The Myth of Privacy Online

Privacy online is a hot topic. I will be honest and say I never really get what the fuss is about.

social media privacy
Not cool with it being on a billboard? Don’t put it online! (Yeah, that’s me on the left)

Recently it seems everyone is up in arms over Klout changing it’s algorithm resulting in many people’s scores plummeting. Some are accusing Klout of “stealing” their information.

Every time Facebook changes it’s privacy settings the global trend is to complain about how evil they are to do such a thing.

Some even say Google+ is the best network because it respects privacy. LinkedIn and Twitter don’t seem to receive the same level of hate because, I guess, it’s widely understood that the info there is meant to be found.

Ok, so WHAT is the problem people?

Here are some friendly reminders about social media and online presences:

No one forced you to put that information online

Did Mark Zuckerberg come to your house with a gun and say “Dude, put ALL your family photos, your deepest darkest thoughts, and all your contact details on Facebook NOW”? I didn’t think so.

Similarly, no social network respects your privacy – kind of goes against the whole idea doesn’t it?

Klout may have “stolen” your information and created profiles against your will but they are NOT the only ones. They are only using the same information that you’ve already posted up all over the internet.

Don’t all search engines work like that too?

And, no, Google+ isn’t any better.

C’mon, when was the last time you saw Google making things impossible to find?

There is no such thing as a FREE lunch

If you are not paying for a service or a product then YOU are the PRODUCT not the customer. Let me illustrate:

Facebook Privacy

All these tools are free for you to use. It’s up to you to decide how YOU use them.

Manage your online presence

THINK before you post.

Do you really think that album “Good Times” on Facebook is really private?

Do you really want your future employer/spouse/client to see you in a bikini/dressed as a giant baby/making out with a random dude/doing something illegal?* (delete as appropriate)

I’m not saying you should put up images of yourself in a suit and tie to protect your online image but at the end of the day THINK.

If you are not happy with something being put up on a billboard then maybe it shouldn’t go online. 

Use that as your mantra and I promise you’ll stop crying about the evil that are the free online tools.

At the end of the day you are free to disable your online accounts, cut off your electricity, and go and live in a cave.

That way NO ONE will ever be able to find you.

Just watch out, I think that’s how they found Bin Laden.

How do you manage your online presence?


image source: Geek and Poke

50 Responses to The Myth of Privacy Online

  1. A real reminder, online has become ubiquitous, we carry it with us on our ipads, iphones, home, at the office, there is no special space for online anymore.
    It’s definitely not restricted to the office.

    Everything we write, post and with phones like the nexus google, take a picture of, instantly becomes public.
    The online companies will tell you to check your privacy settings. Who are they trying to fool?
    Apparently nobody under 13 is allowed on FB, really? When was the last time FB closed a 10 year old’s account?

    After the recent hysteria over Klout I wonder if we will see the same emotional outburst over Google searches?
    They do pickup everything you post, then rank it right?

    • You know we agree on this totally!

      I would like to hear someone complain that Google ranked them on the first page …. imagine? SHOCK HORROR Google found my site and made it the top of the search results … doubt anyone would bitch about that!

  2. Hi, Ameena
    I must admit that I really don’t like all this privacy problems. I just believe that no one should be allowed to use private information without permission.
    But, when I think about it, you’re absolutely right. You’ve explained it perfectly especially with this picture.
    The fact is that we can’t save our privacy completely. So, maybe the best way to at least try to keep it for ourselves is to follow this rule.

    • Thanks Daca – glad you found it interesting and made you think.
      I think if you read the small print on most social networks you give permission when posting.
      Does Google ask your permission to list you everywhere?

  3. I’m a little uncomfortable about my private life being accessible to my ex-husband, my husband’s ex-wife (and her friends), and any other people from my past that may care to Google my name and find out all the dirty little secrets about my life. I’m also a little uncomfortable about my children, my friends, my parents or my neighbours reading something I’ve written about them.

    And so I use that discomfort to guide me and I never expose too much of my private life to the online, Googling world and I never write things about my family or friends that I would be embarrassed to say to their face. It’s like your billboard example.

    I’m not really sure what people are complaining about!

    • Hey Michelle,

      Discomfort is always good. It makes us think, consider, and hopefully filter! I do wonder what people are thinking when they post things on facebook that could cost them their jobs.
      If you understand the tools correctly I think you don’t have much to complain about.

      Thanks for sharing!

  4. Hi Ameena,

    I agree with you, if you don’t want something to be public don’t upload it to the internet. Write it down on a piece of paper or call your friends.

    But still, it doesn’t justify the behaviour of some companies. Not everything is valid.

    • Hi Cristina,

      Oh how many times have I seen things and thought … “PRIVATE DIARY PEOPLE?”
      I’ve had no issues sharing pictures of my daughter with friends and family via email or snail mail. It works. Private communication can be kept private.

      Which companies are doing it wrong?

  5. Hi Ameena,
    Great billboard! I’m learning more about this subject from people who protect their online presence, namely the presence of their children! I love how they deliberately don’t mention a child’s name. Many bloggers are married but most have nameless spouses (unlike you and John!) It seems that the idea is: you’re here, they’re not, so don’t bring them here! I may mention my husband but I don’t usually quote him and I’ve never even mentioned his name.
    I don’t share a lot on facebook, mainly using it for business, but this is good advice.

    • Thanks Lori,

      Some people don’t know we have an 18m old daughter. They know I am a mother because I say I am. No one online has seen her face. They might see the back of her head … I’ve even had people ask me outright if there is something wrong with her because of her lack of online presence given that John and I work hard on ours.

      We give out what WE want people to know so I know I’d never accuse someone of stealing (famous last words!).

      Thanks for sharing!

  6. Hey Ameena,

    This is so true. In the transparent world that we live in, the info we put out there will almost always come back in some way, shape or form.

    There’s nothing wrong with that, but people need to think about the future when they post stuff. It doesn’t matter how crazy the stuff is that they post, as long as they’re ready for the consequences if it ever comes back.

    I like what you said about posting to a billboard – a simple, but ‘foolprrof’ way of being happy about your content.

    I love that as well – YOU are the product when you use a free service. Very good point.

    No one forces us to upload anything, but I think too many people see Social Media platforms as an outlet, particularly when they’re feeling emotional or whatever.

    Great post, totally agree with your points.

    • Thanks Robert!

      Yes, people do need to think before they post. My main concern is the younger users who do think only their community can see what they are uploading, but that’s for another post.

      Yes, we are the product of all the networks we use and abuse!

      Thanks for sharing!

  7. Love this Ameena. It is our choice. What do we want to share with the world ? Yes, the WORLD. I agree with you that we really need to think before we post. Not Drink before we post. Ha !

    Thanks again for all you do.


  8. Hi Ameena!
    Took 5 mins. to load this page, but I got here finally!
    Interesting conversation. I hesitate to mke a stand one way or another because I haven’t ever been “bitten”, for lack of a better word.
    Maybe I’d care more about what I said or posted if something bad had come of it. I don’t now.
    We’ve had our identity stolen 2x’s BEFORE doing anything online, back in the late ’90’s.
    So right now, I believe if someone wants to find you, malign you, or ruin you, you’d better focus on how to stand up, brush yourself off and move on.
    I don’t know how I’d feel if I was the cause of something bad happening because of something I’d said or done online. But I hope I’d be forgiven and that I wouldn’t let that stop me from being me.
    I HATE being careful!

    • Hi Betsy,

      Glad you got your internet woes sorted and made it over!!!

      Wow, that’s rough having your identity stolen twice. WOW.

      Being cautious is one way of looking at things. At the end of the day we can be in control, to some extent of our online identity. I prefer to look at it as being thinking before I post vs. being cautious. BUT when it comes to my daughter I am super careful about what goes online.

      Thanks for coming over!

  9. Good points, Ameena. There is incredible potential to use these new social features of the digital world to showcase the good things we do, but with this great power comes great responsibility.

    My own issue with Klout is not that they grab my info and rank me, but that they display that rank in such a way as to imply my endorsement of their product and give me no way to opt out.

    As the digital world grows ever more reflective of its analog counterpart, it is our personal responsibility to be mindful of what we are sharing where.

    The best revenge, then, is a life well-lived. 🙂

    • Hey Brian!

      Thanks for coming over 🙂

      Hmmm … I guess the whole Klout think irks me a lot. Have you heard someone complain that Google found them and then ranked them on the first page? Nope.

      At the end of the day a lot of us are in social media for business – numbers matter. A lot.

      Klout, in my opinion hasn’t done anything worse than Facebook pushing your latest post into your friends’ feed more often because of the level of engagement or Google ranking you on a search result.


      • Exactly, Ameena. You can’t have it both ways.

        Being recognized in the public domain requires give-and-take. We have to take the good with the bad. Just like we do in the real world.

        You make a salient point, though. Search engine rank really isn’t any different from what Klout’s up to. Still, I’m one of those people who isn’t concerned about SEO.

        I believe we are no more our “influence” score than we are our credit scores, post counts, number of subscribers, or even our resumes. I believe we are what we do.

        Thanks for the interesting conversation!

        • Hey! This is really interesting! Thanks for keeping me on my toes 🙂

          Yes, SEO is something I don’t really go crazy about. I do what I do and hope for the best – I want my content to speak for itself.

          Also my objectives are different to some. I guess objectives also impact the way you look at the way things are ranked/scored.

          Here’s to doing what we do, and doing it well (hopefully!)


  10. Yo Ameena, this seriously made me smile. It’s funny how much you and I think alike on much of this stuff. Plus we both think your husband is awesome. Guess we’re like twins, ehhh? 😉

    You know what’s funny? Before it’s all said and done, there is going to be 1000 Klouts. Yep. At least that.

    In fact, the day will come when we’re going to laugh our butts off over the fact we actually cared, because that will be the least of our worries 😉

    Rock on sista,


  11. Outside of your addition to Klout in the privacy argument I agree. I don’t see Klout as invading privacy (outside of the creating accounts for minors that merely posted on the FB wall of their mother’s accounts) but rather crossing the line of making scores for people that didn’t create accounts public. But that’s another matter…

    My guiding rule online is that if I don’t want anyone to know about it I won’t put it online, or tell anyone about it either – we can’t control what other people put online. Having said that, I’ll post just about anything about myself or situation online. I feel it helps to create deeper connections with others. And if I’m ever in doubt of whether I should post something, I go back to my guiding rule.

    • Hey Robert,

      That’s the thing with online – if you comment anywhere it’s traceable – it’s always online. How is Klout’s profile creation any different to Google attaching your comment to your name on a search result?

      As far as minors are concerned I think we need to go back to the root – we need to be educating kids about social media and it’s implications. We can’t really blame the tools.

      At least we agree that we need to be mindful of what we post online. 🙂

      • I somehow doubt that the lady’s son who I’m referencing in my comment thought that he’d have a Klout account automatically generated for him because he posted a comment on his mother’s Facebook wall. It’s definitely not a standard behavior of Facebook.

        That isn’t blaming the tool it’s blaming the company for choosing to do something like that. It’s an unexpected behavior to be sure.

        As for Google attaching my comments to my name, I can choose to not create a Google account or comment on blogs with my actual name (that’s linked to my gravatar account that has my image). Is that going to happen though? No.

        We’re past the point of determining whether or not to participate online – we must. Especially those of us who can’t meet our communities in real-life that easily.

        What’s at issue here in the greater scheme of things is what the image in your post is showing – we’re trading our privacy for the ability to use free tools. We are the product. That doesn’t mean though that we can’t attempt to take back some of our privacy and desire a different model to appear.

        The more that people realize just what they’re giving up in order to get a lot of free stuff the more these issues – privacy and the use of all this info we put online – will need to be addressed.

        At this point we’re still in the realization and conversation phases.

        • Ameena,

          This is a great discussion. I am going to jump in with Robert here because I would like to add to this thread. Here is where I would differentiate what Klout does and where it can be problematic.

          I think many people who react to what Klout does on a visceral level immediately jump to “violation of privacy” as what they feel is wrong with Klout. But as you correctly point out, if you don’t want the information out there, don’t post it on the Internet. Violating privacy is not Klout’s true problem, it is taking that information and making a public value judgement about the person that creates the problem.

          I think it differs from Google in a fundamental way. Google judges individual pieces of content, not the person that created the content, and tries to determine the relevance of that content in the context of other pieces of similar content. Klout makes judgements that are far-reaching about an individual’s value (“influence”) devoid of almost any context at all. These are fine lines, true, but I think relevant ones in this case.

          • Hi Adam, thanks for sharing – I hadn’t really thought of it in that way. In all honesty I tend to just go with it all because at the end of the day I really don’t have time to get into the intricate details of tools that don’t impact my business – as I’ve said in the past, if anyone chose not to work with me based on my Klout score then it’s their loss, not mine.

  12. Hi Ameena,

    This reminds me a lot about the time when I was teaching teachers at the university on how to use the new content management system (CMS) to publish information to our website. I was going to teach them to publish information about themselves and their CV and research online. This was about seven years ago. Many of the teachers refused (not all of them, but many), because they told me that anyone could find their information online. And that it was a breach of privacy.

