Something About Privacy

The issue of maintaining privacy online is a tricky one for me. In the first place, I’m part of Gen Y and we love the Internet and being engaged online. That mandates giving up a certain degree of privacy. On top of that, I lean toward over-sharing – I believe, in most cases, everyone is better served by honest conversation about everything; keeping topics taboo serves no one’s best interest. So I’m ok with having a pretty public life.

And I like what Penelope Trunk has had to say about privacy vs. celebrity: privacy, as she paraphrased Ashton Kutcher, is the new celebrity in this web 2.0 world where anyone can be a 5-minute sensation. I, like most people, fall into the category of people who can benefit from having less privacy. I want to benefit by being known online as a good writer and thinker of interesting thoughts.

But having a baby on the way has made me think differently.

At our baby shower last weekend, cousins from out of state said “Put pictures on Facebook as soon as you can! We can’t wait to see the little guy!”

But when I do that, I’m giving control of these images of my newborn son to Facebook and Mark Zuckerburg, who seems to truly not care about privacy. Maybe because he adheres to the same philosophy as Trunk, in which case what am I worried about? Who knows what kind of digital wonders my son will see in his lifetime. Everyone puts baby photos on Facebook these days; he’ll be in good company if shit ever does hit the fan.

At the same time, I do think there are other ways to share photos online without handing over almost limitless information to advertisers. And I’m not the only one with an icky feeling: Germany is protesting the use of facial recognition software on Facebook.

Maybe I’m foolish, but I trust Google a helluva lot more than Facebook. At least they provide a rich preferences page where you can see what they know about you, and thus what in turn advertisers know about you.

I do recognize the benefits of targeted advertising in theory – I only hear about products and services that might actually be useful to me – and maybe the icky feeling I have about how intrusive that is just means I’m part of Gen Y and can, however vaguely, remember a world without the internet.

Which is something Baby Williams will never be able to say.

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