Landing : Athabascau University

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There’s A Difference Between Private And Personal

An interesting reflection on the difference between 'private' and 'personal', and ways that social media are distorting our perceptions of this, framed in the context of the re-posting of a photo of Randi Zuckerberg's family so that the whole world could laugh at her apparent failure to get the irony. It's a sympathetic and thoughtful article. Though its concluding moral is a bit bland and trite for my taste it does raise some really important ethical issues regarding digital media and the Internet.


  • This is something that I have been struggling with for sometime now, "Private" and "Personal" on social media. How do we draw the boundary here? It difficult to draw any boundary once you put any information on social network. You may mark it private or personal, once it is out on the internet it is beyond your control. To me I believe that online privacy is more of illusion than it is reality, actually maintaining our privacy is something that we need to give a significant thought to, than the way it is currently been handled.

    Talking about "Personal" and "Private" in social media, a lot of people confuse these two words, the most important thing is to detemine what to share and what not to share; the private part of your life stiil need to be kept secret by not putting this online. The moment you put them online, they are no longer private or personal to you any more. Remember, someone owns the server you put the information on, the storage and security settings on those documents. For me I consider the moral values that I share with my family and myself before sharing anything online. I also consider what is ethical, based on my professional training on what to share and what to keep. I consider everything that I share online, even in "Private" areas, to be public information since I do not have any control on the storage and security of such information.

    Moral values should play a great role in deciding what to be shared and what not to be shared. If I would be embarrassed to have a family member or client see it, I don't share it online. The breaching of what is perceived as "private" or "personal" on social network is nothing to be surprised about, it happens everyday, Randi Zuckerberg - older sister of Facebook's CEO family gathering photo that was breached, to me shows the level of trust I have on social media. My trust for information on social media is minimal, the complicated privacy setting machinations is nothing but a deceit. I read this article and I said to myself; "where is the privacy?". If anything is personal to you, let your moral instinct or moral judgment guide you on what to post or not to post, because you never can tell what is going to happen.



    Ibrahim Adewole January 11, 2013 - 11:01am

  • I read this article and must say that people assume that just because something is personal, that makes it private as well. The problem with this is that perception plays a role in defining these areas for everyone. The fact is if you post anything to the internet then what you are saying is it's not private. It may be personal but you must realize it's something personal you are willing to share. 

    Chad Crossland January 12, 2013 - 4:19pm

  • I think this was a very good article and really clear that many people may not understand the differences about. I think when it comes down to it, most people are willing to share every detail about their lives and not really think of how it may be used against them at some point. What I typically think before posting something to the Internet is "Would I share this information with a complete stranger I would meet out in public?" because essentially that is who may find out this information later on.

    The perfect example of this article was someone on Randi's Facebook Friends list took this information and reshared it to other's, and that could happen to anyone, regardless of who they are related to. I wouldn't blame the privacy settings in this case. Gossip happens in real life as well, with friends and at work and so on. You tell someone something, there is always the chance that word will spread through the grape vine. The Internet just makes this easier and to share to mass amounts of people at once, allowing word to travel faster.

    Jeff Kurcz January 13, 2013 - 11:08am

  • I'm bothered by the notion that the Internet is a free-for-all in which everything shared is considered fair game. I place restricted items on the Internet every day that are shared with a limited range of other people, including student marks, evaluations of colleagues and my credit card details. Should I assume that this is public information too? In what way does it differ from information shared with a limited circle of friends on Facebook?


    Jon Dron January 13, 2013 - 12:10pm

  • I'm of the mind set that anything I post on the interent can be considered to be material that will be shared to anyone and everyone, despite what privacy settings I attach to said content.  As much as I would like to believe that everyone would honour my desire to the "for your eyes only" settings that I have set, there are those that won't.  And those that won't do then cause me to take that stance.  The example given in the article is very true.  If I had a picture sitting in a photo album  then I have more control over the viewing of that picture.  If I have it posted on the internet, I have very little control over where it goes next.  I, as the person sharing that content, should be aware of this and then make the decision accordingly.

    Does this mean that I should be doing it?  I do not believe so.  My belief is that the content posted or shared by someone will be shared to the intended audience by that person.  Like Jeff mentioned earlier, it can be considered to be gossip.  If I know that someone is sharing something with me, in confidence, then my morals would say that I should honour their desire and not share it any further.  However, what happens when they do not explicitly state that it should be held in confidence?

    I would have to use my own judgement call for this situation and this is where many moral and ethical decisions have to be made.  Would I share the knowledge that someone is having a baby?  Possibly, because having a baby is typically positive news.  Would I share with others that someone is going through a divorce?  More than likely not, because divorce is typically seen as negative news.  However, would my decision change if I knew the divorce was because of a known abusive relationship?  Then the news could be interpreted as positive and might be considered to be "ok" to share.

