Networking, or Privacy?

In the last few days, at the encouragement of Greg Coleman of criteo.com, my Digital Media Marketing professor at NYU Stern, I’ve embraced social media.  I was hesitant to put myself out there on the web. I didn’t/don’t want to shove my personal info down my friends’ digital throats (who needs another bum rush of Facebook statuses?), plus, anything you post anywhere is basically permanent.

One has to decide which they value more: privacy and data ownership, or the dividends of putting one’s self out there on the ethers – dividends which supposedly include an extended network, reputation (or “Klout“), and a greater sense of community or belonging on those sites you’ve only been passively monitoring. And there are also the derivatives of these dividends to consider: those experiences and opportunities that come from having the extended network, reputation, and level of involvement.

The great thing about holding tight to personal data is the knowing that third party companies like Facebook aren’t selling and re-selling each digital nugget as part of their billion-dollar marketing economy. So, pulling up the blinds feels like selling out; it feels like I’m giving my personal data away to these services – acknowledging that the benefit from being an active participant is worth the slightly more targeted ads, or the bit extra of email spam. And the thing is, these services don’t even care – they’re individual agnostic. Facebook doesn’t care that I like Ayn Rand, Flickr doesn’t care that I recently went to Germany, and Twitter doesn’t care that I’ve just attempted following the 4-Hour Body (by Tim Ferriss) diet. There’s no trust between me and Facebook – they can screw me ten times over, and I might not even know about it. Terms of Use on all these site is notoriously sketchy, and my tiny bits of bytes hold no relative value.

The network effect is a foul beast. I’m saddened to be giving in to social media; however, I’m saddened as well as intrigued. In a few days of toying around, I’ve seen that providing even small nuggets of personal information has generated responses. Friends have seen my Tweets and replied, and people I don’t know have started following me purely due to shared interests – not that I gain much from these interactions, but it’s neat. I can absolutely see how the network effect available with these site can amplify my own personal network. Further, the technologies are really cool. I’ve signed up with Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, Flickr, LinkedIn, Reddit, Foursquare (I’m not quite ready to share locations though, that’s still a bit too much for me), Meetup and Klout – and they all talk to each other!

I’m impressed. As much as I value my privacy, giving up some seems worthwhile considering the possibilities available by being an active member of the digital community. I’ve certainly taken fair advantage of reviews from Amazon, Yelp and TripAdvisor, for example.

Well done social media, you win this round.

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