December 26, 2007

Forget About Privacy. Embrace Openness.

A couple weeks ago, when I was meeting with the Assetbar team, prior to getting my account, they asked, "How important is it for us to be able to block people from being able to 'follow' you?". I told them that it wasn't at all. If I join a site like Assetbar or FriendFeed, if I blog, or if I share items using Google Reader, I fully expect that content to be open to anyone capable of finding it. It's immediately in the public domain, as far as I am concerned.

That's why the ruckus over the last few weeks regarding Google Reader shared items is complete bollocks.

My Google Reader Shared Items has a public URL, which I've chosen to embed here on the blog. Others with shared items, including Arvin Dang, Jason Kaneshiro, Mark "Rizzn" Hopkins, Robert Scoble and Mathew Ingram, have similarly posted their shared items, in effect, giving you the option to surf the best of the blogosphere through their eyes.

But some are alarmed that people they didn't expect to read their shared items could. Some complained that competitors could see what they found interesting, and get to a story first. But cry me a river... if you've got some proprietary knowledge, keep it to yourself, and don't share it! That's why even though I read dozens and dozens of stories per day for work and have many search strings to find out about my company and the competition, I never share it in Google Reader, I never blog about it, and I never add those links to Because when I do, it would cross the chasm from proprietary to public.

As a blogger, I am sharing my comments, insights, parts of my life and conversations with the Web at large, and through this, we've built a small community of frequent visitors and commenters. I do not believe I would be better served by putting my content behind a password-protected veil. I do not believe that I should be hiding my e-mail address or my cell phone number. I do not believe that my Google Reader shared items are not part of the public domain.

I believe as the Web evolves, the new generation of users will expect full transparency, and those of us resisting the change will be seen as dinosaurs. I want you to read my blog. I want you to subscribe to my RSS feed. I want you to befriend me on Facebook or follow me on FriendFeed. I want you to read my Google Reader link blog. I want you to follow me on AssetBar.

This is the way the Web is going, and we should take the blinders off our eyes.

See additional commentary:

Mathew Ingram: Google ruining Christmas? Get a grip
Robert Scoble: Google Reader needs GPC
Slashdot: Google Reader Begins Sharing Private Data
ParisLemon: Google Readers' Social Flaws Have Users Up In Arms


  1. And in yet another show of how Google's contact system doesn't work for something like this, I don't have you on my Google Reader "friends" list and you don't have me even though we talk all the time.

    I'm with you on sharing thing being a non-issue and misunderstanding on users parts, but Google really need to fix how their contact management system works if they want to get any footing in the social sphere.

  2. I think when people are sharing something publicly, they think that very few people can find and see their content. This sense of pseudo-privacy used to hold true, but with the new generation of technology like Spokeo, info barriers are crumbling down. And public content will be easier and easier to find.

  3. MG, it's true. The issue there is that there isn't a true "open social" for all your friends. That you and I talk to each other using Apple Mail doesn't mean it's tracked by Google's GMail. The Friends list assumes we're all on GMail, and even recent stats show Yahoo! mail well ahead in total subscribers.

    And Harrison, you're absolutely right, especially re: Spokeo. I heard one person call it "Spook-eo" as to how deep you could find the info.

  4. This is an incredibly naive viewpoint:
    1. Because you are comfortable publicizing things you do doesn't mean others feel the same way.
    2. The logical extension of your argument ends up somewhere like this: you are happy for me to find out where you live. By looking at your public GCal I could also find out when you are not home and go and rob your house.
    3. Privacy is not a privilege, it is a basic human right. This is why people get upset when an ex-lover posts sex tapes in a public forum. It is also why we have things like the data protection act.
    4. No-one is necessarily saying the feature shouldn't be there, but that it should have been implemented with more consideration.
    5. Google is currently demonstrating that it is less concerned with user's views than flexing its muscle, which is exactly how Microsoft became unpopular.

    (Guess what, I'm posting this anonymously, because blogger gives me the right to do so)