[ Home | Online Community Toolkit |Online Community Resources ]
Full Circle Associates: http://www.fullcirc.com

Confidentiality in Online Groups

by Nancy White, last edited March 2003

Confidentiality and the trust it protects is one of those issues that can (and should?) be expressed by our explicit and implicit norms and agreements. Because online conferencing often leaves a "written record," we must be cognizent of respecting confidentiality of that record.

Confidentiality in a "Space"

There are some basic "nettiquette" issues on confidentiality across space. These are not some set of legislated rules, but more like norms.

  • Do not re-post anything of anybody's without their permission.
    This is MOST important when moving from one "space" to another, such as re-posting personal email without permission, copying stuff from this space to a public discussion board, etc.

  • Do not "talk" (write, instant message, gossip) across spaces without knowledge of all participants.
    Just like we have norms about keeping business information within the business, or not spreading personal data across organizations, so too should we respect the confidence and trust of group members.

  • If you are the keeper of the back up for any online material, treat it as confidential material.
    If you are a sysop (system operator) you aren't supposed to go reading other people's email. Likewise, if you were the keeper of the back up -- which is prudent to add because what if a hard drive blew half way through this course and we lost everything??? -- you don't read, use or share the material.

You Own Your Own Words (YOYOW), Copyright and Intellectual Capital

This is an interesting subset of confidentiality. Or perhaps a set of it's own... ;-). When we invest our time here, we are sharing our ideas, thoughts, feelings and existing intellectual capital (IC)or knowledge. This has value. In the online world, there is very little clarity about what you can and can't do with such IC. Howard Rheingold (Virtual community pioneer) championed the approach of "you own your own words" meaning no one else could re-post or use them without your permission. But if you look at the terms of service (TOS) or user agreements on most of the online discussion spaces, you will see that when you clicked "OK" you signed over the rights to everything you posted on that board.

Kinda scary, isn't it?

contact us

Full Circle Associates
Seattle, Washington, USA
(206) 517-4754

© 1999-2006 Full Circle Associates - content
© 1999-2006 WWCoCo New Media - design and graphics