Talk and Tell — a Privacy Intrusion?

Suppose you have a talk with somebody, and something in the conversation kindles a discussion that you have with somebody else later. Is it a privacy intrusion to mention the first person’s name in talking to the second person? Is it a privacy intrusion if the second person happens not to be somebody with whom you’re talking face to face but rather somebody who you’re communicating with via a medium like a blog or other forms of social media?

My intuition is that neither situation represents a privacy intrusion, given that a good faith effort is made to relay accurately what the person said. I’ve done a few posts where I’ve mentioned the contexts of the topics I write about; this includes mentioning a person who I had a conversation with or a lecturer in a class which I attended. In none of those instances do I name the people in such a way as to make it possible for a blog reader to readily find out who they are, and I certainly take pains to represent their views as accurately as I’ve understood them.

Nonetheless, may I have violated their privacy, or their reasonably held beliefs that what they so freely shared with me and my fellow audience will stay confined within venues in which they’ve shared them? In trying to answer this question, I try to imagine how I would feel if the table were turned and I were in their place. Suppose I have a conversation with somebody; suppose this person subsequently shares our conversation in a web-based medium, like a blog; suppose that in this later retelling, the person refers to me by some sort of abbreviated name; and finally, to add some bite to our imagined scenario, suppose that the person did not take kindly to the views I expressed in our conversation. Suppose he savages my arguments, criticizes my poor thinking, lampoons my mode of expression, or all of the above. How would I feel?

Being a sort of person who cares very much what others think about her, I would undoubtedly feel badly. I may wail that the person ought to have alerted me when publishing such a piece so I may have the chance to defend myself. But did the person invade my privacy, break an implicit contract with me, or otherwise violate some social norm? Could I really have reasonably expect that conversations that I have with people, whether one-to-one or one-to-many, would need my expressed approval, or at least my being given a chance to respond, before being critically comment on elsewhere? Would I have similarly insisted on being able to respond if the comments were laudatory instead of critical? Would I exchange the my ability to comment on what others say, within the bounds of what I judge to good will and fair dealing, to ensure that I need not rely on their judgement of good will and fair dealing when talking about my point of view?

I don’t think so. But I haven’t been tested.

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One Response to Talk and Tell — a Privacy Intrusion?

  1. A.M.B. says:

    This is an interesting topic. What matters to me is whether the person had a reasonable expectation of privacy and whether what I’ve said is particularly offensive to a reasonable person and/or defamation. If it not, then there probably isn’t a problem, but it’s still a good idea to remove personally identifiable information.

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