Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Private information on the Internet?

I apologize for being so quiet in the last few weeks. Midterm exams, the setting up of a new team-blog, and some other life things got in the way. So for now, here's a little something for you to chew:

Language Complications ~ Part 12

So we've all seen the problem about privacy issues over the internet, especially with social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and such. Users of such online programs worry about their "private" information, and are consistently complaining about how the information they put online, including addresses, cell-phone numbers, pictures, etc, are/can be seen by potential strangers which increase the chance of getting stalked, either online or in real life.

Now, this is all normal and good, but let’s take a step backwards and look at a somewhat bigger picture:

I'mma tell you a sekret, kays?
Now you be mum about this, and don't tell anyone else!
Say I have a secret. Like..."I don't consume Oxygen". Obviously, this is a huge secret for me. If this gets out to the general public, it could be dangerous because 1: News agencies and talk shows would all come for me, and 2: Scientists would be interested in cutting me open for scientific research. So we can all agree that this is a huge secret, no?

Now, say I was living 500 years ago. I had no internet, but I did have a best friend. So I go up to this friend of mine one day and I say: "Hey listen, I have this huge secret, but because you're my friend, I'll tell you if you promise not to tell anyone else," and he/she/it goes like: "Oh yeah? Well, you can trust me for sure. I won't tell anyone, even if my life depended on it!" So I tell this friend about my lack of oxygen consumption, and then life continues.

Now, say that my friend and I had an argument, and in anger, he/she/it decided to broadcast my secret to his/her/it's friends. They, in turn, spread this information to their friends. All of a sudden, my situation is out of control, my social rankings drop, my boyfriend hates me, my teachers refuse to accept me, my parents kick me out of the house, and I get captured by evil scientists planning to cut me open for research.
(…and this is why aliens can't coexist with humans.)

Now, coming back to present day, say I have that same secret, but this time my friend is someone who goes by the name "Facebook". So one day I'm at the store with Facebook, and I decide, since I think Facebook is a good friend, that I'll tell him/her/it my secret (oh god, if Facebook doesn't go to the washroom, it’s impossible to find out what gender it is...). So I go: "Hey man, I've got this highly important piece of secretive information, but I think you're an important friend to me, so I think you have the right to know.", and then Facebook goes: "Well, if you're comfortable with saying it, by all means, I'll love to hear. Just sign here and here and remember that I'm only human." So I tell him/her/it my information and life continues.

The next day, I wake up to the sound of the FBI and scientists breaking into my house.

In all seriousness, if I had a choice, I would rather talk to Facebook than the friend in my first example. I mean, I fully trusted my friend, but they still betrayed me nevertheless. Facebook actually told me (The Terms and Conditions) that my information might not be too safe if I told him/her/it. Yes, no one actually reads all of that stuff, it’s really simply there to remind you that the internet isn't perfect or airtight or 100% secretive (aka, it's not quite as awesome as you may think it is).

The problem here, however, still goes back to the definition of the word "private". When I told my friend that I lacked oxygen, was my secret still "private" information? Once someone other than me knows this information, I'm completely at the mercy of others. My secret is no longer private, so when my friend tells this information to someone else, that's not an invasion of privacy. Granted, I should probably go find a better friend, but he/she/it wasn't invading my privacy, simply because the information is no longer private! She doesn't have a right to keep that information private because I’m the one who began spreading it.

The same thing happens over the internet. Social networking sites, such as Facebook, rely on you giving it information. Kind of like a friend. When you enter anything (date of birth, contact information, etc) you are technically telling Facebook this information. It's no longer private information. When Facebook in turn broadcasts this information to the general public, they're not invading your privacy, they're just playing a very accurate version of broken telephone.

I think the main reason why people have problems with this so-called "privacy" infringement online is because of the sheer size of it. If my friends told their friends about me, my information still won't get very far. When Facebook tells other users about me, however, this information is available worldwide (of course, it probably still won't get very far simply because no one cares).

So the next time you see someone complaining about the lack of "privacy" over the internet, remember: what they're actually saying is:

"Oh My Gawd! You know my friend? She told everyone about what I told her about my plastic surgery! And I told her to keep it a secret! I mean, yeah, I told like, 7 of my other friends, my neighbor, the old lady down the street, and my boss about it too, but I told them to not tell anyone, so it's still a secret!! What a B@%#$ she is!"

Seriously? Go find a better friend.
See what I mean?

Credits: Came off something I noticed while listening to a debate earlier today at school. Yes, my mind wanders around. Can't tell you any more though, since that's really secretive stuff. Unless you promise not to tell anyone else?