I just read a novel called “The Circle” by Dave Eggers. It’s not the best example of Dave Eggers’ writing but the topic is very timely and should prompt discussion about social media, its use and abuse.
The Circle is a huge IT company – imagine Google, Facebook, You Tube and Amazon all rolled into one. (Google+ uses the term “Circle” in its Facebook like offering). The Circle is very well regarded and the female protagonist of the book is ecstatic when she lands a job with the best company in the world. The Circle collects data from a myriad of sources and merges this data, ostensibly to make our lives easier. The leaders of The Circle espouse the view that if there is nothing to hide then people should be willing to make everything pubic – privacy and confidentiality go out the door. The climax of all this is an initiative to have all politicians and public officers permanently wearing tiny cameras so that everything they do and say is transparent. Politicians who resist suddenly fall foul of accusations about past misdeeds that have, conceniently, just come to light.
We haven’t yet reached the stage of wearing cameras around our necks but each day seems to bring a new story of social media misuse. We have willingly, or unwittingly, given personal information to Facebook, Google+, Linkedin and other Apps. purportededly in the interests of making our lives easier they use that information and share it. So rather than keep ticking the boxes that will “make life easier” it is important that users of social media and associated applications take control, understand the privacy and security settings available, and protect themselves by making their own choices about what level of access these applications and other people will have to their data.
Shortly after I wrote the first draft of this blog post I became aware of an article written in October last year by veteran technology writer Charles Wright. The article offers insight into the shenanigans of Google and some advice on what to do to protect yourself.
Social media is here to stay and it can be very useful. There is no turning back now, and I hesitate to suggest that the scenario that Eggers has used in “The Circle” is a possibility in a civilised Western society, but it would be wise for individuals and organisations to take control of their use of social media rather than have it take control of them.