Why Privacy is Overrated

June 6, 2012

Privacy is overrated.

Just a few moments ago, again, I saw a familiar update in my Facebook timeline.  In read:

“Facebook is now a publicly traded company!!!!  That means anyone on the internet can use any of your status updates or photos without your permission!!! Blargh!!!  You do not have my permission to invade my privacy, internet!!!!1”

Right.  Then I clicked “block user.”

This sort of thing pops up pretty frequently, every time people get a whiff of some change on Facebook, but now that Facebook is on the stock market, it adds a new, scary element to the whole crazy idea that someone’s going to steal your identity…via Facebook.

And since this is so inane that it just has to stop, I’m going to clear this up right now.

If You’re So Obsessed With Privacy…

People who are overly concerned about their privacy being invaded via Facebook are missing a crucial piece of the puzzle, which is:

Facebook is part of the internet.

The internet, if you don’t know, is a vast connection of computers and programs, used to share information and hilarious people fails.  Facebook is a part of the internet.  Therefore, if you are so dang concerned about your privacy, you guessed it…

…get off of Facebook.

It has nothing to do with Facebook being a public company now.  And telling the internet that it doesn’t have permission to plagiarize your work or steal your photos is like defending yourself against a laughing, burly-chested pirate…with a rabbit’s foot.  Does a good luck charm actually bring you good luck?  No more than some feeble legal jargon brings you any shred of privacy.  Read this if you doubt me.

This of course leads us to the second impossible-to-miss fact:

No One Wants to Steal Your Facebook Profile

No, that's 1,802,330,457 people who don't care about your information.

Your Facebook profile is not that interesting.  It’s probably full of poorly composed photos of you and your friends, cramming your bodies together while giving thumbs up, just like mine.  Your statuses are probably skim-worthy at best, like mine.  If someone started stealing your pictures or posts and was pretending to be you, it would probably be the biggest compliment you will ever receive.

Guess what.  Identity thieves aren’t interested in hijacking hipsters’ Facebook accounts and stealing their ironic status updates so they can pretend that they are clever and witty (which is what most hipsters are pretending to be).  Identity thieves are interested in your money.  So unless I am posting Instagrams of my bank account and credit card statements to my profile, I probably couldn’t bribe anyone to steal anything off my crappy Facebook profile.

While we’re at it…

Privacy Is Overrated

Privacy is an idiotic cliche.

We’re drunk on asserting our privacy, like a bunch of two-year-olds asserting their “independence.”  But we insist on posting asinine details of our life on every social media outlet we can find.  It is amazing how much privacy we willingly give up…while whining about how our privacy is constantly being invaded.  We are in control of how much privacy we have, not Facebook, not Twitter.  If you want privacy, join Google+…or Foursquare…or go back to your old MySpace account.  No one will bother you there.

You know why privacy is overrated?  Because it’s usually a cover.  People like to have a lot of privacy when they’ve got something to hide.  Small town people know what it’s like to actually know your neighbors.  Someone starts acting a fool, and word gets around.  Not so much privacy, is there?  We use the “right to privacy” (which isn’t even a Constitutional right) to justify all kinds of seedy behavior.

Wouldn’t it be better if we acted like we didn’t have any privacy?

What’cha think?  Is privacy overrated?  Or is Facebook just another arm of Big Brother?  And this is a safe place.  You can admit if you have posted one of those “don’t steal from me” status updates.

28 responses to Why Privacy is Overrated

  1. Yeah, I usually get those “Facebook’s taking my identity, oh noes!” messages just before the 25 requests for Farmville stuff.

  2. This went straight on my Facebook page, Matt.

  3. Exactly right, Matt. My husband is a private person, which is why you’ll never see him on Facebook, Twitter or any other social media site. You can’t willingly post your life on the Internet and then scream about people invading your privacy. Duh…

  4. I work in IT, and yeah I have access to millions of people’s data from which I could really become them. I have to good stuff, not just emails and cell numbers.

    If you want privacy you need to determine what level you mean privacy. If it is on Facebook (or in in Yahoo or Gmail accounts), it can easily be seen by authorities. This includes your threatening statuses and emails to a cohort to whack a teacher or the president. If you don’t want people to know, keep it to yourself. If you are friends on Facebook with people that you don’t know (like I am with Matt – only Skyped with his k-bot once), this is part of the trouble.

    Most of us just don’t want Facebook to use our “choices” and photos to get others to purchase products or display ads which they think we want to see. Did you know that when you like a company, they display that to your friends to like too? You are signing up for advertisements.

