Archive for the ‘ Privacy ’ Category

Digital Footprint?

My 6 year old son, Little Bit, steps into a cardboard boat he’s just made with the help of my sister’s boyfriend (The Ginger). As The Ginger steps in, the boat begins to capsize and hilarity ensues. I’ve captured the cardboard boat races, complete with sinking boats, family cheers and heckling on my little waterproof sport camera in crystal clear definition.

The race concludes and I ask The Ginger for his permission to upload the video to YouTube. After a brief moment’s consideration he replies, “Sure, as long as you don’t use my name. I’ve managed to keep my digital footprint pretty invisible so far and I’d like to keep it that way.” Not a problem, I have no issue keeping his name private!

Imagine my thrill of anticipation as I eagerly upload the video….perhaps this could be my very first viral clip!

As any seasoned poster knows to do, I took a moment to review the video again and make sure I’m comfortable with the public content share. Then it dawns on me, we’re repeatedly calling out both The Ginger’s and Little Bit’s names. Am I labeling them on the video? No. Last names? No. But their names are there, nonetheless.

The Ginger’s privacy aside, I’m faced with a connundrum I’m sure many parents face. I have a strong desire to publicly share the video, partially out of pride for my amazing child and partially for the ease of spreading the video to my friends and family. Too tired at the moment to edit out the use of their names, I set the video private and give myself a day or two to ponder the rammifications of posting it, both with and without the use of their names.

I’m accustomed to sharing pictures, videos and events of my son’s lives through my private and trusted core list of friends I have on Facebook. Outside of Facebook though, all videos of my children are set to private and any pictures I’ve posted of my kids are referred to only as “Big Bit” and “Little Bit”. Far beyond the issues I’ve already considered of my own personal privacy and my ability to teach my boys how to filter themselves online, I now have to think about their individual privacy preferences.

My boys may very well grow up to be as comfortable being public as I am. Or, they may grow up to be intensely private . Perhaps they’d like to have a high security clearance job someday or maybe they’d just like to keep future stalker girlfriends from discovering every little moment of their childhood. Either way, they’re too young at the moment to fully understand this decision. As their Mama, I have to take that extra step to provide them with the chance to  make that choice for themselves.

So, my decision at the moment is to keep it private until such time that I can edit out their names. Busy as I am, I may or may not get to it. I’ll continue to keep videos, names and most pictures behind a privacy wall, carefully selecting which content I’m comfortable being available for public consumption.

My blogger parent friends, what is your take? Where do you draw the privacy lines for your children?

In the mean time, here’s a pic of Little Bit in his boat:

No! You Don’t Get to See My Bathrobe

You think your private social media posts are relatively safe and private, right?

Wrong. Very wrong.

I’m not remarking on privacy policies on Facebook or Google. I’m also not remarking on the random hacking of your account. I’m not remarking on the blasted discussion of the privacy of your information (statistics) collected by various websites. Instead, I’m talking about the erosion of our own sense of privacy, the loss of the value of the privacy of your inner thoughts and conversations.

Let me set the stage for you:

You’ve been unemployed for several months and while applying to the local county position the application form requests your user name and password for your Facebook, MySpace, Google Plus or other social media account. Wanting to move forward in the interview process you dutifully complete the information.

While employers are forbidden from asking (and discriminating against you) for age, race, religion, sexual orientation, marriage status and kids access to these social network can provide them with all of those answers without ever uttering a word. Worse yet, they have access to every picture, every random thought and every inside joke posted behind the wall of your public persona. And now, now they get to make a hiring decision about you.

Here’s another picture for you:

You’re a student who’s just landed a full scholarship based on basketball. To remain on the basketball team you have to allow one of the coaches full access to your Facebook account so they can monitor your behavior. If you don’t comply, you don’t get to play. Not playing means you don’t get the scholarship and therefore, an education.

While discussing this troubling trend, I’ve seen many replies along these lines:

  • Tell them you don’t have a Facebook account
  • Make a second account for them
  • This is why we need to be able to have false names
  • Use Facebook Exfoliate
  • I deleted my Facebook account because I realized how unsafe it was becoming

This is my very contention.

We should not have to do any of these steps to protect communication done within an expectation of private conversation.

