Would Good Fences Make Us Good Neighbors Online?

How safe is your privacy online?

Privacy. Is there really such a thing any more? How much do others know about you? How much can you find out about others?

I’ve recently watched a video online showing Arthur C. Clarke’s 1974 prediction about today’s internet. In it he describes a world where we can communicate with others around the world, search bank statements, and buy theatre tickets from our homes. The reporter from ABC then questions what impact will the future technology have on our social lives. I wonder if he was thinking about the impact technology would have on our relationships with others or was he seeing a possible stress on our privacy?

I have a sister that is deeply afraid of doing anything online that leaves a digital foot print. Her skin crawls when thinking the idea that someone in the world might have information out there online about her. She was freaked out that I was able to quickly pull up her and her husband’s address, phone number, and past residences in less than a minute. What made her really upset was when I showed her pictures of herself on facebook. She doesn’t have a facebook account, but her friends do. They have posted her picture without her knowledge. In the past people would print their pictures and have them in albums to share in their home. At home… not with thousands around the world.

Sharing photos online has become so easy. Wether your using FB, Instagram, or any other sharing platform, it’s just too easy. I have a friend that likes to post pictures to FB while were out. One time I got a  messages from a friend in the Middle East on my phone telling me to order the sweet and sour strawberry shrimp and realize my friend just tagged me in a photo as I came into the restaurant. That is a little weird to me having people on other continents know where I am and what I’m doing without me telling them. This is the spin off of being so connected though. There aren’t any fences high enough to keep what you put online totally private.

I read an article from Forbes titled “How Target Figured Out A Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did” online. In the article it talks about how shopping online or browsing someones site that you’ve created an account on is constantly feeding them consumer information about yourself. The store can use this information to make statistical predictions about you and send direct marketing lures tailored for just for you. Is this an invasion of your privacy? Is it more than looking in your cart at the store? To the father that didn’t know his daughter was pregnant, yes.

A colleague and I debated over this article and talked about being modern day consumer and maintaining your privacy. We both agreed that you have to be smart. In the interest in the case above we went online and started to register for a Target account. As you register, the box for “please send me Target offers and promotions”  is already checked. It even has a link telling you how it’s going to use your information. They tell you. There isn’t a surprise. People just need to be more educated on what to look for while signing up on line. The pregnant young lady had a choice to leave the box clicked or not.

Our daily web searches are being tailored to our interests as well as our music and videos too.  Combining sites one can probably create a collective picture of my favorite foods, colors, teams, vacations spots, restaurants, books, music, movies, and more by monitoring my online behavior. Even though we have an obligation to read the fine print while we conduct our daily lives online, do others have a moral responsibility as well to help us maintain our online privacy?