This week here in the office, a number of folks sent us a link to a video-gone-viral of a social media experiment. Maybe you’ve seen it. The host, Jack Vale, wanted to know “how easy it would be to get personal information from complete strangers.” He did so by searching for public social media posts by using his own location, then identifying the posters in real life.
Pretty simple stuff. And, it turns out, getting their personal information was very easy … in a creepy way
The reactions are interesting, particularly the unidentified gentleman, who at the end, indignantly exclaims, “Thanks for invading our privacy. I’ll call the police if you do that again.”
His obvious lack of knowledge of privacy law aside, the nervous laughter and comments by the others about the creepiness and trippiness of the experience demonstrates what seems to be a common disconnect between our online and offline lives.
Perhaps YouTube commenter IzzardUK says it best: “Posting your name and details publicly and then accusing someone who looks at it of invading your privacy is kinda fundamentally not understanding the Internet.”
Sure, no one with locked-down privacy settings finds themselves in this video, but, clearly, none of the folks in the video thought to do that. The context surrounding their innocent, but public, posts changed dramatically when a stranger came along to demonstrate how broadly they were sharing otherwise private information intended only for family and friends.
If they were truly creeped out, hopefully Mr. Vale’s experiment served an educational purpose. I wonder if any of the folks in the video actually stopped using social media altogether.
Which could serve as a valuable lesson for some businesses.
As has been evident in comments made earlier this week by Google Chief Internet Evangelist Vint Cerf and today by IAPP VP of Research Omer Tene, social behavior is in flux in this digital age (whether you think privacy is an anomaly or not). As society works through these changes brought on by technology, social media and the collision of online and offline worlds, it may be good for businesses to think about how they can educate their customers on how to protect their privacy along the way. It could help tone down the creepy factor in general, while establishing a strong line of trust between business and consumer.
Surprise minimization works both ways. Yes, it’s good policy to reduce the amount of times your customers are surprised by the way their data is being used, but good education might also stop you from being surprised at what creeps them out.