2011: The year of privacy

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Lysa Myers
Lysa Myers

The leaves on the trees are changing, snow is beginning to fall in northern latitudes, and people's minds are starting to focus on the changing of the year. 

There has already been some discussion in the Twittersphere about what the primary issues will be in the security space for 2011. The most compelling, in my mind, is that next year will bring privacy squarely into the minds of the mainstream. (At one point, #privacy was even a trending topic on Twitter!) 

This has been a long time coming, as search engines and Web 2.0, with their business model of selling the attention and the information of their users, have been around for quite a number of years.

Balancing the security of the user base against the openness of search engines and Web 2.0 – and needs of the paying customers (advertising) – is decidedly tricky business. 

I don't know about you, but I wouldn't be using sites like Twitter and Facebook if they weren't a good way to keep up to date on people's lives or events within my areas of interest. Nor would I use a Google or a Bing if they didn't contain a vast sea of information.

Wow, how thoroughly pointless. The sites would likely cease to exist if they were for-pay rather than advertising-supported.

Privacy issues aside, I would be disappointed to see either disappear. I do consider them an essential part of both my work and personal lives.

Of course, that use of plural (“lives”) is rather telling. I talk about different things with my non-work friends than I do with my work friends. Few of my friends are all that interested in tech-heavy virus descriptions, and only a handful of my colleagues are excited to see the latest ukulele video. 

On some social networking sites, I keep totally separate profiles for different target audiences. Sites which allow aliases, not “forcing” users to go by their real name, are therefore more useful to me. On others, the model is “opt-out,” and I can never fully trust that my information will be kept totally separate. 

In the case of search engines, being “opt-in” is not feasible. In this case, the onus is on us not to post things we wouldn't want to be viewed by the world. 

It has been said a thousand times – everyone thinks their email/blog/private whatever is secure, but time and again, these things fall into the wrong hands either by accident or someone's directed actions. It is best to be safe, not sorry.

It is my hope that next year brings us some consensus on how best to balance all interests, perhaps a set of guidelines from which such sites can work.

My greatest hope is that the changes include a move to an “opt-in” model as often as possible. I think most people are fine sharing most information, provided we're the ones deciding whether to provide or distribute the information. 

A leap of faith will be required by the sites that depend on us for information, and I'm sure there would be a period of adjustment until the majority of folks felt they could trust those sites.

But in the end, I think a mutually beneficial arrangement can and should be reached.

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