    I ended up asking them why this was a problem. Isn’t that exactly what we want? I didn’t get any smiles or any laughs 🙂

    I agree with you 100%. Awesome post!

  13. I was at a conference this weekend about finding your ancestors, and sat in on a talk showing how to find living people online. The amount “private” information floating around for free was alarming! This man took an5 minute conversation he had with a woman, and plugged in what he learned about her, and discovered her last name and where she lived in a matter of minutes. There is nothing private about the internet – period!

    Thanks for the post!

  14. Hi Ameena,

    My rule has always been if you don’t want other people to know, than don’t plaster it online.

    I am a risk taker by nature, hence, I do things more boldly than some people. But that does not mean that I have not thought through the repercussions. It is simply a case of me willing to live with it if found out.

    I find that knowing the most horrible consequence helps in making the decision easier.

  15. I pretty much follow the simple principle you outlined – if you don’t want people picking up on it, don’t post it online. Like you said, it’s not rocket science… it’s just commonsense!

    I also wonder how much people who are really up in arms about privacy – and that is their prerogative – assess their own desires to be known, seen, heard. When you think about blogging, for example, even though it’s a relatively new phenomenon (in the grand scheme of things), journaling, which is where blogging came from, is not. I think it’s a basic human desire to express one’s feelings and thoughts, and now we’re using current technologies and communication platforms to do so.

    There is also an element of catharsis that comes with expressing one’s self, and I know you and I have both seen/experienced this time and time again, and I’ve seen it with others as well. So perhaps those who are uncomfortable with the openness of the Interwebz just haven’t found their happy medium between the cathartic nature of participating online and maintaining their personal boundaries? I don’t know. Just something I was thinking about.

    • Hey Shonali, Thanks for stopping by!

      I feel that everyone should be here by choice. As social media is relatively knew there is a lot people can learn about self censoring and being selective about what they put online.

      Guess I got fed up with people complaining about the info THEY posted ending up elsewhere.

  16. Good point Ameena,

    It’s simply a matter of being a little bit smart. Don’t want people to see those pictures? Don’t make them public, or better, don’t post them at all.

    Still, Facebook isn’t that innocent. They’ve stealthily changed TOS, or pushed changes silently. If only they were a little bit more open disclosing what they do with regards to privacy policies then, maybe, there wouldn’t be such an uproar every time something changes.

  17. Talk about getting it right. We are all guilty of putting our own stuff online and when it leaks out or becomes public the only person we have to blame is us.

    I have become very careful of what I put online and whatever you see is what I didn’t mind being online.

    Nice pic of you…that’s a huge billboard!

  18. I agree with you completely. I recently learnt my lesson with publishing stuff online. An old workmate started stalking me on facebook, then my blog, then twitter. Stole pictures from my Facebook and started editing them in creepy ways. (So now I am anonymous online.) You really need to be careful online and understand what you post may end up public. Anything you post on someone else’s wall, blog etc becomes their content.

    If you are not happy with something being put up on a billboard then maybe it shouldn’t go online = so incredibly true.

    Thanks for such an awesome post Ameena.

  19. Great post Ameena. Technology allows us the ease and freedom of instant access to the world at large. We truly have the world at our finger tips — and the world has us at theirs. That freedom – all freedom – comes at a price. It’s not really free.
    I don’t publish or post anything I don’t want shared with the world. People should to take responsibility for themselves. Social media sites will always protect their own interest first – just as you should protect your own interest first.
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks Sheila, it is a funny world we live in eh? I often tell people how they need to feed the online world – personally everything I put out has a reasoning behind it – I want to own my digital footprint but that doesn’t mean posting every little detail of my life either.

  20. I try to embrace the “being found easily” thing by leveraging it for my personal brand. No, I don’t just add random people to my facebook friends or anything but I mean, we share online to add dimension. You shouldn’t want that dimension to be slutty/inappropriate anyways.

    Also who is the jerk taking drunken pictures? Unfriend that guy.

    • 🙂 I totally agree with your Corey – I feed the online world what I want it to know and I don’t think I’m a genius by doing so by any means – I’ve been accused of being “too cautious” but seriously?!

      I’ve had words with friends from the past who posted pics of me that I’d prefer the world not to see – sadly they are still out there but you’d have to spend a LONG time digging to find them and, at the end of the day, who ever went digging would be disappointed.

      Anyone who thinks that a pic of you looking like total crap is worthy of facebook is NOT a friend. I agree – unfriend online and offline! 🙂

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