Do We Deserve Privacy Online?

As someone who blocks as much stuff as possible without my authority, it seems like asking about our right to privacy online is the strangest question. We all say we want to be able to disseminate whatever we want to on sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, 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.

He’s not getting any privacy

When I first got on the internet back in December 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 companies that contracted with AOL for my email address. And things took off from there.

Let’s talk about online 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 probably living in a dream world. Most people who have never been online can be found online. For some folks, it might cost a little bit of money to have their information removed, but in general most of us are online somewhere.

I did a quick check to find that my grandmother never had her name anywhere online until she passed away and the obituary from a local newspaper showed up. Why? 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 hadn’t worked since, I believe, 1980 at least. She’d never left the country, so no passport. In other words, she’s basically a non-entity in the online world.

But my mother does, even now, and even though she was almost never online and never participated in social media. Why is that? She worked at Citibank up until 1997. She had a couple of credit cards. She had an email address. Her name was on the mortgage of her houses. She could check her bank balances online. And her name was 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. Even now, Mom gets a lot of regular mail offering her all sorts of financial deals and of course being marketed to, only it comes to my house now. How did they find that out? Hmmm…

Here’s the general thing. If you want online privacy, or even offline privacy, don’t do anything that might encourage someone to invade it. If you sign up on any social media platform, 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.

Some of the 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. 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 to know you’re playing. Don’t become friends with people you don’t know just because they’re good looking, without knowing if they play well and safely with others. Don’t get into online arguments with people you don’t know; heck, try staying out of online arguments with people you do know because you never know who they’ll invite to join their side.

Don’t join groups you think no one’s going to know about because it’ll probably show up in your feed. Always check your privacy settings on every social media site you’re a part of, 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.

Years ago, one of my ex-wife’s friends was shocked to find out that, after she found me and added me to her account on Twitter, I could read what she was writing to her daughter. I told her she hadn’t protected her account, thus everyone could see what she was writing, and what was written back to her. She immediately closed her account, which was a bit dramatic but so be it. 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.

Middle-aged New York men sometimes think impure thoughts ...

Ed Yourdon via Compfight

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; it always has. 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; that’s what I do, especially when I have views on racial issues that affect black people negatively.

During 2008’s presidential election,when I first joined Twitter, I dropped a lot of people I was connected to for inappropriate things they were saying about Barack Obama, especially that stupid birther thing. I kept doing so after the election, after his inauguration, and even now if I see it. I’ll call out business people who say stupid things, even at networking events, because those are people I’ll never work with anyway, and if they didn’t mean it they shouldn’t have said it; after all, I’m almost always the only black person in the room.

There’s 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, you can pay whoever you use to purchase the domain name to hide your information so no one can track you back; I use that to track people all the time when I find out that someone’s copying my content.

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 (that’s how people who are caught doing or saying stupid stuff that’s captured on video are found and outed). 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. It happened to this idiot on Empire Kred (used to be Empire Avenue) many years ago; it didn’t end pretty. lol

Regarding those privacy settings I mentioned earlier, they can help protect you but not totally and only directly. For instance, my profile link can’t be found on either Facebook or LinkedIn by anyone, even if they know my name or email address. However, if I comment on something someone else posted, or someone they know commented on something I posted and I responded, then they can follow the link that’s created and find me that way. But I can’t be found on search engines; I didn’t want to be bothered that much by people who can find my websites and blogs if they need what I can provide.

You can go private on Twitter, but respond to someone in the open or even have someone respond to you if you’re part of a group message and if anyone’s interested they can find you. At least Twitter doesn’t make you own up to your real name, so there’s that. 🙂

Trust me, you’re out there online somewhere; it’s up to you to make sure you’re represented the way you want to be. Be smart and safe.

8 thoughts on “Do We Deserve Privacy Online?”

    1. That we do. Unfortunately, it’s hard to totally stop from being tracked, but being smart as to how we’re online and participating in can be helpful long term.

  1. “Privacy in 2021 is possible but not while living a modern life. Those days are behind us, never to return.”

    That’s a direct quote from a post I wrote in January about privacy.

    It’s not just the online stuff either. For example, you need to participate in their membership program at many grocery stores that track everything you buy if you want the sales prices.

    That’s a tough cookie to walk away from. For example, we often shop at a grocery store named Meijer. We use their program called MPerks.

    Every month we get a custom coupon book in the mail, and it is obvious those coupons were printed based on our buying history. For example, this month, I got a free 32 oz bottle of ranch dressing.

    That say’s a lot about my diet, I know.

    Is any of that a bad thing. I mean, free is good, right? So saving money is good too. Well, it depends.

    Nothing is free. There’s always a price. The issue is very few of us bother to see what that price really is. Are they selling that information? Is that information secure from hackers? I don’t really know because I am one of those people that didn’t bother to check.

    It’s nothing new either. Back in the late nineties, I had a Comcast account. Unfortunately, they had misspelled my name as Hawpkins. I never bothered to fix the error, and then I started getting junk mail (The real mailbox on the curb) with that misspelled last name. Obviously, Comcast was selling my account information.

    One last thing, I know I’m going long here, Mitch, but you know I do that.

    The State of Michigan, yes, the state government, offers our license information to any marketer that cares to pay for it. So you can actually buy mailing lists from the State.

    Go out in the woods, leave every device at home, wait for dark, and have a brief private thought without saying it out loud. Then you MAY have enjoyed a second of privacy. But, short of that, there ain’t any.

    1. First, welcome back Brian! I see you have a new website; I’ll be checking that out pretty soon.

      Second, I know what you mean about certain perks and such. My grocery store also has something that tracks what you buy and will sometimes offer up coupons or discounts. There was something I used to buy all the time, then one day I got a letter saying they weren’t carrying that item any longer. That freaked me out for a moment, and now I only use it when I know what I’m buying is a discount if I use the card… which doesn’t happen often enough.

      Still, we can be cautious about our privacy. Don’t respond to email that you’re not sure who it came from. Don’t answer the phone if it’s coming from a number you don’t recognize. These are small things that can save all of us a lot of trouble. Not permanently of course, but there’s only one way to do that… and I’d rather be alive. lol

  2. Privacy online is one of the most important takeaways clients seek before transacting in any eCommerce site such as affiliate marketing websites. Ensuring client data does not spill over to a third party is the only way of maintaining the integrity of a site.

    1. That’s true Nisha, although I believe a lot of people don’t think about it before they do something online that involves their money. It’s not always on the company; folks need to be safer with their information before giving it out.

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