    What identity thieves need from your Facebook account is information to crack your security questions. (Like Mitt Romney just yesterday.) By interacting with you, they get the name of your home town, your high school, employer’s name and check out your photos to learn about other stuff they may need. They can also get a birth date, so not publishing a year is good. But hey, some friend will innocently say happy 31st birthday and the crook just does the math. Lots of folks have a cell number online as well. The scary part is that they may have already hacked one of your other accounts and have a valid password (which you and I know, you use everywhere). They linked you by your email address (which is always the same) to a host of other sites. So they can get into LinkedIn, PayPal, your email, Facebook, iTunes and Amazon. All of that is likely to turn up a billing address, a bank statement, or a credit card type and bank. This may give them access to change your password long enough to get into some other stuff.

    They now have enough info to run a background check and get a SS number if you haven’t emailed it to someone or have a link to your eFile income tax where they get all the goods.

    It is not so innocent.

  5. Yes. If privacy is a big issue for you, get off the Internet. Amen.

    Of course, there are ways to be smart about being online – you don’t have to make yourself a target. So many people put anything and everything on their Facebook profiles or their blogs and leave it wide open for the world to read. I’m not naive about how accessible the information I put online really is – which, I suppose, is part of the reason I’m careful about how much I really share.

  6. Oh no! People are going to steal my Facebook updates, which I stole from quotes from the office?

    You can’t have this gem, internets, it’s mine!


  7. The interesting thing about the Facebook privacy kerfuffle (and I use the term “interesting” loosely since I’m kind of a nerd) is that for all the outrage and for all the online freakouts, Facebook gave in and said sure: we’ll let you speak your mind. We’ll listen to you. Vote, friends, and let your voices be heard! Only 30% of the userbase needs to votes against new privacy changes in order to retain the old privacy settings.


    Now, here’s where Facebook is truly brilliant: They *know* that 30% of the userbase isn’t going to vote, so by feigning democracy and allowing this illusion of a vote to go through, they can only win. They get to have their cake and eat it, too.

    For reference, at least 230 million users need to vote against any privacy changes in order to keep them from going into effect. On the vote for the current changes, 162,000 have voted against the changes while 31,000 have voted for them. Just slightly less than 230,000,000.

  8. Privacy is important. You don’t have it in an open forum. Privacy is something you protect, by limiting who you tell things to. And ensuring that the person is trustworthy that you tell it to. Privacy is not a right. Freedom is what people should want to preserve. With freedom, we can control our privacy if we are smart.

  9. Well said. I have missionary friends who avoid facebook because privacy affects their ability to minister in the countries where they live. I have military friends who avoid facebook because of security issues. Facebook is easily hacked.

    A number of the games and quizzes that keep popping up are there specifically to harvest your personal information, as David explained so well above, so don’t play them. Don’t like companies. If you don’t want people to know something, don’t post it. Simple.

  10. Never mind Facebook, I want to know how L.L. Bean has been keeping tabs on me. I ordered a pair of shoes from them around 1999, and no matter how many times I move and change my address, an L.L. Bean catalog STILL shows up at my house!

    Perhaps there’s a shadowy cabal out there trying to dominate the world with flannel shirts and khakis?

  11. Great post Matt. I don’t understand how it baffles people that fb and twitter and blogs are ON THE INTERNET. I was blocked by a church lady from her personal facebook page because I invaded her privacy by reading her blog. Huh? She was not satisfied with blocking just me from her page, she blocked my husband and son from her page, as well. Huh? Then she made her blog invitation only, so I couldn’t read it, but then started 3 more blogs and 4 more fb pages. Huh? She is very concerned about her privacy (from me, evidently) but unable to stay off the internet with her personal stuff. and frankly, she isn’t all that interesting.

  12. OH I love this post. Absolutely.
    A lot of people get upset about the government having access to our information, but I think that’s stupid. If I can look at satellite images through Google maps and zoom to street level, I’m pretty sure the government has access to anything they want to know/see/hear about me. You could exclude the internet entirely, and they’ve still got it. Further, the government, and lots of other private companies that must know our personal information, are filled with people who work there. Are all of those people good, honest, people who will be ethical with your information? Mostly, yes I’m sure. But totally? Of course not! So people need to just relax a little. Be stupid about posting stuff you don’t want people to know? No. But just realize that your information is all over the internet (termed “intranet” for companies who hold your personal info) whether you actively put it there via Facebook, Twitter, etc., or not.

  13. dawn ellen miller June 6, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    I have a Google Plus account specifically so I have some control over what people see if they Google my name. That and there really are some cool posters over there.

