Unless you're a wireless hermit, privacy doesn't exist any more. Even if you don't have any social media accounts and painstakingly make sure you are never seen online, your picture and/or name could end up floating around on the net.
I came to this conclusion after I snapped and uploaded to Instagram a picture of a bunch of cute kids in wagons marching in my local 4th of July parade. After several people "liked" the picture, I thought "hey, these are somebody's kids and they might not want them on the web." You really can't make out much of specific kids in the shot, but it got me to thinking. I was just one person along the parade route. How many people along the route had smart phones or tablets? How many of them snapped pictures of the parade and uploaded them to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and a host of other sites – without thinking once about the privacy of who was in the picture? The picture I used for this post I found in Flckr with a creative commons license. Who knows if those kids know they're online available for use?
It doesn't matter if you take your own precautions. I myself had been careful not to use my kids names in social media mentions, calling my daughter "Golden Child" and my son "The Boy" (guess which one is the overachiever and which the under) when on Twitter of Foursquare. Yet I didn't think anything of posting pictures of someone's kids in my parade. It was cute. It was the 4th of July. I wanted to share the moment with my friends. You see, with everyone carrying their own connection to the social web in their pockets at all time, you never know who will capture what and put it on the web.
Last winter, I stopped at a Walgreen's on my way home. On my way out, I saw a homeless person and gave them one of the Arizona Teas I'd picked up. This was a dark parking lot not in my neighborhood. But, by the time I got home, my wife already knew about what I'd done because someone had seen me and tweeted about it.
That's not even counting the oversharers among us who put too much info out there on their own. Just read a L.A. Times story about a twitter handle called @NeedADebitCard that reposts pictures people have posted on Twitter of their debit cards – numbers, security number and expiration dates in full view. These are tweets that say things like "Yay! Finally got my debit card" or "Found my credit card I thought I'd lost."
So, in all the hubbub about brands following you online or using your information to serve you up relevant ads, we need to look at how private are we anyway. Everyone is a reporter and everyone is the media now. You never know what someone you don't even know is going to post a photo or something about you. And there are plenty of people who post way more private stuff about themselves without even thinking. Heck, practically every main intersection has at least four cameras mounted on it.
I think privacy is an illusion. You can protect it and you should be smart about it. But if you think you can keep your image and info off the internet – it's probably a lost cause. You're entitled to your privacy and I don't want to take it away from you. But, it's not something you can have complete control of. Don't let that make you paranoid and don't sway to the other end and not be worried at all about what goes on here. Just be smart and realize it's not big brother who's watching… it's everybody.
photo by Chris Heuer