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Do We Have a Reasonable Right to Privacy Using Social Media?

social media-privacy

Old school first

With the telephone we were given the ability to opt out of telephone books and information lines (1411) and also the ability to add ourselves to the ‘do not call list.’ We safeguarded our information by keeping private our social security numbers, as well as addresses to protect our identity, and our families.

Fast forward

Today, using social media, we really put ourselves out there. A few years ago Facebook had many layers in which to be anonymous and not be found, but continues to peel the onion little by little. You also really only had one or two ways of searching people out, typically by using Google, or by knowing an individual uses a specific online network. Today however, websites continue to pop up that are gathering intel on you and your online activities.

And why not, information is probably a trillion dollar business when it’s all said and done, but I wonder to what end?

Are the days of reasonable privacy over? Are we developing a world of ‘in your face?’ Afterall, apparently it’s been ruled that service by Facebook holds up in court, and repo pros are learning where you are by use of geo websites, and any Tom, Dick and Harry can video you and post you on the internet, or snap your picture while at Wal-Mart and call you a people of.

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I realize that you can be private, and you can opt for which onion layers you can keep on Facebook, but really, how many pieces of the puzzle does it take for someone who wants to find you, to actually know exactly where you’ll be and when? From process service, to real true to life stalkers, what will it take to get Congress to put teeth into legislation that allows you to absolutely opt out of public directories? Isn’t it time?

If our names are our new phone numbers, it stands to reason our names should also be protected if the consumer so wishes it, with specific exclusion, from not only all databases, but from Google as well- it’s a reasonable request and hold liable any website that distributes information without the users permission, disclaimers are not enough because in the end, that’s a hold harmless for accidents and mistakes, isn’t it? A website operator can opt out of Google, but could a human being? When you Google yourself, is Facebook a top tier result? Did you permit that?

It’s still early in the game, but it doesn’t take a degree in rocket science to do this math, does it? Where does our Government draw the line anymore?

We’d like to know your thoughts…

Do you have a reasonable right to privacy? Should social networks have an all in one opt out button? Should Congress consider putting real law behind it the same way they did with cell phone privacy?

UPDATE: the Electronic Frontier Foundation has filed suit against the Department of Justice and five other governmental agencies for cloaking how they use social networks to investigate citizens for criminal and civil matters. The suit demands that the agencies make public their methods. Full report on

Related reading: The Google Cleaner: Erasing Folks From The Internet

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Benn Rosales is the Founder and CEO of The American Genius (AG), national news network. Before AG, he founded one of the first digital media strategy firms in the nation has received the Statesman Texas Social Media Award and is an Inman Innovator Award winner. He has consulted for numerous startups (both early- and late-stage), and is well known for organizing the digital community through popular offline events. He does not venture into the spotlight often, rather he believes his biggest accomplishments are the talent he recruits and develops, so he gives all credit to those he's empowered.



  1. Matt Stigliano

    December 3, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    Benn – Privacy. Hmmmm. This is a tough one for me. As a rockstar I lost all sense of privacy. I’ve had my personal details leaked to the public (on my own site no less), phone calls at 3AM from German fans, photos posted of me that I wasn’t a willing participant in, and even mentioned on TV in a way that implied something other than what it was (it was a VH1 special on groupies – we met a famous 60s era groupie and took photos with her – my photo appeared in the show – nothing more). I tried to keep much of my private life private. I never told people my real name (although everyone knew it), never talked about my family or wife by name, kept photos of my family away from the public (until later, when our families willingly gave up photos of us from our childhood), and I had unlisted numbers and private emails for friends and family (my band email was the master account, so I got all the fan email).

    Of course now, I want my phone number plastered everywhere. I still try to keep certain pieces of my life private and can certainly understand a parent’s worries about privacy, but still (because of my former career) I feel so indifferent to it. I guess I just sort of accept it.

    I do think a master opt-out would be a great idea. As a real estate agent though, would you opt-out? I don’t think I would – one of my goals is to be found.

    Perhaps someone look Google needs to create a name server like database for opt-outs. We have name servers all over the world that check domain names and route traffic, seems logical that someone could design a series of them to allow for opt-outs.

    I think your average internet connected individual does accept a certain amount of lack of privacy as the social norm these days. Going back to my comments on “net neutrality” (where I talked about the telco industry convincing us to pay for minutes we weren’t going to use), I wonder if this is similar…being convinced that are privacy is gone, until it truly is gone. Know what I mean?

    • Benn Rosales

      December 4, 2009 at 12:37 pm

      Professional accounts, it’s no matter. What were really talking about here is consumer protection. We currently have more protections on our cell phones than on our own names as online identifiers. New media spaces can do more to offer consumers the ability to opt out or opt in of directory scraping.

