Internet Privacy: A Power User Perspective
Were I to give this blog a standard title, it would sound something like this: “Why I Support Online Privacy Invasion”. Of course, that’d be assuming that I use regular titles.
A recent slew of online blogs chronicled the release of Google’s “Me on the Web” tool; an online reputation management tool that uses all of your existing internet presence to create a user-friendly ‘dashboard’ of your online presence. Personally, I think it’s a terrific idea. However, the biggest concerns dealt with the idea of online privacy invasion because, god forbid, you must first submit all of your online information to Google prior to them categorizing it in this new tool. E.g. you must submit all of your social network, publication, photo, and video information for Google to process. With the endless cries of “privacy invasion!” I have to ask…what’s the big deal?
Allow me to explain…
I would consider myself among the online elite; a self-proclaimed internet “Power user” that feels more comfortable finding directions on the internet than asking a real human being. We power users do a majority of our shopping online, with internal cringing when we have to go to ‘real stores’ because we know we are paying at least a 20% markup to cover the cost of utilities, employee healthcare, and high real estate fees. When there’s an easier, cheaper, and more time-efficient way to do things, why not adopt it?
That being said, I have been a power user of the internet since the age of 12, where I first started sending emails. With each new twist and turn of the net, I quickly adopted, critiqued, and made use of many a .com sensation. When Facebook’s primary advertising was “Facebook me!” on AOL Instant Messenger profiles, I was a user. When MySpace first launched – I was in. When Xanga.come blogs were overly popular – I had three. To this day, I still maintain one. That’s neither here nor there. When the first handheld computers came out (Compaq iPaq, Palm i) I was of the first to play with them. Before tablet computers were ever popular, I owned a Compaq Concerto, as well as a Vadem Clio (by far, one of the best models ever created). I have also been a power user of portable electronic devices, being one of the first to own the Sanyo SCP-8900 (one of the first camera cell phones), Sanyo SCP-4900 (one of the first color cell phone screens), and the Motorola Razr, prior to them being popular teenybopper phones.
The overall point is…when it comes to technology, I get it. And I get it very well. I’ll take this moment to stand on my soapbox and proclaim my thoughts on online privacy.
For the longest time, I’ve wondered what the big issue of online privacy is. I have spoken to countless individuals who have this idea that “Big Brother” is always watching over them. They’re right. What they don’t acknowledge is that Big Brother has also made their lives much easier through easy-to-follow GPS directions, endless passwords that are automatically stored, and digital photo albums that will forever capture memories much better than the stinky albums in their bookshelves. Big Brother has also provided the ability for millions of couples to meet, marry, and have children. Online record keeping, financial transactions (the big scary item) and banking has never, ever been simpler. In fact, because “Big Brother” is so large on the internet, He’s more than happy to make sure you get your money, first, in case of an online dispute, and then go resolve the problem – in the case of PayPal Buyer Protection Program.
I’m envisioning some huge PayPal thug going to break the thumbs of the last person to rip me off online over some false eBay items…get em’ good, champ!
Ok, back to privacy…
Even in the case of a catastrophic privacy invasion, where all of your information, financial information, and family photos (or naughty ones) were released onto the internet, you must factor in the fact that you are one among millions. Schools of fish take refuge in numbers, and the school of the internet is infinitely larger than any silver cloud of oceanic fish.
The real issue at hand stems from the other hidden sin of the internet; that everybody perceives themself as some sort of internet star; inside the mind of every individual taking a photo is the thought “how will this look on my Facebook profile?” Digital cameras have revolutionalized the drunk life of sorority girls worldwide; allowing them to remember exactly what they did the night before. And no, honey, those Uggs look just as bad drunk as they do sober. Thanks.
However, it’s this idea that everybody is somehow a ‘star’ on the internet. Photo comments, “like” buttons, and easy online photo editing software allow even the homeliest person to feel as if they have a devoted onlintourage of followers. This disproportionate relationship of Twitter followers to real friends, Facebook friends to best friends, has created a world where people believe they are much more popular – or vulnerable – than they really are. It allows you to invite thousands of people to a birthday party – regardless of whether or not they are thousands of miles away – yet still be disappointed when only 3 people show up. It allows you to feel the benefit of instant feedback, compliments, and even social interactions without leaving the comfort of your room – or your underwear.
This artificial online spotlight is what I attribute to be the primary cause of fear over online privacy. The artificial spotlight is the blatant lie that in the wide ocean of the depthless internet…you somehow matter more than the next guy/girl. And that’s just what it is; a bold, blatant, ugly lie. Your kissy face photos are much more alarming than the possibility that your information may be stolen or somehow misused by a out-of-luck Nigerian prince.
I’ll wrap up quickly here…
The primary institutions behind the systems that raise flags for online security, such as social networks (Twitter, Facebook, Match.com), online banking (Chase, BofA, Citibank), or online purchasing (Ebay, PayPal, etc.) are much more concerned about your information than you are. For example, if PayPal were to have an issue where your information were to be leaked, and all of the money in your PayPal account were to be lost, do you honestly think they wouldn’t resolve the situation before you even knew there was a problem? These institutions are much more afraid of losing your valuable business than you ought to be over losing your account information. In addition, these institutions have hordes of online specialists who are commited to enhancing your security, information, and transactions. Truth be told, these web portals are much more secure than the house where you sleep.
The internet has allowed significant advances in our civilization, but also in the realm of time saving. I cannot imagine a world where I would have to wait several days for a piece of mail to be delivered (email) or where I would have to manually process/develop my photos, pay bills manually, or have to cut a check every time I ordered something from a thick paper catalog. Perhaps our information will never be fully secure (because I can assure you, it’s not safe in the comfort of your own home) but I believe entirely in full submission and processing of information by the online Big Brothers. With every bit of information I release to them, they continue to make my life a much happier place.
And so, I happily present my release of information. If Google/Apple want to track my phone location so they can better predict traffic patterns on their maps, go ahead! If Google would like to use my current location so it saves me from having to type it in on maps, absolutely! If Facebook would like to know what I “Like” so they can suggest new products/features, by all means! And if Mint.com would like to know all of my banking information so they can quickly process my monthly budgets, yearly taxes, and cost-saving information, I grant full permisssion!
There’s joy to be lost in obscurity…