Privacy expectations and the internet (Part 2 this week)

Picking up on the piece from yesterday.

Debito Arudou let it be known over the weekend, that it came to his attention that a slam site blogger had a project going, to harass his commenters. This led to a lively discussion, in at least three places, as to what level of privacy people should expect in our internet-connected world.

This is especially relevant in a community like that expat community of Japan, where many people come to know of each other via online social networking. Certainly, thousands of people have made their initial introduction to friends through connections on the internet.

The trouble comes to be, that the internet is a wide-open field. So it does also become the place for others to “peek in” and see what friends, acquaintances, and strangers are up to. In the immediate example, it’s within the power of the technology for a small group to use the internet to harass other people. This is nothing new about people. The only thing that has changed are the tools to do this.

The sad fact is that you cannot control the internet. And because you can’t control it, the best you can do is try to mitigate the possible damage or negative things that the internet can do to you. I don’t think the law is anywhere near where it needs to be to control this negative part. Some years back, when I found that things that used to be more like personal matters were “out there” for anyone with an internet connection (like college updates, etc.), I knew that this was going to be a problem.

A lot of internet is business. So some businesses make their business off taking something about you and putting it out there. As a society, are we going to shut these down? Then, you have the people who, for whatever reason, decide to make you their “business”. How are you going to control that?

I have no doubt that, in the future, there will be codified rules about this. For example, in the job-search arena, right now the trend seems to be on doing a little pick of peeking for a Facebook or some “thing” in a Google search. Remember, it used to be: check about criminal background. Then, it became: check about credit history. (Although, in banking, it always was check about credit history, under the theory that you didn’t want someone who was under financial pressures to be handling cash. I’m not sure the logic followed, or if the government ever analyzed if that was a good test for whether someone should be in banking. After the blowups of 2008, we find that a number of people with great credit caused countless billions of losses.)

Now, it seems to be taking a look just for its own voyeuristic sake. It’s like, here’s another avenue where we can spy on somebody, so let’s do it. People who like to pick fights, it becomes: here is another way to pick fights. People who have a bone to pick, here is another way to pick a bone. Possible employers come up with a battery of “due diligence” excuses, but have to be careful not to run afoul of discriminatory laws. (You could see one possible one as not searching every candidate’s name, or just searching men and not women, or any combination of ethnicities or races. It becomes a tricky endeavor, when “due diligence” is simply “checking to see what is out there”.)

Because I gained professional certifications, and am community-minded, I gave up on the idea that there was any internet privacy that I could conceivably protect. Not being part of the search terms means you cede the floor, so to speak, to anybody else who wants to post things that have to do with you.

So basically, you don’t leave the house anymore and live life. Although, there, you have to hope your neighbors aren’t setting up a slam blog to talk about how you never leave the house!

Do you see what a tricky situation the internet then becomes? It’s there and it’s unavoidable. You can’t not be part of it, unless you adopt a very common name. Even if you want to “opt out” of the internet, you can’t.

Now, here comes the tricky part: In the 2000’s, you could arguably say that people who did not have an “internet presence” were no unusual thing. Most people didn’t until the later part of the decade. Today, however, in some generations, many people do. If you do not have a Facebook page, what does this say about you? What does it say to potential employers? To employers who rely on unscientific psychological testing about whether or not somebody is a good “fit”? You can easily see the day, in the 2010’s, when not having a Facebook page says something negative about you to the potential employer. “Wow, this guy does not have a Facebook page . . . What is he, anti-social?”

I cannot predict the future; nor can you. What I decided was to split the difference. If I can’t control what other people put out with “Frederick Gundlach” attached to it, I can add my own stuff. And, to the extent I can, monitor those who decide they are going to play peek-a-boo with me over the internet.

I think that’s fair. If you’re going to spy on me, I get to spy on you doing it. The least sophisticated spyers use the company IP. That’s neat; it tells me it’s you. The other ones are more sophisticated and take the work home. Or they relay the address to Ulan Bataar and download 80 pages. It’s not an everyday thing. (Actually, today it was.) Rare, but common enough that it makes for a special event.

If someone is going to use the internet to peek on you, isn’t it fair that you get to know? How soon, before the enterprising net user doesn’t come up with a site that lists the people, companies, blogs that do that?