Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Why Is Privacy Important?

I don't know if I've ever seen an article be so popular on nytimes.com: "The 3 Facebook Settings Every User Should Check Now" sits pretty at #7 most emailed, and it was published almost two weeks ago. Clearly there are thousands upon thousands of people who are highly concerned about their privacy on the internet.

I'm not immune to this--I've set all of my Facebook controls to "only friends". But, like a lot of things, when I try to determine exactly why I want to keep my facebook private, it's hard to come up with reasons that make a lot of sense. Mainly, it's because I get a feeling I can only describe as the 'jeebies' about anyone who wants to look at all the shit I post on my profile.

Here's what pops up off the top of my head: 1. Identity theft, as best evidenced by the citi bank identity theft commercials 2. Stalkers, as in people sending you annoying messages or worse coming to your house and 3. Companies using the information to market products to you 4. Bosses, as in your future/current employer rejecting/firing you for incriminating evidence found and 5. The "Jeebies" I mentioned above

Upon closer inspection, these reasons don't really stand up. 1. From what I can understand about identity theft, thieves need your SS number or some other official private data to really succeed, if all it took was your name/address/phone number, identity thieves could just use the phone book. 2. Fear of stalkers is maybe a bit more legit, especially if you are really hot or something, but I think it's safe to say that the risk of acquiring a truly dangerous stalker (this is stranger stalkers I'm talking about) is pretty freakin' low, and having a public facebook profile and being out in public are probably the same amount of risk. 3. As for companies, having more directed advertising...well...how is it so different from the aimless advertising we have now? Granted the advertising might be more annoying, but probably just because it will be more persuasive. But I think it's mostly your job to try to combat the messages corporations send you about what you want (not that it's easy..). 4.As for bosses, this is a toughie. We sometimes want to have different personas for our work and persona lives. I don't think there's necessarily something wrong with that, but I do think that in general jobs that jive well with our personalities/lifestyle make people more happy.

So there are some risks involved in putting all our cards on the table, but I still think the main reason I don't it is these 'jeebies'. And when I try to determine what these 'jeebies' are really about, I can only think they are some combination of insecurity/shame/idea people will think I'm an exhibitionist. Since all of these feelings stem from fear, it doesn't seem like a legitimate reason to stay private. But what am I afraid of?

Let's imagine for a moment that most people weren't very private, that it wasn't valued or seen as important. This would mean that vasts amounts of information about your day to day life would be public domain, accessible as quick as it is to type your name into a google search bar. Ah! How vulnerable it would make me...but if everyone was doing it, how vulnerable is one measly individual? Instead, I think there would just be an increase of understanding between individuals, and a decrease of all the insecurity and shame that stems from our conviction that we are in some definitive ways different from most people. One can imagine through search engines we could instantly become connected to thousands of people who are really similar to us, and the creation of valuable networks would be even easier than they are now. And as a bonus, there might be a healthy dose of deflation for those who, because of external markers, have been lead to believe that they are significantly better than others, as there would be an increased recognition of equality. Also, as a bonus, I think the amount of inane reality television would be squelched by an increase in the amount of freely available "reality", a la Internet Killed Television.

I think the internet is already heading in this direction, but there is still significant resistance to things becoming public. And even after writing this whole damn post, I dunno if I'm quite ready to get over my jeebies and make my facebook profile public. It's a difficult thing to do when there are few others who do it as well. But I always think it's worthwhile to really consider why something is valuable to you, and whether the reasons make sense. And when it comes to privacy, I don't think the reasons stand up. Unless some of yall have others?


  1. I think a big part of the "jeebie" element is that we feel misrepresented on the internet. I don't feel like a stranger could learn anything of substance about me from my facebook or any other internet reflection. And as the saying goes, a little big of knowledge is a dangerous thing. I don't want to open myself up to a wave of presumptions (much like the ones that I give to everyone ELSE on the internet). So someone out there knows I like Jay-Z and Anchorman...do they know me?

  2. your right in that privacy might not be that important. information collected on me probably will not hurt me, realistically.

    Though perhaps not emotionally or in the abstract. If I expose too much does my identity get hurt or some other mental phenomenon?

    In other words; Logically I'm safe to exposure but why then do i feel threatened in my mental space, like I'm attached to something unwanted.

    Does this feeling mean something or is it deluding me? -I would not be so quick to ignore this feeling like everyone else in society facing the 'death of privacy'. It could be a valuable intuition, that can come clear with patience & time...