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Want Social Network Privacy? Pull The Plug


Maybe I don’t get it. Maybe I was raised in an age where this stuff became equally apparent very early on. But here’s my modus operandi when it comes to online behavior:

If you enter anything on the internet, even in “secret” and you haven’t gone through significant measures to mask your identity, you should assume that the information can be publicly identified and traced back to you.

Does that sound paranoid? Sure it does. But that doesn’t mean it is incorrect, either.

It is easy to feel secure behind passwords, filters and closed systems. When I used this blog to post without my name, it was still easy to find out who I was. Guess what? I operated as if I was being monitored by everyone who knew me.

When we setup Facebook filters, when we have sensitive e-mail conversations, or when we use a pseudonym in an online forum, that feels like a secure place where we can cut loose. But here’s what else happens: copy and paste, BCC’s, Google cache, screenshots and IP address captures.

Every sensitive conversation I’ve ever held has been in person or over the phone. And sure, phones can be tapped and someone can wear a wire but that has to be premeditated and even I’m not paranoid enough to assume everyone is wired up like a snitch. (Okay, maybe now that I think about it, I should… no, never mind).

With online communication though, there doesn’t need to be premeditation. In fact, I recently was contacted by an out-of-work recruiter about some recommendations for some jobs in my area. The name sounded familiar and I searched my e-mails and it was a recruiter I talked to in, wait for it, 2005. And, the e-mail record shows that I received a phone interview but wasn’t ever contacted back afterward.

Now, my intention isn’t to be evil, hold a grudge and out this person but I wanted to make a point. We had a conversation that I had passively saved (one of thousands) and now, I could go back and say “Ha! Six years ago, you weren’t so willing to help me out!”

(And yes, I was nice. Could you imagine anything else?)

When the recommendation among people concerned about privacy is changing social networks, messing with privacy settings, changing to more secure passwords and not following unknown links, we’re not actually fixing anything.

Some things do not need to be posted online. Some conversations need to happen some place other than Twitter DM’s, Facebook messages or e-mails. And if the answer to every embarrassing privacy gaffe on social networks is “more security” and not “better venue choice for communicating sensitive issues,” it’s time to wake up. Once that digital record is created, it is very hard to destroy.

True privacy doesn’t exist online. Expecting privacy on any social network is going to burn you at some point. And if you’re that concerned about social network privacy that you can’t even put up basic information and interact in the most vanilla way, well, good luck.

By Lance Haun

Strategy for The Starr Conspiracy. Former HR pro. Portland guy (Go Blazers!) and WSU alum (Go Cougs!). I get to write about what I want here.

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