It’s Choose Privacy Week, and I had to haul myself out of the midst of finals and job hunting to post about it. As someone who’s spent a huge chunk of her social life online, starting in middle school, this is a big deal to me.
I deleted my Facebook account earlier this year because their privacy standards were just disgraceful. (Actually, I disabled my Facebook — it took Dan Yoder’s Top Ten Reasons You Should Quit Facebook for me to figure out how to delete it, and if that doesn’t bother you a little, it should.) Of course, that was an easy decision for me; I’ve never used Facebook very much. The other online service I can imagine having to quite for privacy reasons would be Google, and that would be a huge production. I’m not worried about Google yet, but I might be some time in the future.
By the time I was in college, I was constantly getting advice about what I should and shouldn’t allow to exist about me online. Your future employers can find you, I was told. Don’t post anything online you wouldn’t want your employer to know about. This is, to someone who’s grown up online, ridiculous. It was ridiculous to me, and it’s even more ridiculous to kids who are in high school and college now, when half of their lives or more are online and they can’t imagine their lives without it. And yet, somehow, the solution is to control your own information rather than to expect the people who promised your information would be secure to keep it that way. (Obligatory xkcd reference: 137. Warning, foul but justified language.)
I have more than one online identity; I’ve always used a pseudonym and it’s only in grad school that I’ve started putting my real name out there. The two are as disconnected as I can make them, and while I’m sure someone could connect the two if they really, really wanted, I’m reasonably comfortable with the way things are right now. I would not be comfortable if my multiple online identities came crashing in to one another. I have posted nothing online that I’m ashamed of, and nothing that should jeopardize my professional reputation or job chances — but there’s still a gap between should and could, and I have posted things that fall into that gap.
My favorite piece on this topic I’ve seen recently is this paper by dana boyd from this year’s SXSW conference. “No matter how many times a privileged straight white male technology executive pronounces the death of privacy,” she says, “Privacy Is Not Dead.” I can’t help but think that the “privileged straight white male” part of that sentence might be the most important part. Some people have something to lose through no fault of their own. They, too, should be able to use the Internet and social media to connect with their friends and family, to form communities, to explore identities without sacrificing their jobs, reputations, and sometimes their safety. It’s important to hold companies like Facebook responsible for their privacy policies — and privacy violations — and make sure that they understand that we won’t stand for it forever.