Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Reasonable Expectation of Privacy?

I've seen a lot of discussions lately about maintaining your privacy or personal identity on the Internet.

Let me tell you now - if you post something to a newsgroup, blog, Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, Friendster, Orkut, IRC, BBS, or send it in email to a mailing list, it's no longer private. If you have a health condition you don't want people you work with to know about, don't blog about it or put anything in your Facebook status on it. Instead, talk to your doctor, talk to groups in person, keep a journal at the side of your bed.

I learned about the permanence of such things on the Internet in 1998 when I was interviewing for a job and and the interviewer pulled up a little site called DejaNews, a great search engine for netnews that has since been subsumed by Google, and he instantly knew that at the time I had been learning to play the bass guitar, had a pet snake, and had previously worked as a SunOS/Solaris system administrator. He looked at my questions I had asked, to see if they were intelligent and well thought out. He looked at how I handled the responses I got. Was I gracious? Did I understand the information people were sharing with me?

Fortunately for me, I met his standards and the rest of the interview went well from there and I got the job. I was shocked, though, I knew of no such service! I thought that once your postings fell off the news server, they were gone forever. Boy, was I naive!

I watch younger people on Facebook and MySpace posting all sorts of crazy things. Very personal things. Sometimes it's simply venting, but other times the attacks can be targeted at a specific person or be revealing very personal information on themselves or their own lack of self control.

I think we're doing a great disservice to future generations if we aren't teaching elementary school kids about the Internet Archive and Google's massive cache. Our ability to grasp the repercussions of our online actions is not keeping up with the technology.

When I was a teenager, my worst fear was having a physical note I handed to someone end up being shared. But, that was one note. Now our equivalents in email and text messages can be digitally shared in seconds with hundreds of people, and you can't take it back.

Some people mistakenly believe that stuff on Facebook can only be seen by your friends. In general, depending on how you have security set up, that's true - unless someone uses a screen capture. Take these recent "passive aggressive notes" - one woman ("exhibit d") actually managed to lose her job through Facebook (and this is not the first instance I've heard of for that).

Yes, I realize she clearly was not thinking about who was in her friend list before posting, but it still could've been shared by someone else later. I've also seen examples of people screen capturing things that were obvious typos to use to embarrass people forever.

So, whatever you're doing, if you're doing it on the Internet in semi-public forums, don't expect it to be private.

Most of us would believe that at least we can still have privacy in our own homes...

(Oh, please don't mention wiretapping.... or message interception.....)

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