    The decision wouldn't be as easy as that either.  I would have to decide if the nature of the information was personal enough that I wouldn't want to share it.  Perhaps I would deem it personal enough that it should be coming from the horses's mouth rather than coming across as secondary information.  My own personal belief is that I wouldn't want to share it, unless the person told me it was ok to share it.  Often times I will ask a person who else knows about this and whether it was ok to share the information out, if it wasn't clear to me.  This goes two ways however.  If someone is telling me information, I try to take it with a grain of salt, because unless they are the source of the information, it can be subjected to personal bias and interpretation.  Ever play the game where you start off with some information and whisper it to the next person?  By the end, usually what was said first isn't what comes out at the end.



    Michael Madan January 13, 2013 - 3:46pm

  • My argument is and will always be that the moment you put your information on somebody else’s server it ceases to be personal or private information. If you put those information on your own server or hard disk and a hacker steals it, that’s where I will say your privacy has been invaded. How then do we expect Facebook, Twitter, and the likes to pay for their power, servers and other components if they charge us nothing for hosting our information and can’t make money out of our information too? I stand to be corrected.

    Rose Simons January 13, 2013 - 7:22pm

  • You might find the legal definition for privacy on the internet and it's implications interesting (eg. in how our privacy laws can create conflicts as well as the potential sale of privacy rights that could result from changes to Canada federal privacy laws.

    Eric von Stackelberg January 13, 2013 - 9:42pm

  • The whole purpose of the social networking sites is sharing of your information. You hope that security settings set by others is established to your level of acceptance and comfort, and you hope that others have the same discretion when it comes to sharing of your information; however, as we read from the article that is not always the case. The unique nature of the Internet and "free" social networking sites is that it is global in nature and decisions made by others is molded through the eyes of different cultures which introduces a solid mix of ethical and moral standings. That is why having digital policies and common understanding on what is considered "private" and "public" and what methods are best used for sharing that information is quite helpful. We have a tool "Internet" to share information; however, we don't have a tool that classifies that information uniformly and globally leaving the shared information open to each individual perception and interpretation. Here is an article on "How Canadians Reclaimed the Public Interest on Digital Policy" at

    Eve Jomm January 15, 2013 - 6:24am

  • It is unfortunate that something personal became so public, as pointed out in this article.  I used to be on Facebook several years ago, but then I decided to delete my account.  The main reason for my decision was because I didn't spend much time on the site, didn't see much value in it, and didn't like how it was so public.  Yes, it does facilitate the process of keeping in touch with others and keeping up-to-date with friends.  However, one can also keep in touch and up-to-date with friends/family through directly emailing or phoning those people.  I didn't like the fact that everything was so public - pictures, posts, etc.  It almost felt like people were obsessed with having the most number of "friends" on the site, uploading the most number of pictures, or proving to others that s/he has the most active and fun life.

    The internet should be a secure place - not a free for all.  Unfortunatley, the internet seems to have become a "free-for-all".  Anything uploaded to the internet can be used or misused by anyone else out there.  I must admit, there have been times when I was  somewhat thankful for this.  For example, a friend uploaded all pictures taken at her wedding, and I was able to download a very nice picture taken of my family (where only myself, my dad, mom and sister were in the picture) for myself.  On the contrary, there have been times when I was in a group picture, and then noticed that a friend in that picture had uploaded the picture to facebook.  This picture was shared with everyone on facebook since that friend did not enable any privacy settings.  Though this picture was a simple picture of a bunch of us friends sitting together, smiled and posed, I was uncomfortable with the fact that my picture was available for anyone and everyone to see, and with the fact that strangers were commenting on the photos.

    Once something is uploaded to the internet, we must rely on the ethical choices and actions of others on what they do with that content.  Regrettably, some people are not as considerate and do things with the content that they would not want to have done to their own content.  Therefore, it is imperative that we really analyze the content we place on the internet.  With regards to others posting content related to ourselves without our knowledge, there is nothing we can do, other than hope that person has taken precautious measures with the privacy settings of that content.

    Judy V January 17, 2013 - 11:34pm

  • Once material uploaded in Internet even it is classified as personal or private is no different than saying something to a group of people. Not even God can take it back.

    The material being said does not belong to that speaker any more. It belongs to the listeners. It is up to the listeners to interpret the meaning. It is also up to the listeners to keep it within the circle or not. There is no organised regulation in Internet. Information can be spread freely. Also, there is no place to control the spread.

    I personally don’t think FaceBook is private place. And it is even less likely to identify all ‘friends’ are trustworthy.  Facebook is an digital community to congregate only. If one has private thoughts, one should always keeps such in one’s heart. And only share to trusted friends whom one knows for sure. 


    Pandora Chin January 20, 2013 - 11:40pm

  • @Pandora, Judy - does the same apply to email? Presumably it must. What about social sites that support people with medical and psychiatric problems? 

    I'm particularly interested in the context of the Landing, which is very different from Facebook in almost every way that counts: people here are not the product, they are valued as things in themselves, and they own what they create. One of the basic principles behind the Landing is that you can choose what you reveal and to whom you reveal it, and we've done a lot of work to ensure that you can shift safely and securely between social contexts, showing some things to some people and different things to others. Some of the replies I'm seeing here make me worry that there is no point in doing that. Is that true?

    Jon Dron January 21, 2013 - 6:28pm

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