Electronic Belongings: Just What Are You Leaving Behind?

The rise of Big Brother has long been a topic of discussion here. We have talked about cameras in the classroom, the FamilyMap service and the potential use of Google Earth by terrorists and all manners of surveillance and invasions of privacy in between.

However how diligent are we when taking action to guard our own privacy?

Let us start with the obvious — how strong are your passwords, do you clear your browser cache, do you clear your computer history?

Then let us move on to your mobile phone use, your GPS use, and do not forget your credit card use, either.

Now let us examine the slightly less obvious — those insidious adverts at the side of Gmail — the targeted advertising based on electronic reading of your mails and of course the new targeted adverts in your Facebook sidebar.  (These actually make me laugh — as my ISP is Portuguese they put up Portuguese adverts and I cannot understand a word of them.)

Facebook is wonderful — it’s a social networking site — it encourages you to play games, connect with your family and friends and with new people who you meet playing games, and in all kinds of interest groups. It is the virtual pub or club right here in your front room.

Your mate Bill, who you play Farmville with, has a friend called Jill who also plays Farmville, suggests that you and Jill become friends and neighbours in Farmville.   Just like Bill would introduce Jill to you in the pub. This continues ad infinitum as Jill repeats the process with all her friends who also play Farmville, and they do the same.  Before you know it your friends list on Facebook is in the thousands.

You happily go through your daily life playing your games, sharing Grumpy Cat photographs, words of wisdom and family snapshots. You share pictures of places you have been, tagged them with place date and friends who were with you , you might also use the “check in” app, that tells your friends where you are having a coffee, a McDonald’s  or spending a night in a luxury hotel.

There all in one place is your life — where you have been — who you were with, what hobbies and interests you have, what social activities you like, how often and what you drink, your political views and your religion.

You do not have any problems sharing this with your friends, your posts are not public, and you have blocked a couple of people you had an argument with and dropped a few off your list because you were fed up of their whining.

Are you concerned about this?  Probably not — most people cleaned up their social networks after it became apparent that potential employers were using social networks to check up on possible new employees. Think again because your new Facebook “friend” may be a member of the FBI.

As early as 2010 NBC reported that “U.S. law enforcement agents are following the rest of the Internet world into popular social-networking services, going undercover with false online profiles to communicate with suspects and gather private information.”

It is not just Facebook; it is Twitter, MySpace and LinkedIn too, even though all their terms of service prohibit the setting up of accounts in false names and the posting of false information.

Be warned — maybe self-censoring is the best option — switch off the tagging, maybe create a family only family filter to share your family pictures, delete the apps that tell the whole world and their policemen where you are and what you are doing.

Make sure you shut your front door before you complain about invasion of your privacy.

12 comments

  • I appreciate you sounding the privacy warning, Nicola. Your specific examples will help people realize just what is being tracked and metered. I don’t know if we can ever take back what we’ve already shared, but we can change our future behavior and stop giving away the intimacies of our lives.

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  • I wrote this after reading a rather vociferous post about big brother watching you on facebook by a friend who tends to use facebook as a public diary rather than a social networking site. It occured to me that many could actually have taken their eye off the ball so to speak. I spoke to them and pointed out just how much they were sharing and how and they were horrified.

    I am not sure how much we can do to erase our internet past – once it is out there it is hard to reel it back in unseen. You can untag your photogrpahs on Facebook – I labouriously went through mine deleting most of my geo tags – unfriending people I did not come into contact with very often and with whom I had no mutual friends. Quite a turn around for someone who used to use the internet as a tool to generate business.

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    • It’s interesting what people thought, say five years ago, when they put all their private details on a social networking site like Facebook. Did they think they were entering their details in a bank that would protect and insure the valuable assets of their digital lives?

      Or did they think they were giving looking glass access to their lives where no secrets were allowed?

      I think the first wondering was the set default and I’m not sure where this inherent, but false, sense of safety and privacy was thought to be the default when going online.

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  • Gordon Davidescu

    Good warning — for this reason our family photos are private on Facebook and Flickr!

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  • I never really post on Facebook or Twitter that much and I get constantly nagged by friends about it too. The best part is when I am on Facebook there’s never anything all that interesting on there that will get me wrapped up in it like everyone else is. I also don’t see the same fascination everyone has with Twitter. I have had my Twitter account for almost a year and I haven’t even posted more than 200 tweets, which makes me wonder how I keep hearing all these stories about people tweeting so much that Twitter actually cuts them off and doesn’t allow them to tweet for a certain period of time. What could you possibly doing that you’re tweeting that much?

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  • Twitter went right over my head – I have had an account for years and I hardly ever use it – I just do not get it at all ! Have to confess I am a bit of a FB addict – but I used to play a lot of games on there.

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  • A little update here to include a piece from the BBC on the new Graph Search being rolled out across facebook.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-21668171

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  • http://www.knowledgeoftoday.org/2012/02/privacy-is-dead-google-knows-all-about.html#.UTsdZlfUgQY

    “Privacy is not about data – it’s about people. Privacy is not about secrecy, it is not about hiding information and is not a technology problem – Privacy is a social problem. Privacy is concerned with the proper handling of Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and respecting the dignity of the individual to whom the information refers”

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