Thoughts About Online Privacy

Post ImageI just did a quick search of my blog and found to my surprise that I haven’t really written about privacy before. It’s a topic that is often discussed, especially as more and more of our lives move online, so I figured I’d have said something about it in the past. Oh well, now is as good a time as any. I’d have to say that my opinion about online privacy is different than most. First, here’s the usual perspective:

Chuck Sanchez, a 25-year-old Chicagoan, recently deleted references to his public relations firm on his MySpace page after everyone from a job applicant to his fiancee’s mother found the page.

“It’s simply not worth it,” he says. “I want my personal site to be just that: personal.”

I agree it’s smart (and let’s be honest, common sense) to be careful about what you post online. But attempting to remove references is futile. It’s almost as stupid as thinking that if you never post about something that it’ll never get online. That’s just a dangerous way to think about privacy.

When it comes to online privacy, I keep these two things in mind:

  1. Eventually, despite your best efforts, any information (personal or otherwise) could become universally accessible.
  2. The only way to protect yourself from the potentially negative effects related to information disclosure is to contribute to the stream of information, to maintain an active online voice.

That voice can be a website, a blog, a profile at a social networking site, or anything else that works for you, even a combination of these things. As long as you can continually contribute positive information to the stream of information, you should be fine.

Everyone makes mistakes. Usually you learn from your mistakes. Unfortunately, it’s primarily the mistakes that make it online and not the learning experiences that follow. When it comes to online privacy, you just need to maintain a balance between disclosure of the mistakes and your sharing of the learning experiences. If you do that, it’s much less likely that you’ll run into disclosure problems.

Another thought. Imagine a world in which all personal information was kept private. How would you know who to trust? It’s often the personal information that allows us to make decisions about a person. This happens consciously (such as when you are reading a resume) and subconsciously (such as when your opinion of someone changes based on their clothing). Now imagine a world in which all personal information is publicly disclosed. With complete information, it becomes trivial to make decisions about whom to trust, based on what is essentially pattern recognition. Of course, having complete information could have severe social consequences.

I don’t think either extreme is ideal, though I learn towards the side of full disclosure. And if that changes, you’ll be able to read about it here.

One more thing: in general, I’d say people are pretty lazy. If your “information stream” is pretty full, potential employers or other interested individuals will be much less likely to spend the time reading it all. And if they do, your contributions to the information stream should come in handy!

Read: Yahoo News

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