The Nature of Online Privacy is Changing

Tech companies and social media users are becoming more savvy about how privacy is handled.


With Facebook tracking the things we don’t post, Google knowing what you think before you do a search and the myriad of other challenges, it could be easy to buy into the idea that privacy is dead. But it isn’t. Indeed, between simply choosing not to share things and the anonymous sharing apps, there are some novel ways to preserve your privacy online.

While the temptation exists to constantly detail every aspect of your life, the rules of acceptable sharing seem to be coalescing. Apparently, even selfies aren’t immune, having been declared “a privilege, not a right” by Bianne Costa of BDCwire. Making your way in the modern social media landscape requires a keen understanding of what’s appropriate for your audience. The funeral selfies trend is a case in point.

As users become more savvy about posting, they also get more careful about privacy. According to Microsoft research quoted in Wired, social media users are practicing “social stenography.”

In a behavior called whitewalling, users post to Facebook — sometimes in great detail — but then quickly delete everything, creating a blank timeline. That’s a new form of privacy for the social media age: a mass release of information that eventually disappears. Teens use things like slang, inside jokes and song lyrics to hide private messages in plain sight; one audience understands the meaning of a post while others (adults or more distant friends) scroll right by.

And then, there’s what we choose to post anonymously. Granted, most of the anonymous apps or messaging apps require some information about the user — usually a phone number, as with Snapchat and WhatsApp. While there are concerns about bullying, or ‘throwing shade’ as Time reporter Laura Stampler puts it, there is the genuine opportunity to say what’s really on your mind, without repercussion.

Privacy online is not perfect, but it’s getting there through a combination of changes by governments, tech companies and users themselves. While it’s practically impossible to remain anonymous at all times, social networks and the systems we use are becoming more subtle in how they handle privacy in general.

Publish date: April 8, 2014 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT