Last week I had the good fortune to attend another Primerus Defense Institute convocation. One of the CLE presentations was on social media, and a portion of that program was presented by Jim Adler, Chief Privacy Officer for Intelius. Intelius is an "information commerce company" which collects, interprets and delivers information to consumers and businesses online. The company may be familiar to many lawyers because their site is often used for background checks, people searches, criminal records searches, reverse lookups and the like.
Adler's presentation was both informative and entertaining, but one of his main points stuck with me. He compared the expectation of privacy that most of us have in the present day with what it was like in "the old days," when most people lived in small towns and everyone knew everyone else's business. As time wore on and cities became larger, we became a bit more anonymous and the expectation of privacy grew. But the internet is changing all of that.
With the advent of the internet, we are returning to the age of everyone knowing everyone else's business; when something goes wrong or when a big news story arises, it can go viral almost instantly - whether we want it to or not. Often, these stories "break" first on social media sites like Twitter - before more traditional news agencies or outlets have a chance to report it.
Even our online research is no longer private - or even objective. Search engines such as Google incorporate social results into search, returning results related to those you are connected to on social media sites, or providing results based upon past searches and previous internet activity.
For lawyers, there are ethical issues to consider when using social media, particularly when social media tools and sites are used to obtain information on opposing parties, witnesses, or potential jurors. Lawyers must be careful not to mislead or misrepresent, and every lawyer should familiarize themselves with the ethical rules in their jurisdiction with regard to these isues. But at times, you may simply want more "objective" search results. Other times, may not want your online activities reported to others through social sharing sites or apps. You may not even want search engines to know who you are when you are searching. Or you may be using a public wifi network.
If you fall into any of the above categories, the article from Techlicious.com today entitled "How to Browse the Web Anonymously" may help - or at least help you understand the issues involved. The article discusses privacy (preventing others from accessing information you send over the internet) and anonymity (preventing others from seeing what sites you're visiting on the internet).
We share so much information over the internet voluntarily that the expectation of privacy these days should be fairly low - assume that anything you do online isn't actually private, and act accordingly. That means protecting your truly private information and your clients' confidential information by taking precautions and being smart about what you share, where and how.
photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/holster/195031415/