Robert Beerworth Team : Web Strategy Tags : Business

Private Expectations in a Public Place

Robert Beerworth Team : Web Strategy Tags : Business

Commenting on consumer privacy in 1999, it was Scott McNealy, CEO of Sun Microsystems that famously quipped to reporters, “You have zero privacy anyway.”

“Get over it.”

Fast forward six years, and most of us accept that anything we say or write online is public. And within the inevitable reach of search engines.

But not all of us it seems. A few still cling to the faint idea that there is such thing as privacy online, even in the most public of places – the Internet chatroom.

Recently, the UK newspaper, The Guardian used its own chatrooms as a source of opinion and comment for a story, publishing in print, posts left by participants of the chatroom. On the newsstands, and particpants of the chatroom were “freaked out” to the extent that The Guardian published a long piece justifying their actions and warning similar publications of falling into the same trap.

Interestingly, it seemed that the issue was not an issue of The Guardian publishing the posts, but one of poor expectation-setting; although the chatroom’s terms of use allowed The Guardian to republish posts, users were unaware of this, and were therefore unimpressed at The Guardian’s actions. Some readers went as far as to describe the incident as a “blatant breach of trust”.

This of course begs the question; if it is alright for the all-consuming Google to find and index thoughts and opinions, why is it not alright to put those same public thoughts and opinions into a newspaper or other publication?

And the lesson for website owners. Online expectation-setting is critical.

Users must implicitly understand what they’re in for. And it is not good enough to point to clauses contained deep within terms of use. The issue is one of reputation and social interaction, not legality.

As Steve Yelvington correctly pointed out in his blog (An odd dustup over privacy), “explain yourself, explain yourself again, and then explain yourself some more.”