    Nefarious folks can find out a great deal of information by piecing bits together. One reason I seldom use real info on security questions. David has it absolutely right. Think three times before posting. The only secret that stays secret is the one you don’t tell anyone.

    BTW, I am slowly but surely emptying my Facebook timeline. I didn’t put all those updates on Facebook only to have them turn it into a diary to be reviewed years later.

  14. So because there’s risk, I can’t force everyone else to focus on my wants, even if it means focusing on me while paying no attention to the parts of me which scare me for people to focus on? Fine, have it the sensible way.

    I am often surprised by which of my FB friends, people I assumed were sorta smart, will post this stuff that is so clearly absurd.

  15. Great observations. I have a FB account and have set and rechecked my settings so that only friends can see my status and photos. It is strictly for family and close friends. And I don’t post my birthday because of what David said.

    But if you want to be truly private, then cut up all bank cards and credit cards and get rid of your cell phone because cell phones that have map functions and an application that helps you find your phone mean that people can find you where ever you are. I used it to estimate when my husband was coming home from a business trip once so I could be waiting at the door. But I have heard of a stalker using it to find out where his ex was before she changed her phone number, her address, and filed a restraining order against him.

    BTW, I am not a very private person.

  16. This had me almost laughing out loud at work. Yes, I did the “block user” thing too, those things spread like wildfire in Arizona. Sometimes I dream of “going off the grid” but not without my IPhone…HA HA!

  17. I still can’t stop laughing at this one. It doesn’t make any sense why people would post stuff about themselves online for everyone to see, then complain about the fact that everyone can see it!!

    Don’t put it there!! You hit the nail right on the head!

  18. I love it! I posted one of those “privacy notices” about Facebook and one of my friends hit me with the snopes.com site about the issue. (I also posted the link to this blog on my Facebook page).

    I find that privacy online is a very weird thing. For some reason, people think that when they are online, and because there may or may not be anyone else in the room, they are alone. Sure, when they need 60 friends to play a Zynga game on Facebook they realize that they aren’t alone, but as soon as their friends acquiesce and their Farmville stables are full, they go right back to thinking that that they are alone again.

    Another issue is that sites like Facebook are a sounding board for many people….BUT they still think that they are alone. Yup! they definitely acknowledge the responses they get, but for some reason, they think that the responses are between their 21″ monitor and their friend’s 2.5″ smart phone screen ONLY – and that nobody else sees what they say.

    Thirdly, the internet is your own little “universe” and that what you do has no effect on the big picture or how you are perceived. Just like in points one and two, it doesn’t matter if what you do make sense or not, it’s YOUR Facebook wall. I’ve seen bullies who are pussycats in real life and extroverts who are really introverts in real life. The user tends to forget that perception is reality and if you make yourself out to be a hot-shot seeking attention online, people are going to perceive that and more than a few are going to be confused! You can’t says ‘talk to me, talk to me, talk to me, I’m a hot-shot, I’m full of wisdom, I’m on here all of time and I’m at your beckon call’ and then turn around and say leave me alone. That would be like having a welcome sign on your front door and then shooting your visitors with a 12 gauge when they arrived! It doesn’t make any sense. To be miffed when the outcome you get from the rest of the world looking into your world isn’t complete privacy and respect is ridiculous.

    The internet is, indeed, a very twisted reality. I post a little less every day on Facebook and I can’t say that I’m sad about it.

    Remember when Facebook was about catching up with your friends and family and not a living blog? I don’t. But they tell me that was the original purpose :)

  19. But varying degrees of privacy are what make varying levels of relationship possible. To say that the only people who want privacy are those who have something to hide is a false argument.

    Privacy protects the vulnerable — just think of all the gay kids who don’t tell their parents about their sexual orientation because they know they’d get kicked out, or who don’t tell classmates who might beat them up behind the school. Consider people who were doing things that were perfectly legal and moral — the teacher who was fired because she posted a photo of herself drinking a glass of wine on vacation, for instance. We often need privacy not because we are doing anything wrong, but because other people might.

    And certainly you consider all the things your spouse knows about you more private than those the girl at the grocery checkout knows, as well as the items in-between, some of which may be known by close friends but not by coworkers, and so on. Privacy permits intimacy and the existence of an inner life.

    That said, I am not on Facebook. I do use Twitter, knowing that the information I post there is all public.

  20. Oh pfffft. I was friends with a woman who would tell you intimate details of her life at the drop of a hat, but send her a Facebook message when you’re not a “friend”? Suddenly, you invaded her precious privacy. I’m sorry, but her “right to privacy” stopped when she told me that she had hemorrhoids. : /

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