Digital rights Law & Freedom

Rethinking social media privacy

Anonymous contre Acta à Rouen

I was an active Foursquare user back in the first years of it, and it’s been a while since I toned down my participation in it. A few years ago, my girlfriend questioned me on why I was reporting my location everywhere I went. What was my gain on it? How much value did I gained versus the risks and privacy losses? This applied to Foursquare and all the other social media networks, specially Facebook.

Giving some thought to what people post on social media networks, as individuals, there’s a lot of questioning as to why one does such things. They make it a game, addictive with lame rewards and “badges” with no meaning. They get supported by your friend’s peer pressure to go on and join and also to actively participate. If you’ve been an active user of a social network you know it’s hard to quit.

Some don’t even tell you that you’re being tracked while you use it, while you check that photo your friend added or replying to that family member that seems to have forgotten what email is and how it works. We empower the social media sites with content. We write for them, we upload for them. Make it rich in content and attractive to more people for them. They get to sell our content, brag about our ideas and scrutinize your activities and thoughts. And all we get is the social communication benefit. Now we are so highly communicated that we barely talk to each other while waiting in line at the bank or while your car is being washed. I’ve seen families that are so connected that they all stare at little screens at a very quiet dinner table.

By the time my girlfriend was making me think of a balance in my privacy, drug wars in northern Mexico reminded us all why we need privacy. Friends being kidnapped because it was easy to know where they were and who they hang out with. Our own free speech being used against us. Things got so bad (still are) that you could not talk about what was going on in public places. People had to create a language of silences and signs to discretely say what they wanted to say if they were in public. People got so used to it, that even in the comfort of their own homes they could not pronounce the name of the attackers.

Covered protester

Suddenly you’re being reminded that the world is not a happy safe place where you can shout out everything about you. That it is not about having something to hide, it’s about protecting yourself and those around you. You wouldn’t hide your family, but you also wouldn’t like them to be taken away from you. Although I do know people that did had to hide their family.

The problematic part is that leaving the social media sites is not an option. You’ll be like a caveman or outcast, missing on a now big part of your participation in the world for social or even business communication. Your social circles will almost demand your participation in them to stay in touch. Even if you leave and cease all participation, the social media networks will still know about you by what your friends post about you (photos, videos, comments, links). That’s why I have reached to the conclusion that the best answer to that is to moderate my participation in them.

I want to share this talk by Eben Moglen, lawyer of the software freedom law center and who help draft the GNU license among several other things. This talk is from 2011, and he used references to the KGB as examples because he probably knew that using the US government would be too unbelievable by most people at that time. Oh but times change, unfortunately not much for the benefit of freedom and anonymity.

Wow, this blog post was drafted on september 30th 2011 and was sitting idle without much changes or additions. I thought of deleting the entry, as I had no reasons to talk about social media privacy anymore. But times change…or maybe things just got worse, and there’s been a lot of mess with privacy lately.

By Gabriel Saldaña

Gabriel Saldaña is a web developer, photographer and free software advocate. Connect with him on and Twitter