In one of my all-time favorite books, 1984, author George Orwell talks about the concept of telescreens. These devices planted in our homes continuously spout propaganda while acting as a kind of two-way device. A thing that lets others observe you while you perform whatever inane household activities you might do to keep you occupied each day. With no knowledge of when the lens is focused on them, characters struggle to maintain a casual demeanor and fill the book with dramatic tension. The trick is that if you are caught, even once, doing something considered subversive towards “Big Brother” you are black bagged.
I don’t think we’re there yet, but I have been thinking a lot about Edward Snowden, the NSA, and my rights as an American citizen. My email program reads my email so that it can serve me ads that I might find relevant based on the contents of my private messages. It records my contact data, and Google saves my searches to help my friends find the pages I’ve looked at. The Internet offers GPS services that use my location to match me up with restaurants and clubs so I can relax with friends, which the Web is happy to help me find through any number of social networks.
All the while feeding who knows how many databases everything about me.
I write about a variety of topics every day. I know that I’ve either written or will write about topics the NSA will be scanning for. There is no way to avoid it with a list this big. As of April 25th of 2013, the NSA is authorized via secret court to do this. Not only should the method of secrecy used to cover up this egregious breach of privacy be stricken from the courts, the very question of personal liberty and expectation of privacy should be on the lips of every voting American.
They are collecting meta data from American citizens. Not just terrorists. This meta data, branded as harmless, forms a picture of your daily life when compiled. Location data shows where you work and how you get there. Phone data can show how many times you call your parents or your spouse throughout the day. Meta data about your email can show basic details about who you correspond with (business and personal).
And sure, it’s absurd to think that there are people whose jobs are to sort through this mess for the proverbial needle in a hay stack. Why would they ever look for me? You might have thought about this yourself.
Then imagine how much of this publicly accessible information would be useful to someone looking to accuse you of a crime. What about an employer that uses your social media profile to judge whether you are a good candidate for a particular job? Now imagine all of your personal information in the hands of the federal government during a crisis situation. It isn’t too far of a leap to say that if they suspect you are doing something wrong, they are compiling data that will lead them straight to you.
My reasons for leaving Facebook do not have to do with my information being exposed. Simply put, I want to take more control over my information. When I signed up for Facebook it was fun to fill in my profile details and show off my interests. Today, I see that I was categorizing myself so that I am easy to filter for.
I am also disgusted at the revelation that by having Facebook on my phone, I unwittingly exposed contacts from my personal address book to them. All of these things are stacked against us users, who just want a place to connect with friends and family. But when things go wrong for us, the public at large is quick to remind us that if we didn’t want something exposed we should not have put it on Facebook.
Privacy settings have become unnecessarily complicated. “Friend sharing” doesn’t just mean sharing with your friends. It shares with friends of your friends, exposing your data to a large pool of unintended readers. This is only one of several misleading features designed to coddle users into a false sense of security. Facebook is also a haven for viruses and malware because it is an easy place for them to spread. As a recovering Internet marketer, I do not expect Facebook to change their policies and fix these glaring issues. These are a part of its business model.
The service is dangerous to your computer, Facebook does not care about your privacy (rather, lack of privacy is the new social norm) and the service exposes your personal life as part of the status quo.
This blog is my solution. It is named after me, so it should never be too hard to find should I come up in your mind. I have control over the comments posted, I can password protect photo albums, and it’s on my domain so I own all of the content posted here. Best of all, I’m taking ownership over my place in the search results page.
I am also creating an automated solution to post blogs from this site to Facebook for the immediate future. So the fact is that I am stuck on Facebook, in at least a dormant state, until all of you leave too.
This is the first step I will take toward being more proactive with my information. I also take advantage of private browsing sessions and enable do not track in all of my browsers to make my information more difficult to acquire. I use Duck Duck Go wherever possible, although Google is still the superior search engine in my opinion. I encourage you to explore search engines that do not track your sessions as well.
“Do not track” and private browser sessions are not novelty ideas. These are part of recommendations that the FTC is trying to adopt to protect your rights as an individual. Read up on them.
I don’t think my solution is perfect, and it might not even be the best one. If you have suggestions for me, I’m open to hear them. Hopefully this will start a dialogue amongst friends and family. One about Internet safety.
Nothing to Hide
I’m honestly tired of “nothing to hide.” I believe the people who talk like this think that they have found a magic way to hide themselves from this kind of prying. The fact is you have not. If you believe in this notion, let’s arrange a meeting so that I can go through all of your personal and professional belongings. Be sure to clear a few weeks of your schedule so I can be nice and thorough too. And since you have nothing to hide you won’t mind if I post photos of all of your stuff, give out your address, your phone number, provide open access to your medical records and rifle through the contact book that contains all of the contact data for your family.
This is not even touching upon all of the information that could come to light about your children, because they too have nothing to hide. If you are still comfortable with me airing all of that out, ask yourself about political whistleblowers and individuals in witness protection (whose identities are literally their lifeblood).
Not All Bad
What I will miss most about Facebook is the instant gratification that comes with a “Like” or a comment on a post. I will miss waking up in the morning to new messages from friends and family, but perhaps that will make email more meaningful. I never call people anymore. I’m a writer that never writes emails or letters to people either. Never mind how much time in my life I clear to actually go and visit people. I don’t expect you to come along with me on this journey I’m taking, but know that you can always find me. Right here. Drop me a comment, shoot me an email.
Just don’t ask me to like your picture on Facebook.