Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Don't ever put personal information online? What?

In a recent post, Dick Eastman responded to a comment by a reader in Your Privacy Online. He ended his post with the admonition, "I would suggest everyone should stop to think before posting any information to Facebook or to any other online site. My suggestion: Never, ever place personal information online, not on Facebook and not anyplace else." Since it had been some time since I talked about privacy and sundry topics like identity theft (whatever that is?) and related topics, I decided to weigh in on the subject one more time.

I suppose that genealogists are no more concerned about online privacy than any other class of online users. But there are so many false impressions about the subject of "privacy" that even genealogists need a little reality check from time to time before coming totally immobilized by paranoia. 

First of all what do we mean by "privacy?" What we as predominantly U.S. citizens think of privacy has no relationship to what someone from say, downtown Panama City, Panama might think about privacy where the occupancy rate for apartments rises to an average of 50 people or more per room. Most of what the so-called average American would take for granted as "private" would be an entirely foreign concept to someone living with 49 other family members and friends in one small room. So, usually, what we mean by privacy in the context of the Internet is not personal physical privacy, such as is practically non-existent in some countries, but the ability to keep some kinds of information from being generally known. Additionally, as the example illustrates, the concept of privacy is highly cultural. I spent part of my childhood in a very small town with a telephone on a party line. There wasn't much that could happen that wasn't pretty well known by the whole community in a matter of hours. I now live in a big city and I am surprised if even my next door neighbors have any idea what is happening at my house.

So what are the kinds of information we are concerned about when we talk about privacy? If you are a regular reader of Facebook or some other similar online social networking forum, you probably would have a hugely difficult time answering this question. Just a quick view of some recent Facebook posts shows an amazing array of everything about some people from when their children are crying to the purchase of a major appliance and on to include, medical emergencies, fights, weddings, plans, and the latest throw up event. Do I care? No. Did I really want to know? No. But this says a lot about what we think is private.

If the issue is the undefined "identity theft," the real issue is specific financial information, i.e checking account numbers, passwords, credit card numbers, etc. But now let's think about this for a moment. Every time you use a credit card, you give your credit card number to someone, usually a total stranger. Every time you use a check, your bank account routing number is right there on the front of the check. Every time you buy anything in the store and use your discount supersaver ID, the store has a complete record of every purchase.  I could go on and on and on. I probably will have to write another post about identity theft in the context of genealogy soon. But in reality, there is no such thing as privacy, there is only a lack of collective interest in many of our individual affairs.

If you really think that your "personal information" such as (and not limited to) bank account numbers and details, credit card numbers and details, investments, what, when and where you purchase items, your salary (if you have one), your social security number and practically anything else in your life is "private," you are kidding yourself. If you or anyone else would like to know that kind of information about anyone, you can obtain that and a whole lot more from several very reasonably priced websites.

Just ask yourself, who is going to make money if I worry about something like identity theft?

1 comment:

  1. As far as posting private information online my rule is this: don't post or do anything you don't care the world to know.

    I'm pretty open with my information but also try to keep a fairly tight lid on who has access to some of my info. As far as Facebook is concerned, only my friends can see any of my info (other than some photos that I allow friends of friends to see). I'll post about major appliance purchases or whatever because it is one way to let people know what's going on in my life. If some or all of them do not care to read or know that then that's okay, they can ignore my updates. I view online posts (blogs, social media, etc) as a way of chronicling my life in a pubic way. Anything I don't want out there I don't share.

    Do I think some people share too much online? Yes and no; if people are comfortable sharing it then that's okay with me. I care to know whatever people want to share, even if it is mundane or trivial or what I might consider private. We all have different comfort levels.

    The only issue comes when ignorance of technology results in information reaching others that was not meant for wider dissemination. Again, that goes back to my rule - don't put things online that you don't want others to know about you (that does not extend to credit card info or things like that because that is a separate issue).