Could we change our attitude, we should not only see life differently, but life itself would come to be different. ~ Katherine Mansfield

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Privacy Lost

I miss my privacy. This may seem strange coming from a blogger (with tens and tens of readers!), but as a writer I choose what I share. Only the better recipes make the cut. The funniest stories, the cutest pictures of my kids. Even my foibles and heartaches are carefully selected - this isn't a trip to the therapist after all.

At my previous job, my boss often accused me of being afraid of the Internet. I think he based this on my resistance to embracing every new technology that was introduced. Little does he know, I also dislike the old technologies. I don't tweet, and unless you are a professional comedian or a food truck, I don't think you should either. Wanda Sykes has my favorite take on Twitter - "No one cares. Get a diary and lock that shit up!" I concur. And don't get me started on FourSquare. I think I can pass on being the virtual mayor of my local Starbucks, and the world at large doesn't care where I am having dinner. And quite frankly, I may not want them to know I'm there.

Facebook is the bane of my existence. We have a love hate relationship and I've almost called the whole thing off more than once. On one hand, it's a great way to get a snapshot of what old pals are doing with their lives - especially ones that live far away, or friends that used to trigger that "I wonder what they're up to now?" brand of nostalgia. But it's impossible to keep a tight lock on who sees what, and suddenly "friends" of "friends" (AKA dirty pedophile creepers) are commenting on pictures of my kids, and where we've decided to move, and I have to make triple sure I lock all the doors at night.

Youtube. That sweet sweet mecca of voyeurs and exhibitionists alike. Unless I am entertaining my kids with bootleg episodes of Ninja Turtles (thanks, cartoon nerds, I owe you) or learning how to sew a zipper, I avoid it at all costs. You will not find my family there. Why? Because the Internet never forgets, and the general population uploads their lives, and yours, without a second thought. It is weird, and wrong, that my boys will never have the experience of making a fool of themselves at a party and then 20 years later the only evidence being a friend's hazy memory and your word against theirs. I have a great video of Jude making up a funny little song about diarrhea (ah, boys) which could have been the next "Charlie bit my finger," but is it really fair if I open up his life to general consumption for a few moments of faux fame without his knowledge or permission? I say no. Parents of Youtube Sensation Kids make me a little ill.

Then we take these small annoyances, and add the greater infringements on privacy with Google Analytics (doesn't it ever bother you that after typing a mere "substi" the first search option provided is an eerily correct "substitute tomato paste for tomato sauce"?), Apple's ability to track your movements even when your phone isn't in use (not kidding - this is actually a default setting on Angry Birds - WTF?), and the NSA's interest in the phone conversations and grammatically challenged emails of the general public. Even our grocery store loyalty cards, while providing a cheap gas incentive, create profiles of our general likes and wellness based on buying habits. I despise this, and I want a way out. Or at least some form of protection.

So maybe you think I am being extreme, but for people who don't mind this infringement on their privacy, I would counter that you are being naive. Did you know that ad agencies utilize mapping software for their clients that will create a profile when you log onto the client's website that then tracks all of your keystrokes and mouse movements while on that site? From hospitals to online porn shops, they all know you were there and what you did. And what if you are one of the citizens whose phone is being tapped? Do you want someone else listening in on a fight with your spouse, or that embarrassing medical question you eventually had to call a nurse about, or your last two-hour marathon conversation with your best friend during which you finally told her the truth about that "blackout" night in college? These moments may not be incriminating, but they are intimate. You, as the owner of your life, should be the sole proprietor of your stories.

On a darker side, it does not take a great leap of the imagination to see the connection between a person Googling "herpes," to visiting a medical website, to that website selling your information to both the herpes pharmaceutical companies as well as the healthcare industry, resulting in a computer full of Valtrex ads and a higher medical premium. DuckDuckGo, a slightly inferior but far more private search engine, explains this really well on their site. Knowing that the things I do in the "privacy" of my home are stored by a corporation and are available to the government, or shifty employees, does give me pause before I delve into all that the web has to offer.

So what do we do? It is impossible to completely unplug without becoming a hermit, or a parent whose children will take advantage of their technological incompetence. I am constantly struggling with ways to take the best of what technology has to offer while trying to keep my privacy and my physical - and virtual - life intact. So yes, I use for all my herpes research and my husband has switched to an ad-free fastmail account in an attempt to start extricating the omnipresent Google from his life. We've locked down our picture websites so that only invitees can stalk our children. We've asked friends and family to be a little more cautious with their smart phones, Facebook, and Instagram accounts especially in reference to our kids.

And this is key I think.

When the same government that relies on NSA intel refuses to craft regulations that protect the average person from being spied on and recorded by the new Google Glass (yeah, go figure), we have to rely on each other at the very least. I can't keep the government out of my email, but with your help I can keep my kids off of Youtube. So here is my promise. I hope to have yours in return.

A pledge to my Family, my Friends...and my "Friends"
  • I promise to respect your personal boundaries with regards to social media and will not upload pictures of you, or information about you, without your permission. 
  • I promise to tell you of the permissions settings on my social media accounts so that you know if a picture is for my personal enjoyment or if it will be beamed out to friends of friends of friends across the world.
  • I promise not to take and share pictures of your children without getting your permission, and under no circumstances will I ever use your child's full name or tag our location. Ever.
  • I promise not to record and upload funny-to-me-embarrassing-to-you moments before you have a chance to process what happened in real life. But if it's really good, maybe you'll let me use it on my blog...
  • I promise not to share personal information about you in my status updates, or to refer to private matters on your Facebook wall. 
  • I promise not to judge the abundance of Valtrex ads on your laptop when you let me borrow it to check my email.
  • I promise to use common sense when deciding what information is worth sharing with the world at large, always keeping in mind that the Internet is never private and that it will not allow us to forget. 

1 comment:

Donald Studinski said...

Well said!

Case in point:
I'm a beekeeper. I was recently doing research about a systemic poison called imidacloprid. I found an example of where this poison is used: K9 Advantix and clicked on the image of the product to use in a presentation. I don't even own a dog. Now, I get advertisements about all kinds of flea and tick products every time I log into my email.

As the little girl says in Poltergeist: "They're here!"

no facebook, no text, no tweet ... dons

Post a Comment

Join the conversation - we love to hear from you! Please keep it civil and own your words as anonymous comments won't be posted.