I have a public persona and I frequently make public posts. These are posts designed to be read by strangers and friends alike. To be honest, even in my more private posts I do not post content that would ever be embarrassing or a problem for me if seen by an employer, relative or child. As an individual I use different social networks for different purposes. On Facebook I share photos of my children and small daily moments I know matter to my closest friends and relatives. On Google Plus I tend to share more randomized fragments of information or whims based on the things I find on the internet. It could be recipe or simply a  clock I find intriguing. On both of these platforms I do not post about work other than in a very general sense (i.e. I was so busy today!). I don’t list my employer and even facts like my relationship status are hidden from general public view. LinkedIn is reserved for professional contacts and work related posts.

I’m not really a very private person; in fact I’ll answer almost any question you put to me when asked on a personal level. But among my trusted friends and family I might share more personal information than on a random public post. This information is shared with an expectation of privacy because it is not shared on a public level.

It frustrates and astonishes me that we are now in a place, here in the United States, where people are willingly giving up their privacy in order to secure a job or a scholarship or a place on a sports team. Let me make this clear: I do not fault the individuals acquiescing to the request; I fault the institutions pressuring this acquiescence. Even worse, I fear for the upcoming generation that hasn’t learned the value of their own private thoughts and conversations.

In the privacy of my own home I will walk from shower to laundry room stark naked as I go to retrieve a shirt or dress to wear for the day. This is perfectly acceptable behavior within in the walls of my own home and I certainly wouldn’t go check the mail lacking covering. I might check the mail in a bathrobe; attire again acceptable within the confines of my neighborhood but definitely not anything I’d don for a day at the office. We have these same expectations on our social media sites. I’d take deep, personal offense and complete outrage at a prospective employer expecting to see me in my bathrobe before deciding if they’d hire me. It doesn’t matter what I look like in the bathrobe, it’s private. Period. Better yet, having someone ask to go back and review my naked moment in the privacy of my own home?

We should all be outraged at these types of requests and unafraid to stand up for our inner monologues. They’re ours, they’re uttered within a trusted circle and they should remain there.

Here’s the article that sparked my outrage:

Here’s the conversation that ensued today:

Internet Fail

Let me paint you a picture, because there is no evidence of this event:

As I guffawed heartily at her remark my merriment evaporated, immediately replaced by mortified embarrassment. I was an awkward, chubby, coke-bottle glassed 12 year old with red slushee spraying out my nose and mouth, all over the beautiful white dress of the “popular girl” in our class. She was one of those girls who was popular for being truly sweet-natured and an all around good person; while I, I was the resident shy, bookworm who frequently hid in my teacher’s room during lunch to avoid bullies.

I stared at her in horror and misery as I realized that we were surrounded by a cafeteria line full of laughing, cruel teens and that she would have to wear my red snot stained clothing for several hours yet. Shame and embarrassment followed us both for several days as the story spread and laughter accompanied us down the school halls. But, as the memory faded so did the teasing and embarrassment.

I shudder at the thought of experiencing this same event as a teenager today.

Today, there would immediately be several pics and perhaps a video, instantly uploaded and shared to the full extent of each witness’s social network. Today, photographic evidence would eternally follow our lives. This event, while relatively minor, was still an embarrassment and ultimately a learning experience (note to self: avoid fully belly laughs when your mouth is full) that passed in relative privacy. The incident was quickly forgotten and our lives moved forward.

Now though, teenagers and young adults are faced with challenges in filtering and self-restraint that many adults still struggle to control. The worst part is that they are incapable of truly understanding what long-term ramifications can result from the wrong item uploaded and shared.  These incidents are now public and permanent.

Failure is an inherent part of life, growth and the learning process. 

My example above is innocent, an uploaded pic would do little to damage my ability to attend my college of choice, alienate a relationship or diminish my chances at career advancement. I have done some very, very stupid things as a teenager. No, I’m not going to share them with you. They were failures that passed in relative privacy and I’m lucky enough that they will stay largely buried, forever enshrined in my head but no where else.

Today we are all living far more public lives. The advancement in digital media makes the creation and distribution of almost anything near instantaneous. How often have we hit that status update, shared that pic or sent that email and immediately regretted it? Now add in the impulsiveness of a 15 year old! Thoughtless pics, viral through a social network, can provide deeper fodder for bullies and the permanence of it all can have consequences impossible for the average teenager to even comprehend.

I’m saddened that my children will now have to learn to self-control and filtering at a much earlier age. Kids, by their very nature, need to make social blunders, mistakes and yes, fail, in order to figure out what kind of person they want to be. The fact that they can no longer do so privately robs them of something crucial. I wonder if our kids today will become 100% public, losing not only their own ability to filter, but also caring about others filters? Or will they retreat into private shells, housed by digital walls? How do I, as a parent, guide them?

