Online Privacy in the Digital Age

This week’s class discussion kept circling back to one big question – is there a reasonable assumption of privacy in a digital era? The short answer is “no”.

Between openly sharing our lives on social media sites and digital tracking becoming more sophisticated, most of the public’s online information is there for the taking.

It’s not that we don’t try to protect ourselves. According to a Pew Research Center study on privacy in America, 86% of internet users have tried to use the internet in ways to minimize the visibility of their digital footprints.

online visibility

While we may make an effort to control our online information, the Pew study also shows 59% of internet users do not believe it is possible to be completely anonymous online.

Rami Essaid, CEO and co-founder of Distil Networks says this is the price we pay for a richer and more convenient online experience. He believes the real question is not about an assumption of online privacy, but instead about transparency.  Here’s what he wrote about the topic in TechCrunch:

The fight should be about bringing tracking out of the murky shadows and into the sunshine of full disclosure. The Internet public has a right to know the “Five W’s” of tracking at every site they visit: Who is tracking me, what are they doing with the information, where, when and why?

Essaid says this would give people the power to decide what information they are comfortable sharing and would serve as a self-correcting market force, giving sites a blueprint to follow of what the online public considers an appropriate level of data tracking.

It’s an interesting concept.






Digital Fast

Remember when people use to give up chocolate for Lent? That’s so last century. After class last night, I went on Facebook for a quick look and a couple of friends posted they are giving up the social media site for Lent.

I have noticed the past few years that taking a fast from social media has become a common trend among some of my friends. The period of time can vary. Some people pick Lent, others the first month of the new year and still others choose to take a break during the summer. No matter what time of year, it seems the overall desire is to step away from the computer and use the time to connect with the real world. But eventually, they all come back again.


photo: Sean MacEntee /


I recently had my own insight into how much time I spend on social media. Our coursework this week included an assignment to keep a digital diary for a 24 hour period of time. This not only included time spent on social media, but also the overall amount of time we spend on our computers, tablets, smartphones, televisions, radios and any other digital devices that are now part of our daily lives. At the end, we each tallied up the total number of hours we use these devices.

Our class as a whole ranged from about 6 hours to 17 hours. I ended up on the low end at just over 7 hours. I think my number would have been closer to 9 hours if I had picked a day that didn’t start with an early morning meeting outside my office.

I don’t think I felt as surprised about the amount of time I spend using digital devices as many of my classmates did. My job requires me to either be on the computer or using other media related technology throughout the day. I’m okay with the fact that these devices and the internet are a big part of my life. Much of this digital technology either keeps me informed or more easily connects me to colleagues, friends and family. It also helps make my work a lot easier.

My digital diary for that particular day showed I was on Facebook for about a total of 25 minutes. Is that excessive? I don’t think so.

This is not to say I never find myself falling down the rabbit hole of mindless internet surfing or wasting time on social media. But I have become more aware of when I’m doing it and make a point of trying to be more intentional when I am online.

I also don’t feel the need to take my iPhone everywhere I go. Three years ago when I left my television news job I was convinced I would go through withdrawal when I handed back the company Blackberry. That didn’t happen. Instead, I felt a sense of freedom from being tethered to the device and didn’t miss it one bit.

In the end, I found the digital diary exercise interesting. But I don’t see myself taking a fast from my digital life anytime soon. Or giving up chocolate.



Beyond Facebook and Twitter

Our class this week took a deep dive into the multitude of social media platforms that are now a part of our everyday lives. I have to admit it came as a surprise to me how many different platforms are out there. 

A great illustration that was part of our discussion is this chart called the Conversation Prism. It’s a visual map of the social media landscape and was first created in 2008 by digital analyst Brian Solis. The prism, which continues to be updated, tracks the latest in social media platforms and organizes them by category.

The Conversation Prism / Brian Solis + JESS3

The Conversation Prism / Brian Solis + JESS3

Once I started exploring it I realized how much my engagement with social media goes beyond the usual suspects like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It’s staggering to think how many of these platforms have become a part of our lives in a short span of time.

A recent Pew Research Center study shows 65% of American adults use social networking sites. That’s almost a tenfold increase since 2005.

source: Pew Research Center

source: Pew Research Center

During our class discussion, each of us did an analysis of a social media platform. Some of them were familiar to me like Yelp, Reddit and Snapchat. But others were new including a photography blog called Strobist, an online image sharing community called Imgur and a Q & A website organized by a community of users called Quora.

After each presentation, I thought, “I’d like to try that platform”, but the reality is all these social media options are starting to feel like an all you can eat buffet. At some point, you have to push yourself away from the table.

A second look at the Pew graphic shows a similar reflection. While the number of users shot up over the past decade, the overall number of users of social networking sites has leveled off since 2013. As the saying goes, “All good things in moderation”.

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