You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide

17 11 2009

We’ve been playing, working and living on the internet more or less for 15 years now. And you know what? It never ceases to amaze me how fear still runs rampant. Now it’s normal for people to fear the unknown. It upsets the apple cart and thrusts people into virgin territory. But we’ve been trodding this territory for a long time, and I just don’t understand why people have yet to shake this fear.

I’m talking about privacy. You know, that irrational fear that you have left the front door unlocked and unwittingly purchased a billboard with explicit directions to your house.

So why is it that people still fear for their privacy on the internet? It’s not exactly like we led private lives before we all went online. If you knew where to look back in the Stone Age, you could still get everything you want. Marriage licenses. Birth certificates. Property appraisals. All public record.

Furthermore, every time we step outside that front door, we leave privacy in the living room and become Public Man. Nothing we say or do is sacred in the public arena, and if you don’t want to be seen (or, worse yet, photographed) wearing that hideous outfit, you’d better not wear it.

And so I have a message for those who fear their lack of privacy online: Get over it. You’ve always had some degree of “invaded privacy.”

But I will concede that there are significant differences today. You see, our privacy is directly correlated with how much information we willingly make available. It’s just that it is so much easier today for others to access that information.

Webcams. Search engines. Property listings (like Zillow.com). Satellite imagery of our property. Social networking sites whose posts will just never go away.

Those are the kinds of things that sensationalists love to pick on. Oooh…someone could be plotting to break into your house. They’ve got an aerial view, they know your house is worth a few hundred thousand (thereby implying some degree of wealth), and you just tweeted that you’re having dinner with a business client at Zen 721 in downtown Amarillo.

Guess what? Any enterprising thief could have figured that out in the old days by simply casing your joint and watching your comings and goings. If they see you leaving for the evening in a suit, it’s a safe bet you’ve got something important going on. And that there’s a pretty sizable window of time for doing a little breaking and entering.

Herein lies the rub: We are still in control of what information about us is available publicly. While we cannot necessarily control the methods of availability, we still control the content. Don’t want perverts stealing pictures of your kids? Don’t put them on Flickr. Don’t want people to know you’re on vacation for two weeks? Skip the Facebook and Twitter updates. Don’t want people to know your likes and dislikes? Don’t broadcast them on Yelp. Don’t want someone to get your bank account information? Install a secure wireless network and use antivirus software.

I admit that the internet has made it all too easy for prying eyes to access our lives, but we must also admit that much of what is available is of our own volition. Some of that information is public record anyway, while the rest is the result of us willingly blabbing every minute detail of our otherwise boring lives.

It’s time for us to assume some personal responsibility for our online actions.If you want privacy, then it’s time to quit tweeting, yelping and facebooking. Get rid of your vanity web site, and unhitch from LinkedIn. Don’t post your thoughts to GoogleGroups (those are archived, you know), and stay away from online forums. Lock down your home computer network and keep the neighbors and drive-by thieves out of your files.

Because to do anything less is really no different from leaving the light on and the door open. You may as well bake some cookies and leave them a note. Just be sure to tweet when you’re on your way home.

Dr “It’s Up To You” Gerlich

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