Privacy vs Security in the 21st Century

Posted 04.23.08

I was pressured into joining Facebook last fall. I was careful to post minimal information, no photo, and no comments. Still, I'm sorry I did this.

I find the site awkward to use and quite silly. It was also alarming to hear that every single word you write on Facebook, every image or video you post, is automatically licensed to them without any restrictions, and can be searched by strangers.

I understand some of these "leaks" have been plugged in the last few months, but Facebook, MySpace, and similar social networking websites can be dangerous. Embarrassing videos a teenager posts today may return to haunt them in years to come.

Employers are increasingly searching these sites, as well as YouTube, LinkedIn, and Classmates, to uncover what applicants don't reveal.

I just received an invitation from Classmates that asked me to post "playful profile photos, sassy stories and amusing notes" on my profile (which is just my name, contact information, high school and graduating year). It also advised me that one person visited and signed my guestbook yesterday, asking, "Who's got you in mind? Uncover the mystery!"

This is tempting for the lonely, but I suggest that if you want to connect with high school or university classmates, the safer way would be to go through the alumni association. That's how an old friend found me a few years ago.

There's also some concern about match.com and other dating sites. Is the information posted accurate? Is it secure?

It seems nothing is private any more.

Nothing, that is, except what ought to be public knowledge.

Our privacy laws are now so stringent that many organizations refuse to publish a directory of members, and if you request simple contact information for someone who doesn't come up in a Google search, you may be told that they "aren't authorized" to give it to you because of "privacy concerns."

Strange, then, that far more sensitive information about most of us is already easily accessible to hackers. It's been estimated that sixteen million fraudulent transactions a year take place on eBay alone. If you Google "hate eBay" you will get hundreds of thousands of entries.

You would think only individuals without technical knowledge could be scammed, but last fall a nasty spoof of a bio of Brian Mulroney appeared on the website of prestigious law firm Ogilvy Renault.

I monitor where my name, Simon Teakettle, and my book titles appear on the web, but every so often I'm alerted to a pornographic website which includes a bunch of links, including to Simon Teakettle. I even found a link on a site devoted to witchcraft (it must have been the black cat!).

So what ought to be private, and what needs to be available to the general public?

There's no easy answer to this, but I'm not sure I want to belong to an organization who keeps their membership lists secret.

Do you?

Barbara Floria Graham is the author of the 20th anniversary edition of Five Fast Steps to Better Writing and Mewsings/Musings. Her website: www.SimonTeakettle.com

Copyright © 2008 Barbara Floria Graham/Log Cabin Chronicles/03.08