A little rant about Facebook and privacy

I’ve had a handful of conversations in the past few weeks about the whole Facebook privacy kerfluffle. (A link, in case you’ve been living under a rock.)
My reaction boils down to this:
If you don’t want something to be public knowledge, don’t put it on the internet.
(ranting below the cut)


“But!” I hear you say, O hypothetical reader, “Facebook made us feel like we had control over our infomation!”
To which I say: If you don’t want something to be public knowledge, don’t put it on the internet.
Anyone who’s ever read about a vindictive ex posting naughty photos of someone, or someone who mistakenly sent email to the wrong addy, or hit “reply all” when they meant to just “reply” should know: once something is digital, it’s very, very, very easy to spread around.
If you want to write about something and can think of someone, anyone, whose reading of said something would make you mortified/outraged/endangered, don’t post it online. It’s that simple.
Journaling is really healthy and a great way to get perspective, and and and. But if you post it online, I don’t care if it’s friendslocked or posted under an alias or whatever: it only takes ONE mistake, ONE asshole you thought was your friend, and it’s out. Your anonymity is that fragile online. It really is. Don’t want someone to read your journal? Don’t put it that close to being in their hands. Posting stuff online and whining that it got out of the privacy bucket you put it in is like complaining that someone read the journal you left open on your desk in 8th grade.
People like Harriet who post about stuff that should be talked about even though it’s dangerous to them if they get their handle connected to their real selves are brave, and you know what? When her anonymity was compromised by Google Buzz, she was pissed but she dealt with it. She didn’t get all butthurt and swear off the internet. She reassessed things and kept her stuff online, where it could be found. She did a few things to make it harder to connect those dots in the future, but she didn’t take her toys and go home or pretend that making dot-connecting harder somehow made them impossible. Harriet is one of my intarwebs heroes.
There is no such thing as total internet privacy. You can make it harder for people to find you, but they can still find you if the stars align.
Sure, it’s nice to be able to talk to other people about things and get feedback. But don’t delude yourself into thinking that using a handle or setting things to “private” or whatever will actually keep them private forever and ever. Don’t delude yourself into thinking that using a pseudonym will keep people from figuring out who you are.
It always amazes me when I say stuff like this to people and they are surprised or offended.
Dude. It’s the internet. Multi-kajillion dollar corporations can’t stop people from cracking their encryption and stealing their stuff, and they have WAY more resources than you do. What makes you think nobody can crack your anonymity or privacy settings and figure out your info is yours?
If you post something on Facebook, for example, it only takes ONE incompetent engineer there to unlock it. You are counting on every person at Facebook to be competent and everyone in your Friendslist to be a good person and not breach your confidentiality. That’s a lot of people, and humans are fallible. All it takes is one. One. If you’re not willing to roll those dice, don’t pick them up.
If you don’t want something to be public knowledge, don’t put it on the internet.
It really is that simple.

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4 Responses to A little rant about Facebook and privacy

  1. Junglemonkey says:

    It’s not that things I post may come back and bite me in the butt – I get that, and I think that most people get that. The thing that FaceBooks does that is grossly unfair is deciding that if you, as my FaceBook friend, “like” something or install an application or anything else, FaceBook feels entitled to give the originators of that links not only your information, but mine too. So, by merely acknowledging that I know you, I am opening myself up in ways that make me uncomfortable.
    There are some great points that have been brought up in the past, such as:
    – What if someone you know tangentially “favorites” something that you personally find objectionable? To FaceBook you are guilty by association.
    – Even if you elect not to grant other individuals access to your personal information, you have no control over the level of access FaceBook has chosen to grant the makers of third-party applications. You used to, but you don’t now.
    It’s not about what you personally might want to post or not post – it’s about lumping you in with your entire network, allowing other people and companies to know who you are simply by triangulating you with a few of your friends. You can certainly control what you post yourself, but you can never control what other people choose to do.
    I deleted my account and haven’t missed it.

  2. rich says:

    Does this include anything I buy from amazon or get from netflix. Should that be considered fair game? How about the websites I visit, should anyone see that? How about my e-mail, should I expect all those messages can be seen by future employers?

  3. Ealasaid says:

    JM: I think the things I’m saying apply to personal info too. I’ve always assumed that just about anything I do online can be turned into a marketing sort of thing. Companies pay attention to that kind of stuff. If I were really, truly serious about keeping my personal info out of anybody’s hands, I wouldn’t put it online.
    Rich: Yeppers. Amazon and Netflix track everything and that data exists, therefore that data can be discovered. Ditto email. I wouldn’t say you can EXPECT that info to be read/disseminated, but I WILL say you shouldn’t be surprised if it is. You can’t rely on other people to protect your privacy. Sure, if Amazon published everyone’s purchasing habits we’d be well within our rights to sue their asses. OTOH, that wouldn’t put the genie back in the bottle. If I don’t want someone ever, EVER knowing I read a book, I don’t buy it from Amazon.
    If I wanted to make sure nobody ever knew about a purchase, I’d walk into a physical store wearing a hat and shades and pay in cash. The price of the convenience of using plastic and having an account on a site like Amazon is that you lose some privacy. I’m lucky enough to live in an area where I can only associate with and work for people who don’t have a problem with me being a sex-positive, outspoken, pro-choice feminist. If I lived in, say, the bible belt, I wouldn’t have this blog or buy the things I do online.

  4. Rich says:

    From a legal point of view, Expecting privacy is very important. I know that my phone can be tapped, but expecting privacy is why the police need a court order to get a wiretap. I do not want police to be able to read my e-mail or get my info from Amazon without a court order.
    There is a difference between what can happen and what we expect to happen. I know that giving my info to a company can make me open to be found. I still want those companies to be liable if they do. I think us saying, “Just because the data can be found you have no duty to protect it,” is a bad idea.