Saturday, March 10, 2012

Past Deadline: Privacy on the Interwebs?

I had trouble deciding what to write about this week. I don’t want to talk about barfies anymore (we’re all better, thank you) and I’m not in the mood to discuss my stupid foot (at least not this week).

I’m guessing you’ll be okay with that.

If I were to provide gripping updates on either of those topics, there are numerous ways I could do so: a website, a blog, on Facebook, on Twitter, by e-mail, by smoke signal, by writing in snow, by taking out an ad, by writing a column....

Yes, we are a very connected world in a somewhat disconnected way.

There was a lot of noise and hubbub this week about Google’s new privacy policy, which they say is merely an effort to streamline and merge various different policies they had for their myriad products.

People who know stuff about privacy say that Google is up to no good and that this is akin to them knowing everything about everyone who uses any Google product and telling everyone else about it. Okay...I am paraphrasing that a little.

I did some reading about it, I perused the new policy, I went into my accounts and checked to see what my web history settings were and then I signed out and waited for the world to explode on March 1. I thought about tweeting Vic Toews to tell him I was wondering about it, but he probably already knows.

Privacy is a complex thing. There are loopholes and technicalities and I don’t claim to understand it all, but I do wonder: in the age of things like Facebook and Twitter, does “privacy” even exist anymore?

Privacy people have been talking about how Google will be tracking our every online move and will collect our data so that it can throw targeted ads our way. This is in the name of serving us better, I am given to understand.

So if I do a whole bunch of Google searches related to my stupid foot, there’s a good chance a bunch of ads for painkillers, orthotics and podiatrists will pop up on the screen.

Could be useful. Or creepy. That Interwebs is a mysterious thing.

Nevertheless, it seems somewhat hypocritical for someone like me to go spouting off about online privacy.

After all, strangers have been coming up to me in the street for years to chat about my life. It used to surprise me, especially because sometimes I forget what I have written about over here.

Recently a colleague sat beside me at a meeting. “You’ve gotta teach those kids to skate!” he said emphatically, adding, “I know too much about you.”

And it’s not just from the newspaper; I am apt to post silly stuff online, too. Once, on Facebook, I posted something about making brownies and the subsequent consequences for my hips. (I know – riveting stuff.)
Soon after, ads about weight loss started popping up on my profile page. Aaaah! My computer is watching me!

Naturally I panicked and ran downstairs to grab tinfoil from the kitchen to wear upon my head.

Okay, I didn’t, but I did feel mildly offended.

The point is we’re already putting it out there. Before posting anything online, I try to decide whether it’s something I would a) want my parents to read and b) want a client to read.

And it doesn’t end there. I know that once something is out there, it’s out there forever. Even with e-mail, whenever you hit “send” that message can go anywhere – and the intended recipient can send it on to someone you didn’t want to include.

I mean, just ask Vic Toews. And for those things he and the federal government didn’t already know about us, or planned to find out about us, we tweeted to him just to save him the trouble.

It’s a Big Brother kind of world out there. Whaddya gonna do?

Well, I think I’m just going to stick that tinfoil on my head and assume the Interwebs can read my thoughts.

And, maybe, with luck, I’ll still have some privacy in my bathroom.

Published in The Perth Courier, March 8/12

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