ControverSunday: Digital Privacy

Our new mistress of Controversy, Kathleen, gave us weeks to work on this one – the topic of digital privacy. Just like in high school and university, I left it to the last minute. Suck it, 36-year-old maturity!

Anyone can participate in the write-around! Check Kathleen’s blog for details of the next topic. And thank you to Our Lady of Perpetual Breadcrumbs and Accidents for the concept and the badge, respectively.


My position on digital privacy is: there is no such thing. Or, more accurately, it is a different thing than real-life privacy. A lot of the ballyhoo about Your Privacy Online stems, I think, from peoples’ idea that we must be as private online as we are in real life. Well, if you have no email accounts and never surf the web, then yes, you can achieve that goal, but any little poke at the Internet leaves a fingerprint, right?

Everything I write on this blog I assume will be read by an audience of millions. (Over my lifetime, right?) I have made my peace with everything I put on Facebook and everything I put on Twitter and basically everything I say in an electronic format.

I don’t use my kids’ real names because they haven’t made the choice to be Digital Citizens. I don’t want them googleable, just yet, even though they are second-tier googleable, if that makes sense. In other words, an extra-smart koala could figure out our names and addresses from the lazy trail we’ve left on the web, and make us googleable in no time flat. If that koala had nothing better to do, and often they don’t, especially the ones in captivity.

But outside of the digital realm, I have social insurance cards for the kids, and birth certificates. They have bank accounts. They exist, on paper, in the world and at least a few hundred people know about it. So I can’t say with a straight face “One should not use one’s children’s real names on the Internet” because should one write one’s child’s name on a government form? What is the difference between a digital existence and a paper one? Are social insurance numbers sacred, because to that I say Ha.

When they are old enough (I don’t know what age that is) (old enough to not click on the things that blink at them, I guess) they will have digital presences of their own. They will probably want Facebook profiles, if Facebook still exists and hasn’t been totally taken over by old people, and I will tell them to go ahead but to remember that it is a bulletin board in the middle of a small town. That everything they say there can be copied, remembered and held against them (or for them, if they are GENIUSES) forever and ever amen.

There are two major arguments I have heard against children having digital presence:

1. Pedophiles.
2. Ruining their futures because they say stupid things and get drunk and post pictures of themselves drunk and no one wants to hire a drunk person who posts pictures of himself drunk on the Internet.

To refute:

1. Pedophiles don’t scare me. I know they are supposed to, because I have heard the DOOM PANIC about them and seen the Oprah shows but frankly, they’re sneaky by nature and I can’t prevent a sneaky person from being sneaky. Abuse happens to children in school, in church, on the street and more importantly, in their own houses, at the hands of people they trust. If you can go ahead and negate all those real-life presences too, I will worry about online predators.

And the kinds of pedophiles that steal photos of children from the Internet and DO THINGS to the pictures or with the pictures or whatever? That, also, does not scare me. It’s icky, yes. But it’s just an image. Until you print it, it’s not even a tangible image. Maybe it’s because as a woman I know that one out of every hundred (oh sigh, used to be one of ten) guys (possibly girls too) who looks at me is making a mental note for later, you know what I mean. So you learn to shake it off and not suspect everyone you pass on the street of being a creepy voyeur.

There are so many things that happen on the Internet that I don’t want to know about. Furries, for example. Someone might find a picture of my cat on the Internet and fall in love with him. It doesn’t change how I feel about my cat. It doesn’t change, more importantly, how my cat thinks about himself, because he is completely unaware of any wrongdoing.

2. By the time my kids are of an age to be looking for jobs, I suspect there won’t be anyone without a digital presence. By then, we will all have learned to keep our drunk photos to ourselves and to keep our rabid political views and fantasies about cats out of the public arena. Sort of like when people first started using telephones and had to learn what they could and could not say on a party line. That’s refutation number a).

Number b) is everyone has skeletons. And in The Future, my skeletons will be as public as your skeletons. That means that if my son is one of ten candidates and the boss or his assistant, more likely, is googling all ten candidates, if that were to happen TODAY, maybe two people would be googleable. And one of them would be a drunk creep with a cat fetish. But in The Future, they will ALL be googleable and thus perhaps googling won’t even be relevant. Perhaps they will take DNA samples instead. Perhaps drunk idiots will be all the rage. Who knows! I don’t! I can’t worry about it; there is plenty of other stuff to worry about.

We think about The Future in caps like that, because we are straddling two worlds – the world we grew up in and the world our kids are growing up in. Think of a resume from 20 years ago; 3 or more pages of boring stuff, down to your high school diploma, with your volunteer experience and hopes and dreams tucked in at the end. Now, resumes are short, to the point, driven by ambition. We want the connection of the web but we are nervous about the transparency and to that I say tough. If you have real, live secrets, keep them tucked in an envelope under your mattress.

Rather than spending time covering our tracks and ensuring that our children are invisible to the digital eye, I think our time would be better spent teaching them (and ourselves) how to be good, responsible, community-driven people, on and off line.

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