Jan 24, 2010

Three Privacy Tales

Black t-shirt that reads, privacy is not a crimeA very smart, millennial new media colleague was talking online privacy over a beer. He said that he didn't really have an expectation of privacy and that he trusted Google to do right.

Last month, Google CEO Eric Schmidt ruffled more than a few privacy feathers.
In a recent interview [CEO Schmidt] suggested that people pushing for privacy are the one's at fault: "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place."

This sounds suspiciously like a reheated version of "if you've done nothing wrong, you've got nothing to worry about," that's trotted out by law enforcement types when pushing for stronger laws to violate individuals' privacy. It's an odd statement for someone like Schmidt to make, especially given the incredible level of scrutiny given to Google for the view it has into people's lives. To folks who are worried about such things, it sounds positively dismissive, which isn't the position that Google should be cultivating with those who are concerned right now." --
More on TechDirt
This month, another tech giant, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, resurrected the controversy when he said that people don't expect privacy anymore.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg told a live audience this weekend that the world has changed, that it's become more public and less private, and that the controversial new default and permanent settings reflect how the site would work if he were to create it today. Not everyone agrees with his move and its justification.

Has society become less private or is it Facebook that's pushing people in that direction? Is privacy online just an illusion anyway?--Read more on ReadWriteWeb
Facebook, with it's 350 million members has modified it's views on privacy as well as its policies. From a closed network in which only people that you have approved can see your profile, photos and other information to a fairly open network in which the default is "open to all" including search engine results.

My third privacy tale is from another direction--and continent. Europe has had pretty strong online privacy protections. In November, the European Union passed a law requiring Internet users' consent before cookies can be placed on their machines.
The amended directive will now state that national governments must "ensure that the storing of information, or the gaining of access to information already stored, in the terminal equipment of a subscriber or user is only allowed on condition that the subscriber or user concerned has given his/her consent, having been provided with clear and comprehensive information."

Cookies without user consent would only be allowed when they are "strictly necessary" to provide a service "explicitly requested" by the user such as storing shopping cart information on e-commerce sites, for example.--Read more at ClickZ
So, as big U.S. tech/new media moguls posit that privacy is becoming less important, to the Europeans, at least, it's critical to protect.

In the U.S., dot-gov has stronger privacy requirements than the private sector. There are some who think, though, that the EU controls will force a change in the commercial sector--especially to put more control in the hands of the consumer to be included in tracking and data gathering.

In the meantime, federal agencies will continue to face barriers in using commercial tools that use cookies to track users as these privacy tales play out.

Jan 3, 2010

7 Social Media Takeaways for Dot-gov

Seven of hearts playing cardAs we traverse to a new decade, here are seven takeaways to help small, medium and large agencies use social media to be more transparent, participatory and collaborative. Take what you can use.
  1. Community without guilt. There are many "experts" will tell you that there is one right way to "do" social media. They are wrong. There are tons of ways to use new communications tools and channels. Want to engage with your fans, followers, friends? Great! Want to use social tools to rebroadcast your message? That's okay. Just want to see what people are saying about you? That's fine, too. Most important, make sure you have a strategy together before jumping in. You can always adjust later.
  2. Social media is "plumbing." Don't adopt tool angst. While you need to know how different tools work (blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia, social voting), these tools are conduits to communicating and, hopefully, engaging with your audience. The key is to figure out what you are trying to accomplish (again!), and use the best tools to reach out and meet your goals.
  3. All you can eat doesn't mean that you don't HAVE to eat it all. People get overwhelmed with the variety and scope of engagement opportunities. It's better to choose fewer, strategic projects and do them well than to spread yourself too thin. I predict that there will be as many abandoned government Twitter and Facebook accounts as there will be new ones in 2010. Prove me wrong!
  4. Friction free. One of the reasons that Twitter is so popular is that it's friction free--in other words, EASY. It's super easy to sign up for Twitter, same with Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. This is the expectation that citizens now have for government services. Government needs to review our gateways to try and make it easier to use our services than to NOT use us.
  5. Listening is important. Don't overestimate the importance of re-broadcasting your same tired messages in new venues. The real value comes from listening--from finding out what people are saying about your agency, where you succeed as well as where you are failing. My favorite saying is "Everybody has a point," even when their delivery makes it hard to hear. If you are listening, though, you have the opportunity to learn, see trends, and improve.
  6. Communicate with economy and precision. One of the best things about Twitter is that it forces communications into 140 characters. This forces us to eliminate all the extra, flowery, self aggrandizing government language. It behooves us to do this not only when tweeting, but in our blogs, websites, manuals, letters, instructions, well, you get the picture.
  7. Wisdom of the crowds can be time and volume based. Twitter helps define what is important, according to Clay Shirky, by “algorithmic authority." The idea is that if "all kinds of people are pointing at the same thing at the same instant, it must be a pretty big deal." Looking at trends in Twitter, Google, and your own search terms on your site can give you insight about what people think is important, NOW. What can you feature on the homepage of your website? Can you tweet a link to a resource? Clear up a misconception?
Bottom line, it's the same formula: What are you trying to accomplish? Who is your audience? How do new media channels help you meet your goals? Measure all your efforts against these questions.

This post is inspired by David Carr's very good post in the NYTimes on Why Twitter Will Endure. Read that, too!