Privacy rules, even during a video chat

March 30, 2011

Dear Miss Manners:

New technology brings new challenges. Does one have a reasonable expectation of privacy while communicating online with a family member?

A young relative and I video-chatted when I was recovering from a cold. Had it not been my beloved niece calling, I would not have answered a video call in that condition.

At some point during the conversation, I realized that my niece was snapping pictures of me using her computer’s camera and was posting them on Facebook. I asked her not to do that, partly because I felt ill and it showed.

She seemed genuinely perplexed as to why I would object, so I tried to explain that she took the pictures without my knowledge during a private conversation and that the “gotcha” pictures she posted on her page were potentially viewable by my own friends and colleagues.

It was not a family or social event where I would expect to be in pictures; it was a personal conversation. Besides, I take special care to monitor my online presence, since it is a vital tool in today's business and social worlds.

In my opinion, notification and permission are required. Just as one should inform a caller that she is on speakerphone and others are in the room — or that the conversation is being recorded — one should know when a conversation might include an unwanted photo session. I realize that by mutual agreement, this may not be necessary among her young friends.

My example involves a casual call with a dear family member, and I certainly don’t wish to dampen her familial enthusiasm. However, there must be a way to use technology respectfully and responsibly.

On the other hand, perhaps I need to get with it and be prepared for my close-up at all times?

It is not just technology that changes, Miss Manners observes. We now have a generation to whom the concept of privacy is bewildering. So, to a great extent, is the distinction between presenting oneself in public, as opposed to just slopping around.

You will have to explain these concepts to your young relative, not only for your protection, but for hers. One by one, this generation is making the painful discovery that not everyone, in the wide world to which they expose themselves, finds them endearing.

Dear Miss Manners:

Does one have to acknowledge apology gifts if one has no plans to accept the apology?

An ex-employee who burned some bridges on the way out sent me a gift to apologize for his actions. His peace offering was not due to any newfound contrition, but because he wants to use me as a reference.

You cannot have it both ways — accepting the peace offering and not thanking him — not going further, in fact, and making peace.

If you do not wish to do this, Miss Manners insists that you send back the present with a stiff note saying that you cannot accept it. He is not likely to ask you for a reference after that.

Feeling incorrect? E-mail questions to Miss Manners at MissManners@unitedmedia.com; enter them at www.missmanners.com or mail to United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.

2011, King Features Syndicate

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