Business, privacy, social media: Can’t we just all get along?


If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place
-Google CEO Eric Schmidt [1]

Over the past weeks we have inspected and dissected our actions on the web, both social and professional, separately and combined but with the overbearing implicit theme that the walls between aspects of our life are slowly starting to crumble. This can at times be beneficial, giving thousands of people more opportunities than ever to become employed [2] or, ironically, cause people to lose their jobs  [3].

The ethical issues that arise here can be whittled down to those of web denizens understanding their rights to privacy and freedom of speech, whilst also being aware of their limits, while for businesses maybe there should be stricter enforcement on how much information they are allowed to gain online to influence their decision on hiring someone or not.

Taking our initial quote from Eric Schmidt, and by extension a corporate view of the web, for example, we should consider that 83% of people use the internet for information on medical conditions [4], and while a company can’t assess your medical history at source by law, they may use search history to come to their own conclusions. This logic can be applied to a host of actions that humans need privacy to undertake and as Bruce Schneier explains:

For if we are observed in all matters, we are constantly under threat of correction, judgment, criticism, even plagiarism of our own uniqueness. We become children, fettered under watchful eyes, constantly fearful that — either now or in the uncertain future — patterns we leave behind will be brought back to implicate us, by whatever authority has now become focused upon our once-private and innocent acts. We lose our individuality, because everything we do is observable and recordable. [5]
– Bruce Schneier

From an Economics stance, a corporation always wants to have as full information about those who it hires as possible, and as cost-efficiently as possible, but this can create one of two situations for web users:

One is that the web user is aware of possible surveillance of their actions online, creating a Panopticon [6] type situation, where this fear that they could be being watched is enough to constrain their freedom and actions to fit the wants of a firm.

The other aspect is a user who is unaware of potential surveillance, where they may be more free to post their opinions online, but without a good knowledge of the limits of the law, they could find themselves being punished without being any the wiser.

I believe if we are to continue integrating various aspects of our lives on the web that users must have it made clear to them, not buried within reams of text in a Terms & Conditions agreement, what their rights are. The law should also recognise the incentive for firms to abuse this system also, and seek to make the web an even playing field that can be benefited from by all.

399 Words (Sans quotes and source numbers)


Featured Image:

1. Eric Schmidt:

2.Jobvite Social Recruiting Survey

3.New York Times – How one stupid tweet ruined Justine Sacco’s life

4.Health on the net foundation – Evolution of Internet use for health purposes

5.The Eternal Value of Privacy – Bruce Schneier

6.The Internet, a tool for Art? – Karen Eliot

Not directly referenced, but hugely inspired by Glenn Greenwald’s TED speech, ‘Why Privacy Matters’ (do watch it if you haven’t yet!):

Business, privacy, social media: Can’t we just all get along?

4 thoughts on “Business, privacy, social media: Can’t we just all get along?

  1. I really enjoyed reading your blog post this week – the quotes were particularly insightful.

    You refer to a Panopticon type situation, whereby employees modify their behaviour and discipline themselves in order to remain professional and retain their jobs. Though in the example from the link you provided this is as a result of fear, perhaps if the company outlined rules and policies, the employees would understand the reasoning behind social media monitoring.

    However, rather than the employees abusing these policies, you mention the employers. I’ve found that employers are attempting to make it increasingly clear that they are monitoring social media in order to prohibit any negative comments being posted in the first place (1). As a result, employees are increasing their privacy settings and changing personal details so that they are not discovered. What are your views on this? Do you think that it is a ‘two-way street’ – both parties need to work together responsibly in order to protect each other’s interests? This article (2) makes some interesting points on the way forward.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Hayley, thanks for your comment, and I’m happy you enjoyed the post!

      I suppose what I can say about the panopticon situation is that perhaps as a potential employee I will be biased towards seeing things from that perspective to a degree, so I’ll do my best to keep that out of the argument.
      If I’m honest I really do feel that there are needs and uses for online rules and laws to ensure that individuals enjoy the same freedoms and protection that they do walking the streets. The main issue is that employees have to realise that a joke between friends is not private when it is online, but there should be levels of privacy still available to people. The question is really how we deal with degrees of privacy online. It comes down to personal ideas of freedom really to define at what levels we draw the line, where we can all agree that an offensive or abusive tweet should of course be visible to employers, should they have that same liberty to know your search history?

      I also assume here that different employers have different approaches to social media and control of it. While I would be pro the idea of companies protecting their employees, even online, I think I would be against the idea of this:
      And especially this:
      Although it might not be something I would personally advise, I definitely believe that people should have a right to an opinion that they can share with others, unless their contract specifically prohibits this.

      Looking at the pieces you have linked though is very interesting. It really does seem, especially from the Institute for Public Relations that these issues are being looked at in a progressive manner, which fills me with some hope that we can see things balance out more in the future…


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