The rise of the Internet over the past two decades has challenged one of the sacred cows of modern American life: the “right” to privacy. This “right”, which was unheard of in previous generations and cultures, is one of the fundamental presuppositions of our society; we all just blithely assume that we are allowed to dictate what information about us is revealed to the public. This “right” received legal backing in our country with the famous “Griswold v. Connecticut” Supreme Court decision which declared that a “right” to privacy was a constitutional right.
However, another, more recent, desire of Americans is conflicting with this desire for privacy: the desire to be famous. It seems that many Americans today crave fame, and technology is making it possible to become well-known – at least in a small circle – much easier than in previous times. With a blog, a Facebook page or a YouTube video, you can let the world know about yourself, your views, even your shoe size (mine is 9 1/2, by the way). Yet everyone also wants to strictly control what information is available to what people; they want to maintain their “privacy”.
The latest battleground in this conflict between fame and privacy has been Facebook. The social networking giant has been repeatedly changing their privacy settings for users, and recently the head of Facebook admitted that he would like to see less privacy, not more, on the web. This has caused no end of protests from people declaring that they should have strict control over the information they put on their Facebook page.
I can’t help but chuckle, however, at these complaints. These are people who are putting their most intimate life details on a distant computer server they neither own nor operate and which is run by a company whose sole purpose is to display that information to others. Yet they somehow expect it to remain “private”.
As an Internet professional, let me tell you a secret: nothing on the Internet is private. If you want something about yourself to remain private, then don’t tell anyone about it, and for God’s sake don’t put it on a computer. I worked in the web hosting industry for over 10 years, and I know first-hand that nothing that is stored on an Internet server is truly private. Data put on the Internet is transmitted through various computers before reaching its true destination, is stored on a computer which many people have access to, and is tracked to the minutest detail (what time it was entered, where it came from, etc.). Furthermore, all data is copied to multiple machines (for backup purposes), so even if you delete something after you enter it, most likely it will remain on a backup device somewhere, possibly indefinitely. By putting anything in an email, a blog, a Facebook page, or a YouTube video you have made it public and available to anyone who really wants to discover it, no matter what “privacy” settings you might apply. To think such information can somehow remain private is simply delusional.
So if you really want to keep something private, be quiet.