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The price of privacy

As a generation, we live our lives online. We are always connected and always sharing, seemingly giving little thought to the enormity of the information we send out into the ether, but the numbers are staggering. Twenty-four hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every single minute, while approximately 250 million photos are uploaded to Facebook each day, and that’s not even the interesting stuff.

Facebook has become much more than just a place to share photos and update your friends and family on the comings and goings of your day-to-day life. They’ve become the platform on which people build their entire online identity, and with a user base closing in on one billion, they’ve become the most powerful information-broker on the planet. And that was pretty much the point from the start.

Driven by likes and shares, Facebook offers a two-way street to marketers: they have the data advertisers want, and they own the platform advertisers can utilize to reach out to consumers; it’s not hard to understand why some users are beginning to feel a little manipulated.

So how to react? I’ve mentioned many times in this column that I am deeply engaged in social media. To me it’s a no brainer; the ability to learn and share with individuals across the world in moments trumps any concerns I might have about feeding my information to greedy corporations any day. But it’s that identification with the social network’s core concept that makes me wonder if I’m a special case. I still keep an eye on my privacy settings and the details on my timeline are obscured unless we’re friends, but the manner in which I approach my online identity may be unique in some ways.

It started with my decision to never untag myself from photos. I decided that I didn’t want to curate the images of me that appear on Facebook; if I want my profile to approach anything resembling a digital representation of my actual life I knew I couldn’t be picking and choosing from the best moments. Through Facebook, I wanted my friends and family to glimpse snapshots of who I really am; at its best, I felt that Facebook should represent real people, not just their vacation photos.

Now I encourage people to quote me, to take pictures, to embarrass me. Knowing that almost anything I say or do may end up on Facebook keeps me accountable in a way, and with that accountability comes a sense of responsibility. I can’t bring myself to delete a comment or post that I don’t agree with for not better reason than my own conflicting beliefs. As much as I see my profile as a reflection of myself I see it also as an open forum for discussion and sharing, and I haven’t yet been able to justify taking someone’s voice from that conversation. Now my timeline is a relatively open and unmoderated thread, and I don’t know what form could better represent the uncontrollable paths our lives take.

So what to say to those expressing their outrage over Facebook’s use of users’ personal information? Tough. Personally, I’m willing to trade a few targeted Nike ads for my connection to a world of ideas and beliefs I could never access otherwise: a network of people always at my fingertips.

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