Privacy in the Internet – How can something we share on the web be private?

One of the hot button issues on the web these days is internet privacy, mostly with regards user generated content. I can’t even begin listing the various attacks on facebook, google, pretty much any internet company or service on the subject (here’s just an example comparing the privacy problem to that of SOPA and internet censor). Most are legitimate attacks, but they’re really missing the point. If you’re more of the visual kind, check google images results for internet privacy – and just see how many people are scared.

To begin this discussion, let’s look at the definition of “privacy” (taken from Miriam Webster, so you won’t need to worry about precision):

a : the quality or state of being apart from company or observation : seclusionb : freedom from unauthorized intrusion <one’s right toprivacy>

Did you notice the problem with the definition with regards to internet privacy? It does not address user generated content – or any content that has been willingly shared!

Obviously not all user generated content is shared with everyone, but you can’t compare it to content that’s completely private. Consider this – if you put something private in public space, it is up to you to protect it. You lock your bicycles when you put them on the street, you put your bags in a locker, you burry your treasure. I’m not saying you’re the only one responsible – if my bike get’s stollen I damn sure want the police to go after the thief. But I won’t leave my bike unlocked or unattended.

Be that as it may, why should I care about all this talk about privacy. Is too much privacy bad? 

There is such a thing as unreasonable security measures – anyone who’s used a system with an annoying password policy, too many verification steps and nagging confirmations can tell you. Privacy can also go too far. Consider annonimity – no doubt it allows for the best privacy possible.  It does however limit accountability – a problem that exists in the real world as well.

And how about the perks – consider how much twitter’s success owes to it’s publicity. It’s been used to follow real live events and trends and made a significant real world impact in several countries, as did facebook. Everyone likes to quote The Onion’s facebook story, showing the potential for spying on these networks. But unless you’re in a regime that would bother doing so, why should you worry? Frankly, we’ve already seen a few regimes that should have been able to deal fall. With all their power to follow, where people stand up against them.

Once again, I’m not trying to minimize the problem. All I’m saying, is let’s keep things in perspective – asking for accountability for what’s being shared about us is OK. I for one think we need to be more aware of how the “free” services we use get financed – it’s true for real life as much as for the internet. But even then, if you’re in control of what you share, you probably shouldn’t care too much.

In short – if we really want privacy, social servies are not the place to look for it.

What’s your take on the matter? Am I too far off?

via tumblr at February 12, 2012 at 04:26AM. Originally posted on


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