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.