Fresh off a keynote presentation at the 2010 Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) Conference in Washington, D.C., former MySpace Chief Security Officer Hemu Nigam speaks to us about what Internet users should be doing starting today to protect themselves online, and what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg just doesn’t understand about consumers and privacy.
Hemu Nigam is a pioneer in the world of online privacy, breaking ground in the field as the first Chief Security Officer for the Internet division of media giant News Corp., a job that entailed overseeing the safety, privacy and education of more than 200 million users, including the earliest days of MySpace. He went on to found his own online privacy advisory firm, SSP Blue, where he advises corporations and governments around the world on online safety, security and privacy issues.
Social Times: You are just back from the FOSI annual conference that drew online security experts from more than 15 countries. What was your main takeaway from the conference?
HN: I realized the sheer lack of information that was in the minds of many in our society who are struggling to embrace online safety, security, and privacy, and who are daily giving all of us online safety experts a simple call to action: “Please, just tell me what to do!” Here’s what I recommend to get the conversation started:
1. Set aside 30 minutes with your teen to have them show you how to create a Facebook page and then walk through each of the privacy settings with them (yes, each and every one of the settings). You will both learn what they are, how to use them, and why they matter.
2. Put a question on the top of your teen’s computer screen that gently reminds them of the long term, far reaching, and considerable impact that hitting the ‘send’ or ‘enter’ button on their computer can have: “Would you want to be treated this way?”
3. Put a question at the bottom of your teen’s computer screen that gently reminds them of the permanent nature of information shared online: “Would you want to see this on the front page of the New York Times?” Once information you choose to post is out there, anyone including college admissions officers and future employers can see it.
4. When your friends come over for dinner, ask them what they are doing about online safety, security, and privacy. So many of us learn from our friends in every aspect of our lives. This is no different.
Social Times: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently said that privacy is still a “grey” area for the company and predicts that users will soon see the advantages of “giving up” control over their privacy. Are social networks doing enough to protect users?
HN: Zuckerberg’s comments display a lack of understanding of how consumers actually think about their privacy. Consumers expect any site they utilize to follow the fundamentals of online privacy, which includes transparency, choice, and control. Â Speaking as an expert who has provided strategic counsel to companies from the inside and outside, the industry has actually matured quite well in its understanding of online privacy and consumer expectations.
Social Times: The next trend in online networking seems to be the type of web personalization service just launched by a team of your former MySpace colleagues with “Gravity.” Is this a danger for users?
HN: Just like in the real world, consumers want advertisements that are relevant and useful to them. This can happen only if users are willing to share their interests publicly. That said, the consumer is ultimately the best defender of his or her own privacy by choosing what to share and what to keep away from the web.
Social Times: How important is privacy as a business model for everything from mom-and-pop stores looking to expand online, to major corporations and online businesses?
HN: Paying attention to privacy is a necessary pillar for any successful online business. The more comfortable users of a particular site feel with the transparency, choice, and control provided by that site, the more loyal they are destined to be. As I tell my clients, focusing on providing a privacy friendly site is a necessary aspect of establishing corporate responsibility, building brand loyalty, and ultimately increasing revenue.