It’s time for me to stand up and say my piece.
I don’t give a fuck about privacy.
I don’t mean your privacy. You won’t find me in a tree outside your window. I swear. Not that I haven’t tried.
No, I mean my privacy. I don’t care if my personal information is online. I’m pretty mystified by people who do.
A Few for the Vault
I want to make clear that I’m not telling you to give away sensitive financial information. I’d like to say, “use your common sense,” but that doesn’t work on this topic. A lot of people have no idea what information is already out there or what kinds of things thieves are after. Some people see hackers in every shadow. Maybe this is you, or someone you know. So let me clarify.
Here are the things you should not share online:
- Your passwords
- Credit card numbers
- Account & routing numbers or other financial access info
- Tax and income figures
- Your social security number
Even these can be shared online if it makes sense. You can give your SSN to your credit union via their secure site, perhaps for an online loan application.
Your Information is Not Secret
Other than the above, pretty much everything about you is already available on the internet. This includes: your address, your phone number (even the unlisted cell), your birth certificate, your criminal record, the house you own and its estimated value, your maiden name, your spouse’s name, many of the charitable donations you’ve made (and the amount), and probably your email address.
I can get all of that stuff right now if I want.
There is nowhere you can go to remove that information from the web. There are places you can go who will say they’ll remove the info, but they are lying. They will, however, spam the email address you enter at their site.
Village Life in 20X6
The internet has irrevocably ended the age of privacy. But most people don’t realize that the age of privacy was a very short period.
Up until the early 20th century, “privacy” was unheard of. Sure, you might be able to wash in private, but personal information was completely public.
People lived in small houses with large extended families. Everyone in the community knew everyone else, including personal history. If you slept with someone, the whole village knew. If you made a fool of yourself? The village knew. Your occupation, approximate wealth, the location of your home, your accomplishments and your crimes were all pretty much public knowledge. Sure, they may never have heard of you 100 miles away but you weren’t going to travel that far anyway. To the people who mattered, keeping secrets was hard.
This changed in a few select countries in the mid-1900’s. In the U.S. it happened after World War II, when middle-class vets had enough money to begin moving into subdivisions of cookie-cutter houses. The economic boom, the widespread use of automobiles, and the availability of cheap-but-decent houses created the perfect conditions for something never before heard of.
The nuclear family was born.
Suddenly, houses had a small number of people in them—each with a private room. The houses were spaced farther out, and were often removed from civic centers.
People think of the 1950’s as a time when people were fake; they put on a front of American dream perfection, hiding their secret frustrations and struggles. We think of the 50’s that way because it was the first time in history that this was possible outside of the aristocracy.
In the 1990’s the internet did little to change privacy. It was actually a place of total anonymity, where kids and 20somethings used funny handles to mask their true identities.
But those kids have grown up, and we use the internet for commerce, networking, and socializing.
That doesn’t work if I don’t know who you are. Use your real fucking name.
It doesn’t work if I can’t reach you. Put your email address on your Facebook. If you get spam, meh. Spam filter will deal with it.
This can’t be put back in the box. The 60 year period where people could buy anonymity has come to an end. Not having a Facebook page is about as friendly as turning off the lights and pretending you aren’t home when a friend knocks on the door—it’s your right to do it, but it prevents communication and rubs people the wrong way.
How I Deal
All in all this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. A lot of people are scared about their personal info being available to strangers. I credit this partly to misinformation (hackers will get into my email! Facebook will sell my home address to Somali pirates!), but I also credit it to delusions of grandeur. We like to think people are beating down the door to get our personal information, but we’re not that important. Sure, marketers want your contact info, but they can buy it from the Red Cross or your college alumni association. Unless you’re a senator you don’t have any enemies plotting how to use your relationship history to ruin you. (And if you are a senator your enemies will hire a P.I., so keep it in your pants)
My approach to this brave new world is to embrace it. I friend everyone who friends me, and I’ve met cool people that way. I make it easy to find my contact info, and I therefore have a reputation for being accessible and helpful. I end up getting invited to more awesome events, I network more in my field, and I reach a lot of people with my ideas.
I’ve found that the benefit of making my personal info public by far outweighs the cost. As the cost of privacy rises—a cost measured both in time and effort, but also in social opportunities and career opportunities—this will become true for more and more people.
What has your experience been with privacy, and have you “gone public”? Has the benefit outweighed the cost? And if you still try to protect your privacy—how successful do you feel you are?
My book Lúnasa Days is available on Kindle and in paperback. Get your copy here.