to be that professors and parents told the younger generation to be careful of what they post online – because you never know who might see it. The fear was that employers would check Facebook pages for any incriminating evidence among job applicants’ photos. However in 2017 things have gone full circle as we share our all-inclusive vacations and trendy bar nights on Instagram – if a potential employer doesn’t see a few of these photos pop in in social media feeds, they may be thinking ‘what is this person hiding?’

It’s interesting to take a step back and note that “privacy” is actually a concept of a modern society. Before 1500, people didn’t have walls and the notion of “privacy” did not exist. Privacy, as we’ve come to know and understand, is really only 150 years old, with our own homes, rooms, and beds.  It’s just in the last few hundred years we have been craving privacy in our properties – and now our digital properties.

Ultimately, we want to share what we want, with precisely whom we want. When this freedom is taken away from users, public outcries pour in. In 2012, Instagram introduced an updated privacy setting in their Terms and Agreements that threatened privacy. Within 24 hours, co-founder Kevin Systrom posted an official blog – letting people know that, in response to public outrage, Instagram would be returning back to their original Terms and Agreements. Thenceforth, it was widely accepted that users want to share their life, but share it on their own terms.

However, we can be very hypocritical with the information we choose to make public, especially when it comes down to our personal health and fitness success. Devices, such as Fitbits and Apple Watches allow users to you see how many calories they’ve been burned and how many steps they’ve taken. But with these devices, there is no traditional doctor/patient privacy. Monitoring your health through a digital device is a bit like publishing your medical records online. And yet, unlike the outrage with Instagram, the mass public doesn’t seem to mind as the benefits outweigh the breach of privacy.

As a marketing agency, it’s important to know what’s happening in the world of privacy when user data is so important to advertising. We watch user’s behaviours, and yes, use that to benefit our clients. This includes remarketing digital ads to past website visitors and collecting email addresses for future promos. Ethically, we must always keep in mind users’ boundaries and permissions. But the wealth of data provided by users themselves undoubtedly makes it easy to advertise directly to a target market.