Thursday, May 06, 2010


In 1984, George Orwell wrote about a society where there was no privacy. Homes and offices were bugged. Everything people said and did was recorded.

That sounds bad.

But compare that to what we've got today. On Facebook and elsewhere on the internet, we digitally record our conversations, our opinions, our likes and dislikes, and whom we associate with. We post information about birthdays, anniversaries, locations, and employers. I was thinking that this is worse than Orwell's scenario because today --in real life-- we not only have our conversations recorded, but with the power of the computer, everything we say or like or comment upon can be archived, searched, sorted, and analyzed. With the click of a button or two, particular snippets of conversation can be lifted out of gazillions of sentences written by millions of people.

Tonight Nathan sent me a link to an article explaining the technicalities of recent Facebook changes. One sentence says, "The API now includes a search function so developers can finally mine the 25 billion things that the 400 million FB users are sharing each month."

Yup. That's exactly what I've been pondering. I've been considering deleting my Facebook account. And yet, I like seeing friends' pictures. Even if I opt out of conversations, I'm still desirous of seeing pictures. Is that important enough to me to willingly submit to Big Brother's surveillance activities?


  1. That's one (but not the only) reason why I refuse to do Facebook. Sometimes it's a pain because friends have to remember to e-mail me separately from doing Facebook. Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one of my generation not on Facebook. But I'm still not convinced enough to go sign up for a Facebook account.

  2. I don't have FB and get asked on a regular basis, "why not?". My children and friends e-mail me separately and though most prefer FB, they understand (though think I am a bit ridiculous)and oblige. I get my grand-baby pic fix thanks to my daughter's blog :)

    Also, in my case, since I am looking for full-time employment, FB comes up all the time. Employers are routinely scanning online public accounts before hiring potential new employees. What YOU post may seem innocuous, but what is your friends, friends, sister's cousin posting in response to comments on your FB??

  3. Here's how I handle it.

    Don't put ANYTHING in your Facebook profile. Leave it all blank. Don't play the stupid games, don't do quizzes, don't "like" stuff that has a "Like" button out there on the rest of the internet. I don't even use the "share on Facebook" links you see places like the funny captioned cat websites. If I want to link something on FB, I cut and paste it in the old fashioned way. :)

    As far as what your friends and sister's cousin is posting on your wall - well, first of all, YOU can delete anything put on your wall, and YOU can delete people's comments on your posts. You'll get an email notification of the posting, and you can take it down right away before it's indexed by a search engine (which it won't be if your privacy settings are up to date.) Developers mining the API is not the same as Google indexing for search.

    Second of all, why are you friends with someone who's posting inappropriate stuff? Either dump them, or block them so they can't pollute your wall.

    It's a pain, yes, to keep up with privacy changes, but honestly, Facebook's more "safe" than a blog is. And for pity's sake, it's possible to simply LOOK at your friends' and family's pictures without posting yourself. You can even set it so that nobody can even post anything on your wall at all.

    If you're very concerned about privacy, you shouldn't be on the internet at all. Ewe, you'd be shocked at what I can find out about you and your kids from your blog. Why is your state listed in your blogger profile? You put up a photo recently that includes vehicles, and I can enlarge the photo and read license plate numbers. Why do people need to be able to count backwards and figure out your kid's birthdays? Don't tell people exactly how long it takes to drive into the Twin Cities. Why help them locate you?

    Not to scare you unnecessarily; most of our blogs don't attract the kind of traffic that would pick up riff-raff. Facebook has "issues" to be sure, but they're absolutely no different than anything else you do online. At the very least, on Facebook there is some modicum of user control over who sees what.

    Even so, 90% of the concerns over Facebook privacy can be handled by simply not putting on Facebook very private and personally identifying stuff.

  4. Lisa & Ewe, I didn't have Facebook for a long time. Finally, my kids showed me how to get on Facebook and put my settings to where I was unsearchable and nearly invisible. My plan was pretty much just to be able to see pictures of family. A few weeks after I got on FB, they changed the privacy rules to where a person could no longer keep privacy settings as high as I'd had them. But I stayed on. Now I'm wondering whether to make the break.

    EC, yes, I know what you mean about blog privacy and how much information is on blogs. Several times in the last few weeks I've been tempted to hit the button to delete my whole blog. But that too seems more drastic than I can take. How important is it to me that I can do a quick search on my blog for my favorite recipes instead of hunting through my recipe cards? How important is it to me to do a search on a Bible verse to remember some cool point Pastor made once-upon-at-time? It's important enough, so far, that I just can't hit that delete-button.

    Lisa, I'm glad you have a FB aversion. That means there is a blog where you can get your grandbaby-fix. And that blog brings many a smile to my day, and lots of joyous giggles to me and Maggie!

  5. I've often wondered about the future of CEO's, politicians, and other people who want to get into big positions like that. What about when our 12 year olds today are 30 and running for office or trying to get promoted in a company?

    Will we be looking back through their profiles and blogs and Twitter updates, marking them off for things they did and said 10+ years in the past, when they were children and teenagers?

    Even if the government didn't get "too big" we'd still have a 'nebulous' big brother that, unfortunately, would include all of us, I think. It's just too easy to keep track of each other. And for bosses considering promotions, or new hires, or people considering an election, it's going to be way too tempting to formulate opinions and ideas on people based on this stuff.

    I also wonder how much of this is going to be used by activists. What if the movement to shut home schooling down really grows? Are they going to get all the ammo they need straight from home schoolers themselves because of things we've posted online, even on our own "private" pages?

    And not just home schooling, but other stuff, too.

    And I realize that all of this is negated by what Elephantschild said- if we all did that, then there wouldn't be a problem. But while some of us may do that, it's certainly not going to happen for the majority of people in the world. And I really wonder how that's going to affect our future dealings with people...

  6. Susan, don't you dare delete your blog. If you get to the point that you really don't want it out there anymore you can make it private, viewable only by yourself for your personal use. That way at least you could still search it for those things you mentioned.

    Or, you could make it viewable only by those you choose. (Do you see me smiling and waving?)

    I'll have to think about all this. I guess I just don't worry about it too much. I think we have crossed the Rubicon when it comes to the information age. It is what it is. I could stay off FB and quit blogging but the emails are still out there in cyberspace and while they are supposedly private we've all seen what can happen to private emails. The way people communicate has changed and I don't see any way around that. It's all email and cell phones now, and either one can be hacked. But I don't see how if you live in the 21st century you can avoid either unless you make a conscious decision to live off the grid. Very few peole have that option. I don't. I just figure all of this is a fact of life in the times in which we live and while I can try to be careful about protecting my personal information to the greatest extent possible, I'm not going to live in fear.

    I guess I just don't think that there are that many people out there that care enough about what I think and say and do to go through all my online activity for the last 10 years. And if they do, I don't think they're going to find much that is interesting to many more people than me and my family and friends. I also don't put stuff out there that I would be ashamed of having thrown back up in my face. At least I try not to.

    Then there's the volume. I don't think the government has the skill set to catalog and archive all that info in any useful way. They can barely even track people well enough to keep terrorists off planes.