One of the most common question marks over the future of social media I hear from people is that of privacy. Many people say that it is too much an invasion of privacy to share personal information online.
This week, the privacy topic took a twist with the launch of PleaseRobMe.com, the site that collects information about where people are, and therefore where they are not, all from their social stream, and tells robbers where to rob.
It's a joke website, but the issue at the centre of this is simple. Why would you share private things with the whole world online? About four years ago I asked myself a similar question. I simply chose to take control of privacy settings on social networks and exercise common sense. Then the value of social media far outweighs the perils. But many don't see these controls. They just see danger.
And PR and marketing practitioners know their social networks, and they know their privacy controls. They see beyond the 'rob me' danger signs and see a customer that chooses to use places like Foursquare and Twitter instead of something older. The brand knows that the choice is between engaging or not. The privacy issue is old and irrelevant.
This isn't just about Foursquare, Google Buzz, Latitude, Gowalla, and such like. To illustrate how common location privacy is across social media, check this link, which is a search of Facebook posts of people 'heading out'. (you won't see my status updates there - I use privacy controls)
Some think the privacy issue will kill some social networks. Seriously? Why would 400 million people update their status and share photos on Facebook? Why have 75 million Tweeters told the internet what they're having for lunch. And why, now, are over 300,000 early adopters chosen to stick a pin in the map and say where they are on Foursquare?
If you work in a company and you have anything to do with PR, marketing or maybe sales, you know your customers have chosen to use PRIVACY-SCARE social media to keep in touch and to read the news. You'll no doubt realise you need to figure our how to engage with your customers through these social networks.
And that is where this privacy debate, from a PR and marketing perspective, completely falls apart. 2010 is not about whether it's unsafe to use social media. People just do. It's everywhere. The big question should be how will social networks help give consumers control, brands access, and which community will win favour with the tune-out generation next.