Being in the online safety industry, I read a good bit about new technologies and the reactions to it.

Take, for instance, the reaction of Anne Collier as reported by Larry Magid, to the new photo-sharing app Color, which creates location-based photo sharing networks:

Anne Collier worries that the service could be used by “a bunch of 11-year-olds in various stages of undress, snapping away at a slumber party; or slightly more grown-up people in the late stages of a frat party, experiencing reduced levels of critical thinking.”

What emerges from studying these reactions is a widening gulf between the members of the press who actively cover new technologies and their possibly troublesome applications, and the kids, teens, and adults using them.

As many prominent thought-leaders in technology have observed, privacy is either dead or dying, primarily because of the new abilities and possibilities that technology is offering people. That is not to say privacy is dying because of technology—that’s an important distinction. Relatively new web apps such as Facebook, Twitter, and younger offerings like FourSquare, Tumblr, and now Color, are merely providing vehicles that allow people to give up their privacy voluntarily in exchange for new ways to express themselves to others, and people are doing it in the hundreds of millions, all across the globe.

Privacy in this age of sharing for sharing’s sake has become a rather loaded term. What, after all, do we mean when we talk privacy on the web? For some, the fact that Gmail serves ads based on the content of someone’s email is an invasion of privacy, even though human eyes supposedly never see the emails. However, there is a reasonable trade-off that most people recognize—I allow myself to be targeted by advertisers in exchange for a free service. It makes sense.

But what is the reward gained from sharing your photos with strangers? Why broadcast your innermost feelings to the world? Why tell 3,000 followers on Twitter that you just arrived at your favorite coffee shop or bar? This is the question that ultimately confounds the press and terrifies parents, yet is seldom even asked by the younger generation.

Aside from providing software that helps parents know what their kids are doing and set boundaries online, part of our mission is to provide parents with accurate information about real concerns. When ChatRoulette came out, we warned parents that the open-access video matching service was a very likely gateway to obscene material, based on our own testing. But members of the online safety community need to guard against creating scenarios of abuse, even if the likliehood of the abuse is strong.

As Mandeep S. Dhillon, founder of Togetherville, remarked at CES this year, saying no gets you nowhere. As the younger generation grows, there is no question that their standards of what is personal and private will have diverged wildly from the standards of their parents. The question becomes which standard is right? Or to ask it another way, can more than 500 million people all be wrong?

Posted on April 7th, 2011 on by Stanley Holditch