  2. Molly

    December 3, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    I remember the days of vanity screen names and keeping your personal information very secretive. Now it almost seems that some people have gone full swing the other way to talking about personal bath habits online while using their full name AND putting it on

    Facebook it, Tweet it…broadcast it to the world.

    We have all heard of people who have gotten robbed because they tweeted they were out of town, where they were, how long they would be gone…

    I have started to pull back on some of my online “social” activity. Some of it is because of lack of time-the rest-I am tired.

    I am also having a bit of an identity crisis….”personal” Molly who has her own blog and “professional” (working for a RE Company) Molly…and the overlap-or trying to prevent the overlap…exhausting. Agents don’t have that problem because they ARE their brand. I’m really not.

    • Benn Rosales

      December 4, 2009 at 12:39 pm

      It really is hard to seperate the two. If we live online, at what point do we close the blinds, and do we have that option? Not really.

  3. Doug Lazovick

    December 3, 2009 at 7:12 pm


    I think we’ll be hearing a lot more on this subject in the not too distant future. Today, it is still possible to maintain some degree of reasonable privacy. However, this basically involves avoiding all social networking. Moving forward, you will need to participate in social networking if you have any desire to participate in society. So, we will deal with this issue head on pretty soon.

    My guess for where this is all headed? We will have to get used to having less privacy than we are accustomed to, but there will be legal protection for those who wish a slightly higher degree of privacy.


    • Benn Rosales

      December 4, 2009 at 12:40 pm

      I predict we’ll see this issue before the supreme court in the next year or two in one fashion or another.

  4. Eric Hempler

    December 3, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    I think we started out as being private and then someone along the way decided, “let’s show everything”. Now that we’ve shown everything I think social media is learning what we would like to keep private and over time there will be some kind of a balance. As long as privacy options are available I think it’s up to us in the end.

    As Realtors we’re kind of stuck. We’re out in the public trying to get business and have our faces on everything we market, but at the same time some of us would like some anonymity.

  5. Loren Sanders

    December 3, 2009 at 8:34 pm

    Great questions…in general though if you are putting stuff out on the internet, I think you can count on it being there forever, even if it is only for your friend list? It will be interesting to see what kind of regulations will come down on the road. Thanks for the thoughtful post.

  6. Mike Bowler Sr.

    December 3, 2009 at 10:01 pm

    Benn, Interesting post. I hope Uncle Sam stays out of this business. I have always been under the impression that nothing we ever do, say, and sometimes think is an open book when it comes to email and social media. The private setups are nice for family pictures and discussions on Facebook. I think WAVE willl shake out to be the more private conversation tool for collaboration, while everything on social media will continue to make all vulnerable for spam and other abuse. As a Realtor I disclose all contact information except my cell phone and home address. My smart phone knows where I’m at better than I do most of the time, I imagine that will play a row in privacy also.

  7. Thomas Johnson

    December 4, 2009 at 2:38 am

    Privacy is an artifact of inefficiency. Information want to be free and as processing costs crater toward zero, there should be no expectation of privacy. That genie is out of the bottle. A long time ago, when I was a Georgia resident, my SSN was my driver’s license number. It was even printed on my checks.

    • Benn Rosales

      December 4, 2009 at 2:46 am

      Hey Thomas, humble question for you, what does “Information want to be free” really mean? Can you give context to that? I hear it all the time, but honestly, I don’t think it means anything, I think they’re just a group of words google made up? Seriously!

  8. MIssy Caulk

    December 4, 2009 at 11:49 am

    Well I had a fraud alert on my business card. They said they presented it in person. NO way I only have one and it is with me all the time. The purchases were from Canada and I haven’t been there is years.
    So it freaked me out and you start to ask how did this happen?
    Well gosh darn I’m only all over the internet. So far nothing else has happened.

    P.S. I like EFF they do a good job. 🙂

  9. Ken Brand

    December 5, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    Hmmmm. I believe we won’t see a big “privacy” movement until there’s some emotionally wrenching tragic event, could be a sensational murder, child abuse or it could be some sorta act of terrorism. Someday, tomorrow, next week or next year, something will rock the public perception of social media from social and fun to sitting duck and dangerous.

    When it does, there will be a screaming public outcry, politicians will leverage the tragedy to spark publicity and enhance their political polish and on-line leaders will police themselves to insure continued growth, ad sales, etc.

    In the mean time, there’s too much money to me made mining the data, voluntary protections aren’t likely. Most civilians aren’t aware of the pitfalls and negative possibilities.

    Also as you’ve stated, while we can’t opt-out today, we don’t need to broadcast unwisely.

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