Our Diminishing Private World

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The Creative"the creative" is a column focused on the creative side of digital marketing.

Today's column is written by Barry Lowenthal, President of kirshenbaum bond senecal + partners' The Media Kitchen.

I was inspired by a SlideShare presentation written by Paul Adams (@padday) who works on the UX team at Google. The presentation discusses the convergence of our social networks. I thought the presentation was terrific and it got me thinking about what privacy means today, especially given the recent expose on the topic by the Wall Street Journal.

I have many social networks. I have groups of friends from various life stages that I’ve accumulated over the last 45 years. I have friends I went to Yeshiva with and friends I went to camp with. I have friends from Cedarhurst, where I grew up, and friends from college. I have friends from my first job at NW Ayer and friends from my current job at The Media Kitchen. I have friends from the gym and friends from Fire Island and friends from the NY Tech Meet Up. I also have friends from Laughing Yoga class. I probably have a dozen different offline social networks. Some of them overlap offline and online. But in many cases friends from one network don’t know the others. Usually it doesn’t bother me if my networks collide but in some cases I like keeping my friends apart. In some areas of my life I like keeping my activities private.

When I first joined Facebook I figured out how to set my privacy screenings so my friends couldn’t see my friends or my friends’ friends. I reasoned that I would be judged, incorrectly and unfairly, by how some of my friends present themselves or by their friends. After all I there is truth in the adage ‘you are the company you keep’.

But it’s gotten way too difficult to stay on top of my privacy settings and it’s gotten way too difficult to try and limit access. Now I don’t accept a friend request if I don’t want them exposed to my entire life.

Not only have my social networks collided the walls have come down. What privacy meant a few years ago has taken on different meaning today. Today if I don’t want someone to know something about me I don’t do it and I don’t say it. Separation of message is just not a viable option any longer. I assume that all of my actions and all of my friends are public information.

The Internet and social media have disrupted yet another important concept that has wide marketing implications. Just like I’ve learned to live my life transparently, so to have the brands I help my clients manage. We assume that all of our marketing will be fully exposed for scrutiny. While we have the ability to micro target and message to individuals in real time, we assume that all will know everything we say. In this regard, I think Target learned a valuable lesson. A company can no longer publicly support one group while less publicly support that group’s opponent.

How data is collected, how data is used, what information is made public is being hotly debated. This whole debate assumes that some information should be kept private; that it’s our right to keep information private and that we should be paid fairly to make information public. While I don’t disagree, I think it’s interesting to observe that our tolerance for keeping information private has diminished, starting with our social networks and how we talk about ourselves.

Follow Barry Lowenthal (@barryl530), The Media Kitchen (@theMediaKitchen) and AdExchanger.com (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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One Response to “Our Diminishing Private World”


  1. Jeff Rosen says:

    Why is it about public and private? Most other complex and important topics are never defined as being black or white. Why on earth are we then trying to draw distinct lines in the sand for this one?

    The Internet is a highly interactive, on-line world of relationships, some fully public while others anonymous. Like you addressed, it allows different groups of ours to collide.

    What it lacks is the ability to explore your true and often contradictory self. Where you can be, express and connect different aspects of your personality with different individuals and groups of your own choosing. Where you can find others that share your views and thoughts. Where you can be what you can be. No limits. Necessarily anonymous.

    Oddly enough, I have designed a platform designed to provide privacy aware, targeted advertising, which addresses a very personal, real life need not met by today’s Internet. We all want to access, explore and learn from a full range of possible relationships…professional, social, sports, cultural, etc. But it is impossible and impractical to relate to everyone. Nor would we want it to. We want to choose what parts of our “inner-self” we share and with whom we share it.

    Just as marketers want to reach a well-defined subset of individuals, users want to know something about who they are connecting with. And the users mutually decide, as in their real lives, what parts of their passions, thoughts and personalities they want to share and relate with…anonymously or otherwise, one-on-one or as part of a like-minded group.

    How I define and portray myself to co-workers is very different than how I want to or need to portray myself amongst my friends, family or in the course of an online discussion.

    I believe that in the end it comes down to being offered choices and controls. We don’t need government regulation to define it. Don’t we, as consumers, need to demand it?

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