Do We Deserve Privacy Online?
Posted by Mitch Mitchell on Jan 13, 2010
I just finished reading a story on MSNBC.com with the title Privacy is dead on Facebook. Get over it. The story pretty much laments the fact that there isn’t any privacy on Facebook, even with all their changes, and that it’s pretty much the story across the internet.
Privacy on the internet is an interesting dichotomy. We all say we want to be able to disseminate whatever we want to and yet still retain a bit of anonymity here and there. I actually understand some of that, as Mitch isn’t my birth name, and I tell almost no one what my middle name is. If one decided to really dig deep on the internet, I’m sure they’d find both answers.
When I first got on the internet back in 1995, I didn’t understand what most of it meant. The first service I signed up for was AOL. Like many people, I got that disk in the mail, loaded it onto my computer, and the rest was history. So was my privacy, because pretty quickly I started getting all sorts of email from suppliers who contracted with AOL for my email address. And things took off from there.
Let’s talk about privacy for a little bit. Here’s the big hairy question in the room; do you really think that you can be online and have privacy? If you do, I’m sorry to say, you’re living in a dream world. People who have never been online can be found online. For some of those folks, it might cost a little bit of money, but most of them are online in some fashion. I did a quick check to find that my grandmother doesn’t have her name anywhere online, but my mother does.
Why is that? Because my grandmother has never had a credit card or a driver’s license. She’s never signed up for email or anything else online, and she hasn’t worked since, I believe, 1980 at least. She’s never left the country, so no passport. In other words, she’s basically a non-entity in the online world.
Mom, on the other hand, worked up until 1997. She had a couple of credit cards. She has an email address. Her name is on the mortgage of the house she owns. She can check her bank balances online. And her name is in the phone book. That’s enough information for Mom to have created a trail by which people can find her online if they know her name. She has a picture online, courtesy of yours truly, but not with her name associated with it, so she’s fairly protected there.
Here’s the general thing. If you want privacy, don’t do anything that might encourage someone to invade it. If you sign up on Facebook, you’ve invited people to find you; maybe not the people you want to find you, but that’s too bad. If you put up pictures of yourself doing stupid things, you’ve invited yourself to scrutiny.
I don’t know how real this is, but has anyone seen this blog called THE DAILY SCOOP OF STUPIDITY-THE PEOPLE OF FACEBOOK, where the author puts up pictures he supposedly pulled from Facebook? There was also this one post from College Candy on the types of photos on Facebook. If these are all real, not much privacy there, is it? Why would these people put these pictures up to begin with?
Some of the other stuff people put on Facebook is amazing. If you’re married and most of the world knows it, don’t put up that you’re single and looking for a member of the opposite sex for anything. If you work in certain industries, don’t put up your resume as if you’re looking for a job, and certainly don’t indicate your politics and religion, unless they’re the same as where you work (come on, we know that most places of employment have a political and religious leaning, whether they’re supposed to or not).
Don’t sign up for games you don’t want anyone knowing you’re playing. Don’t become friends with people you don’t know just because they’re hot without knowing if they play well, and safely with others. Don’t join groups you think no one’s going to know about because it’ll probably show up in your feed. And, of course, check your privacy settings, but know that they can only go as far as the people you think you can trust who might out you, intentionally or not. If you’re worried that the wrong people will see it, keep it to yourself.
On to Twitter. One of my wife’s friends was shocked to find out that, after she found me and added me to her account, I could read what she was writing to her daughter. I told her she hadn’t protected her account, just added people, and that everyone could see what she was writing, and what was written back to her. She immediately closed her account. If you have no idea what something is, don’t sign up for it. She’s an intelligent woman who did a stupid thing; she should have known better.
People say things on Twitter all the time, then don’t think they should be held accountable for what they say because it’s their freedom of speech. Sorry Sparky, but freedom of speech comes with a cost and a consequence. If you don’t want to be judged, watch your language, watch what you have to say, and, well, shut up. If you say it, own up to it and move on.
During 2008’s presidential election, I dropped a lot of people for inappropriate things they were saying about Barack Obama. I kept doing so after the election, after his inauguration, and even now. I’ll call out business people who say stupid things, even at networking events, because those are people I’d never work with, and if they didn’t mean it they shouldn’t have said it. I’m an equal opportunity “caller-outer”, as I called out Harry Reid for his stupidity that was reported last week also.
There is no real privacy online, period. If you want some control, you have to learn how to protect some of your information. For instance, if you have a website, when you pay for the domain name hide the info so no one can track you back; I use that one all the time.
If you want to write stupid stuff to or about other people, don’t do it from home, because you can be tracked easily enough by anyone with a little bit of internet savvy or that has friends with some internet savvy. Don’t think that hiding behind a fake name will protect you for long; if you’re irritating enough, you’ll be found out, even if by court order.
Trust me, you’re out there; it’s up to you to make sure you’re represented the way you want to be.