For the average internet user, privacy is an expectation but not a reality. They share family photos on Facebook, quasi-interesting non-sequiturs on Twitter, business info on LinkedIn, video preferences on YouTube, personal opinions on blogs, and on and on and on. The whole time thinking that this is only going to be seen by a select few, when in reality it is saved in multiple locations, forever available to anyone with the basic skills to search for it. And with the way that Google is developing, the ability to search for information on anyone gets easier every day.
Should this matter to you?
Well, yes. At the risk of sounding like a tin-foil hat wearing conspiracy theorist, I think a persons internet research topics are best left private. If you find out that your grandpa has been searching for
gay porn uhm, topics that interest him much more than they interest you, your relationship is potentially going to be damaged. Privacy should be a right instead of an unfulfilled expectation.
How long until we have to worry about this?
Well, the future is already here. There are increasingly more frequent cases of insurance claims being terminated after posting vacation pics on Facebook, employees being terminated after Facebooking while home sick, or the wrong email sent to the wrong person.
How often have you received, or sent, an email to the wrong address? Usually this is mundane, but there are more and more times where sensitive information is being sent via email. Just today, I got a nice e-card from someone in the states wishing me a happy thanksgiving. I sent a note back to thank her, informing her that she is either really late or really early, on her well wishes. But this same email account garners me sales receipts from stores in the states, date/time of my next scheduled tune up on a car I don’t own, in a state I don’t live in, and my personal favorite – conference call invite and login information for a Hollywood production company. (I’m saving that info for a rainy day!) I get all of this information because they forget to add a “.” in the email addy.
So how does it work?
If I am researching a new client, potential supplier, or business opportunity, I will start on Google, cross reference it with Facebook and LinkedIn, add a smattering of Twitter, and then just feast on the cornucopia (wow – full of turkey day references today!) of information that I uncover. I do this to learn more, and potentially gain a competitive advantage for myself and my employers.
But if I wanted to use this information to find out when you were away on holidays, when your kids were left home alone, or when you were secretly looking for another job – this information could be used for much more Machiavellian purposes.
You need to start thinking about what you are posting online as a permanent, archiveable, dataset about who you are, what you think, what you believe, and what you like/dislike about everything.
Your privacy is a joke, but is it that important? If no one has privacy, is it a level playing field? The problem with this thought process is we won’t know until it’s gone, and by then it’ll be too late to do anything about it.