“Privacy is dead”, “Share, share, share”, “Millennials don’t care about privacy”. I’ve been hearing these arguments for years now. Every time I write about the importance of privacy and personal choice when it comes to social sharing, citing my experience from the beginnings of collaboration and social networking, I get these and other excuses thrown in my face. Even that very experience will be used against me, with me being an “over the hill Gen-Xer who doesn’t understand that Millennials don’t worry about privacy and they just want to share everything in their lives.”

Well, it took a horrible incident but I think we can throw those excuses out the door. In fact, one of the most famous Millennials in the world, Jennifer Lawrence, is making a pretty compelling case for the importance of privacy and personal choice when it comes to social sharing.

In her recent interview in Vanity Fair, Jennifer Lawrence talked about the disturbing incident where malicious hackers broke into the online accounts of her (and many other celebrities) and posted private, and often nude, photos online. Along with many of the strong points she made about the seriousness of these crimes, a key comment she had was about choice. As an actress and celebrity, she often takes roles or does photo shoots that can be sexy and provocative, which are things she does by choice. But that doesn’t mean that things she chooses to be private, that she intends to only be shared with loved ones, should be shared with the world.

Sadly, many people still don’t get this. After the interview posted recently, there were more than a few people who chose to ignore Lawrence’s words and instead focus on the provocative photo shoot she did for the magazine. These misguided fools were confused, saying “how can she complain about private nude photos being posted online and then do this sexy cover shoot?” Did they read the interview? It’s about choice. She chooses to do and share the cover shoot, but that doesn’t mean every photo of her is fair game.

This would be like someone stealing and posting private messages that I sent to my wife and then people saying, “I don’t know how Jim can complain about that, he’s always writing columns and articles that show his personal feelings. What’s the difference?” In fact, I think I can see the headline, “Jim’s Writing Confuses Me”. 🙂

Part of the problem is that social sharing tools have gone too far when it comes to enabling sharing and ignoring privacy. Hiding behind their broken arguments about the death of privacy, they make sharing the default option for everything. So every time you take a photo, sharing is up there. When you upload things, public sharing is often the default. In fact, many social systems make it unreasonably difficult to say “hey, I want to share this with just these people and no one else.”

A big potential problem with cloud storage and online photo saving (and this includes everyone, Apple, Google, etc.) is that, while they make it easy and default to back up photos to the cloud, they don’t make it easy to delete them. I don’t think it’s a reach to say that, in more than a few of these private photos, the celebrity took the shot, thought they deleted it, but didn’t realize it had already backed up to the cloud. And of course, deleting the photo on the device not only didn’t delete it in the cloud, they didn’t even get a message asking if they wanted to delete the cloud version. Share everything!

With this hacking event, we may finally have a chance to push the pendulum the other way. Now it’s even clear that Millennials, while they (and people of all age groups) like to share, they really do care about privacy, especially when it comes to having the tools to know what they are sharing and have the choice to control what is shared and with whom.

And one last side note. For all the people who are “shocked” by all the nude photo sharing, get a grip. This is nothing new. People have been sharing “sexy” photos with long distance loved ones for all of time. From current soldiers overseas who Skype with their significant others to World War 2 women who would send candid “boudoir” photos via mail to their soldier boyfriends, there’s really nothing new here. Heck, Penelope probably had a “sexy” statue commissioned and then sent out to Odysseus fighting in Troy.

Which is just another good example of the importance of choice in sharing. After all, social sharing is a great thing and we should all celebrate it. Just so long as we have a choice about what we’re sharing.

To find out about how social sharing is used positively in business, read Aberdeen’s research into social collaboration

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