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.
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.