Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Privacy in a Facebook Age

I've been mildly interested in discovering how Facebook has monetized our data--not interested enough to watch the Zuckerberg hearings or to do much research of any kind, but mildly interested.

I've been even more interested in how many people are shocked--SHOCKED--to discover that they haven't really been leading private lives online.  I've always assumed that anything I post might be used against me, which is why it took me so long to come to blogging.  I read blogs for years before I started mine, and all sorts of nightmare scenarios filled my head and kept me from writing a word.

Of course, like many people, I assume that not many people are paying attention to my online life, whether I keep it private or public.  I think about the places I go online and how companies might use that to create advertising or influence elections or do things I can't even imagine.

I assume that my online data isn't terribly valuable, and maybe most companies depend on me feeling that way.  I can't imagine that anyone cares about the books I buy on Amazon--although I was outraged when courts ruled that library records could be seized under the Patriot Act.  Now we've had so many years of surveillance by so many groups that I just shrug my weary shoulders and keep living my life.

And yes, I understand that I have certain privileges.  My research interests, whatever tattered research interests remain, are not threatening to the social order, at least as we understand the social order now.  I'm a U.S. citizen, a white, middle class female married to a man--that gives me a certain level of invisibility.  I've always equated invisibility with freedom.  I am not one of those women who mourns the passing of my youthful luster, the men who no longer look at me.

And the larger privilege comes from having a computer and a fast connection that allows me to be of interest to data mining companies.

I'm still guessing that data miners don't do much with my data.  I don't click on many links.  I don't look at many ads, much less purchase the products.  My long form blogging could be a rich data source, but I imagine they'll be of more interest to historians some day--if they survive and history as a discipline survives--than people looking to influence other buyers.  People looking to influence elections can probably find shorter types of data to analyze.

I've always been careful about what I posted.  I've always been aware that employers both present and future might be looking.  I've always assumed that the police could monitor my online life.  But I lead a fairly ordinary life--my unhealthy habits of caffeine, sugar, and wine are still legal, which again, is a certain privilege.

I am also lucky that I have friends with whom I can connect without Facebook or technology of any kind.  I can have the kinds of conversations that I wouldn't post on a site for all the world to see.

I hope that these Facebook revelations remind us of the value of privacy and how we've given it away for very little.  I hope we remember that nothing comes to us for free.  I'm happy to give away some of my data for the ability to connect online for free.  Those who are not should start considering their options, if they haven't already.

I also hope that we don't go too far in our reactions to these revelations.  The online world has made my onground world much more interesting.  I'd hate to lose those advantages.

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