Privacy is a hot topic again these days.

Twitter has acknowledged that after iPhone users opt to have the app search their contact list, the company stores names, e-mail addresses and phone numbers on its servers for 18 months.

Google made Wall Street Journal’s front page on Friday, after journalists finding out that a secret code in it’s ads tricked “Apple’s Safari web-browsing software” into allowing Google to monitor what iPhone users were doing on the internet. The search giant disabled the code after receiving a call from the WSJ.

And NYTimes.com publishes here an extensive feature on how companies learn your secrets.

Don’t panic

Now, before panicking, let’s take five minutes to consider some facts, in order to look at the whole picture… 

1. People care less and less about privacy.

2. Authorities all over the world have been able for a long time now to find out at any given time where you are, who your friends are, where you work, what you eat, etc. (think cell phone tracking)

3. Most of this information is self contributed, and users seem to be happy to share it as soon as they buy a cell phone or create a Facebook account. (think the famous & funny Onion story here)

In the quiet words of Scot McNeally (Sun Microsystems), “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.”

Privacy vs Security and Privacy vs Money

Of course, getting over it is not exactly an option. As always, there are ways to work around the system, if you really want to stay under the radar. But what you need to understand though is that since 9/11, there will always be a trade-off between Privacy and Security and in this case, there’s nothing you can do about it. Police, Secret Services or Intelligence Agencies will always monitor calls / e-mails / communications, and companies that provide these kind of services (including social networking websites) will always have a back door open for them. It’s the same thing with security check-in’s at the airport – if you want to make sure you’re not getting on the same plane with a terrorist, then you will have to agree to a full body scan.

What you can do though is limit how much information you open up to companies who are very happy to make the trade-off Privacy / Money, in the interest of the almighty Profit. Taken separately, the bits of information that you post daily on your Facebook wall, for example, are meaningless. You posting a pizza lunch picture today and another one from a Red Hot Chilli Peppers concert tomorrow have no value in themselves. But added together, all this data represents your entire life. (Check out your Facebook timeline since you created the account – it will be a bit scary).

Whether you choose to digitize, share this with the rest of the world and then maybe receive Web 3.0 & 4.0 advertising is entirely up to you, the key words in this last phrase being “up to you”. As long as users have an explicit option to share and they take it, then companies who know how to use this will certainly profit from it.

The Upside

Fortunately, there’s also an upside to a user’s online adventure. You guessed it, it’s the networking part. And if it bothers you that uploading information about yourself might be used to someone else’s advantage, then consider this: you can also use your social media connections to your own advantage.

Our Networking Management System platform that consolidates all e-mail, mobile and social media contacts a person has into one place and then gives users the option to share their connections with colleagues for everyone’s benefit is just another way to put one’s personal network to good use. Connecting people has always been good for business, and the Triple Win Theory proves it.

The beauty of it all is that in downloading contacts, the user has complete control over which connections he shares and with whom.

- selecting “invisible” makes the contact… well… invisible to the rest of his colleagues

- selecting “confidential” makes the contact’s name and company (not contact details) visible to colleagues, but keeps the identity of the user confidential

- selecting “visible” makes the contact’s name and company visible to colleagues, along with the identity of the user.

As long as you give the user the management of his contacts, privacy control is really easy. You just need to be open about it.