Because it’s a day of the week (yes, I know what I’m saying), people on the Internet are concerned about privacy. It seems that, with every tweet, every app, and every time someone is asked to connect their Facebook or Twitter to this or that service, a cry echoes in the ether that someone refuses to share their information and HOW DARE anyone try to invade their privacy, etc. etc.

And yet, on the exact opposite side of the coin, you can see things like this on a NJ commuter train:

Yes, that’s an account rep’s direct contact number and, aside from all the drunken voicemails she inevitably receives on the weekend, it’s likely driving her a ton of business through its shockingly candid offer of contact information. So why the divide? Why, on one hand, are people terrified to share their contact information and, on the other, giving it away so willingly?

Exploring the Concern Surrounding Contact Ownership

To answer the above question without falling into relativism (i.e. “some people are just more/less comfortable sharing their personal information), it’s important to consider, historically, what exactly it means and has meant to “own” something, specifically information.

As CircleBack’s CBO argued recently in the Brazen Careerist, information ownership has historically worked like this:

  • We have an experience (whether it’s meeting someone, thinking something, discovering a relevant piece of information, etc).
  • We record that information on a piece of paper. We own all the tools of production (i.e. the pen, the paper, our brains, our interacting bodies), and we own the single existing iteration of that production (i.e. the contact information, the essay, etc.).
  • When that document is reproduced, we retain all rights to it. Because we “made” it, any reproduction has been made with our direct consent.
  • We, therefore, own and exact a strong level of control over than information.

It makes sense then that, operating in this “ownership paradigm,” we become uncomfortable when asked to give up control, to let third parties view or interact with what we consider to be private, personally-held information. After all, just because I created a contact for, say, personal use doesn’t mean that I’m interested in sharing that connection with Google.

However, as the modes of production have changed (from analog to digital) and the tools along with it (when was the last time you wrote something significant on pen and paper?), so too has the ownership paradigm. Now, our interactions with information and ownership occur a little more like this:

  • We have an experience.
  • We record those experiences on one of our devices, using licensed (not owned) software and apps.
  • Those apps, which we license, operate with their own terms of service, their own agendas. They may or may not honor the idea of our personal rights to proprietary reproduction—they often do, but collect other data off the top to fuel and inform their own growth—but because they’ve aided in our production of the information, a kind of inherent collaboration, they have rights to our creations. After all, the information would not exist without their tools.
  • “Ownership” therefore is muddled. The question becomes not so much about whether or not we own our information but whether or not we own it more than those who provided the tools to make it possible.

But even the above, in some ways, is locked in a more individualist mentality, stuttering against the future because of how invested we are in the past. The reality of digital is that we’re all owners, and none of us are. Yes, we’re still individually creating, individually leveraging and collecting contacts, still interacting on our own, but the very architecture of the Internet, to share and collaborate, has altered our purposes. We make content for the benefit of others, do business for the benefit of others, and others create the tools that allow us to do what we do best. It’s a kind of circular reciprocity—profit driven of course—in which we all win by contributing and allowing our contributions to be leveraged by others.

The Current Landscape of Contact Ownership

The landscape that we’re in currently, then, is a mixture of both. Some people choose to stick firmly to a more historical notion of “ownership” while others embrace the fact that, as the landscape in which we live and work changes, so too do the ideas surrounding it.

And don’t get me wrong; either position is completely fine. It’s no one’s “duty” to change as the culture changes and as meanings and conceptual understandings do too. But the picture I shared above didn’t happen in a vacuum. Knowledge-share is the play of this day and age, and to really reap the benefits of our era means adapting.

*** Just for your information, CircleBack DOES NOT claim any ownership of your contacts. We’re happy to take responsibility for keeping them accurate and up-to-date for you, but we personally believe you own them.