Every time I see the words ‘privacy’ and ‘on the internet,’ I want to laugh until I turn blue in the face.
Allow me to explain my raucous state of laughter.
The definition of privacy, right out of the dictionary: “the state of being free from intrusion”
The definition of ‘the internet’, right out of the dictionary: “a vast computer network linking smaller computer networks worldwide.”
A vast computer network linking smaller computer networks worldwide – the word linking implies some sort of sharing of information. In the most basic sense I can express it, the internet is made up of servers located throughout the world. When you consider that each of those servers is connected to each other, to enable the free flow of information, you might understand why ‘internet privacy’ is an oxymoron.
To date, social media consists of any network of computers that has enabled people to become more social.
- Facebook has been recorded as having approximately 650 million users.
- Twitter is reported to have close to 600 million users
- March 22, 2011, LinkedIn blogged stating that they have passed 100 million users; no information on how many have registered in the last three months.
- April 12, 2012, Google+ reported 170 million users.
If you consider that businesses, people, and things (and all three of those potentially having more than one account), all have presence on social media in some form, you have: 650M+600M+100M+170M=Approximately 1.5B accounts in some form. In many cases, the following information has been voluntarily shared with these networks (assuming all values are true):
- Date of Time of Birth
- Marital Status
- Place of Birth
- Full legal name
- Phone number
- Political affiliation
- Current and former employers
- Who you are in a relationship with
- Crimes committed (and some proud of it)
- Favorite sports team
- A picture of you
- Religious affiliations
- Tax status
- Views on certain topics, including ones of a sensitive nature
- Links to any blogs
- Current and former salaries
- Opinions on current and former employers
- Details on vacations or ‘getaways’
- Your location at any given time (whether by Geotag or just saying “Just landed in Tokyo!”)
- Who you associate with
- Where you went to school
- Who/what you have donated money and time to
- The value of assets you own, including your car(s), home(s), and properties.
That’s just the stuff that you volunteer into a text field. The scary part: Put enough of that information together and you can pretty much map out someone’s life and how they operate.
Now for the stuff that is in a database due to laws passed:
- Social Security Number and your Full legal name – legally required to have on file by the federal government.
- Criminal history, excluding what has been expunged – only entered when you commit a crime.
- Motor vehicle violations, excluding anything that was successfully appealed or you were just issued a warning – follows you across all fifty states.
- Your tax bracket, thanks to IRS tax returns, as well as how much you have gotten back in years past – required by state and federal government in the case of an audit.
- If you have any active debt of any kind, some lender has a digital file with your account in it – the amount of information in there is staggering.
- Those who have health insurance, have a record of the last decade’s worth of prescriptions, doctor’s visits, tests run, imaging/film, therapies undertaken. All legally required by law.
- When you acquire work with a company, they have to store certain information, identity based in their computer system – all of it to make sure that anyone working in that company is a legal U.S. Citizen.
- If you have a business or company that goes public – the amount of information that you’re required to disclose to the SEC makes buying a house seem like a piece of cake.
Long story short: That information, while heavily guarded using very stringent policies and procedures employed by companies and government, can still get out there. I won’t post the number of times that people’s data has been “scattered” across social media, as a result of some hacker. The unfortunate part: 75% of the time, it is a disgruntled employee or ex-employee, or somebody that was paid big time to reveal that information.
Where am I going with all this? It’s very simple, return to the definition of privacy – “the state of being free from intrusion.”
Your only true sanctuary of privacy is in your home, with no cameras on you, and nobody to witness what you do.
If you truly want to get an idea of how ‘private’ your life or information is: Google your full legal name and spend the money to do a background check on yourself. Count how many times you say “Oh My God!” or similar phrases. If you say it more than 5 times, you’ve just proven my point.