Even now I consider the family videos I’ve uploaded to YouTube. I’ve got some great little clips of my son, dancing horribly. I even titled it, Blackmail Material For His First Girlfriend. I uploaded it so my family could stay in touch with the small moments that connect you to each other. At 5, he loves showing it to people and watching himself online. But I stop to think, how would I feel about a similar video of me? Do I teach him to have a thick skin and broadcast a public persona or do I restrict the viewing? He’s a little young to decide for himself if he’d like to have a public presence online. For the time being, I’ve changed the privacy settings. I’ll let him decide for himself when he’s a little older.

But, back to my point: today our youth can make some very profound missteps. Perhaps they have a wild moment, as many do, and it’s forever documented. For some of us, those wilder times were defining moments in our lives and today we are enriched and a better person for having learned some very hard, difficult lessons. But for us, the past is in the past. Our youth today, the past will forever be attached to them. They’re going to learn some much harder lessons at a much earlier age and for that, I am a little sad.

But, here’s a video I’m sure my son will enjoy:

Your Online Persona: Public or Private?

“I’ll be there in 34 minutes” he posted with a picture of a house across the street from me.

His post was in reaction to a foolishly geo-tagged photo of my new kitten swinging from my ceiling raptors that I posted late last night. It was a not-so-subtle reminder that I had left my personal information very publicly exposed. I had already spotted my error and was hastily on the path to correcting this heinous oversight, but it made me wonder – how hard would it be to figure this out without my geo-tag? How difficult would it really be for someone to construct this information?

Within a few short minutes I posted my reply: a picture of his house; captioned “I’ll be there for breakfast.” I’d discovered where he’d attended high school, his current address and some of his employment history courtesy of a Google search and a not-so-close look at the various social networking profiles that populated my screen. Armed with a basic idea of his location I even found a history of official court records through the county clerk’s website.

I’ve waivered back and forth about how much information I’m willing to share with the virtual strangers I meet in the electronic spaces of the interwebz. I’ve long since been aware how easily people can find my address within a very few short searches. “Where do you live/Where are you from?” have become very loaded questions.

Conversely, I find that this same series of questions are eagerly and universally answered when meeting local strangers face to face. At a grocery store, school event or even local bar we divulge neighborhood specific details in a fervent attempt to connect and find common ground with the people that surround us. Suspicions cast aside; we share rather intimate details about our home, work and family. With my guard down, I tend reveal that I have kids, their ages and names, what part of town we live in and even the name and location of where I work. This type of information is standard cocktail party small talk.

Is it any more dangerous to reveal these tidbits about ourselves online? Are the local strangers any safer, less creepy or somehow more vetted? I ask myself; would I be willing to answer these same questions if the asker was, say waiting next to me at a doctor’s office?

As I’m an inherently outgoing person, the answer is inevitably yes. Children are especially connecting; when running errands strangers such as store cashiers will inquire about their ages and even which schools they attend. Typically this is nothing more than genuine curiosity and the reaching out and connection of one person to another. Why then, why is this less creepy than when the same questions are asked by someone online?

Statistically, that same cashier poses a greater risk of threat to my family. These local unknowns are privy to more about our daily habits and are physically close enough to actually track us down. In the name of polite small talk we divulge information that would otherwise be closely guarded online.

What are your thoughts? Do you hold all details tightly to your breast, both in person and online? What is your expectation of an online public life versus an online private life? How anonymous do you feel your online accounts are? How secure do you feel about the published information about you that is already circling the internet?

Personally, I feel there are only two modes: completely public and off-grid. In the United States, public information laws require that property ownership, marriages, divorces, name changes and other revealing facts be available publicly. A savvy or dedicated stalker, uhm person, could easily track down some incredibly personal facts about you.

For fear that even my most anonymous accounts will somehow be traced and revealed as mine (for example, a series of inadvertent comments aggregated over time through a comment history) I make it a point to self sensor. No work rants, nothing that would embarrass me if Mom, my boss or my kids saw it at some point.

The other alternative, being completely off-grid requires a concerted amount of effort to maintain. For successful achievement there can be no participation in social sites such as Google +, Facebook or anything else that requires the use of your name. You’d have to avoid long-term anonymous accounts as well and avoid ever referencing location, age, gender, family status or career. But without these details, these small facts that make us, us how do we develop any sort of online connection or even validity? Development of an online identity still requires us to still be people, the sum of our experiences are what help us have authority when commenting.

What are your thoughts for online identity? Are you public? Private? Some sort of combination? Why? Do you even care?

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