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Top secret! I can’t wait to tell you about it…

How do you balance sharing your experiences with maintaining your privacy?

Is there a socially optimal level of privacy? We want to know more about each other, but at what point do we start to know too much?

First, let’s start with the good things about open information sharing with an example.

Earlier this year my best friend’s father passed away. I got a voicemail from her saying she was getting on a plane to head home and that this was it; he was dying. She flew home to be with her family and turned off her cell phone to shut out the rest of the world–but that included me! I left message after message trying to let her know I was there for her, but of course couldn’t get through. Then I had an idea. I got on the internet and used Canada 411 to find her home telephone number. I called her house and after being screened by her mother was able to talk with her, cry with her, and mourn with her.  Short of flying up north, that was the best I could do. Because she had a listed number I was able to contact her.

We still cry together on a regular basis, but now it’s in person.

I wanted to share that story for two reasons:

1) It shows a benefit of lack of privacy. I was able to contact her because she hadn’t requested an unlisted number; and

2) I just shared a very private experience with everyone who reads this blog.

Due to lack of internet privacy, you could figure out who I am, who she is, and perhaps make a profit on it. Well, okay, in this case maybe only if you were a facial tissue company and sent us coupons (we love coupons by the way; send as many as you’d like).

Okay, so that was an example where there were gains from lack of privacy, but potential for invasion of privacy. There are coupon-sending creeps out there, and let’s face it, they aren’t always welcome.

So what about when there isn’t enough privacy, and we get outcomes that are sub-optimal. Do I really need to know where my younger sister was last night?

What about when it’s something a little bit more serious, like applying for a job. Don’t worry about having a nice resume; just delete all of the party pictures on your Facebook page!

HR managers are making decisions based on judgments, perhaps even at the expense of the company. If I have a clean Facebook page does that mean I should be the one who gets the job? What if I’m not the most qualified?

So the debate still continues, and the optimal level of privacy remains ever elusive.

Better safe than sorry, so don’t be afraid to go back to the phrase, “That’s on a need-to-know basis, and you don’t need to know.”

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  1. November 1, 2010 at 10:08 am

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