Sunday, January 30, 2011

On Privacy

I have been fussing around on this topic, mentally writing a blog and contemplating the issues of privacy in the age of electronic access to myriads of information.

Herewith some of the impetus for these thoughts.

# 1--I watched an interview on CBS 60 Minutes today--Julian Assange was the interviewee. Combine that interview with the fact that he is also the topic of the New York Times Sunday magazine--quite some exposure for an incredibly self-assured cocky self-righteous self-designated savior of the world young man.

# 2--we recently went to see the movie The Social Network. This movie recounts the creation of that most ubiquitous of websites--Facebook--from its days of infancy as the brain child of Mark Zuckerberg, while he was a student at Harvard. Of course, those of us who now have Facebook profiles are constantly being warned about guarding our privacy on our Facebook settings. Why, even Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook profile was hacked, just the other day. (Oh, if only I were teaching a literature course right now--that would be the PERFECT example of irony.)

# 3--a blogger whose wonderful writing I have been reading indicated, right after the horrific shootings in Tucson, that the writer of one of the blogs she reads--by someone named Ashleigh Burroughs--was one of the victims. So, I scooted off to The Burrow to read what I could. I am naturally curious, and wanted details. I read a couple of posts--posted from before the shootings, and after. I learned--via a post her daughter made--that she was doing as well as might be expected, for someone who had been shot and survived. It wasn't until days after I began reading that the proverbial lightbulb went off. Several clues, along with her being "outed" by her own admission, made me understand--I had been reading Suzi Hileman's blog.

I include this last example because it speaks directly to the issue of privacy in the age of electronic information overload. She had decided, when she began blogging, to use a nom-de-plume. In the context of her blog, she became Ashleigh. And people read her blog, responding to her, calling her Ashleigh. She wanted this other persona, no doubt for many reasons, but at least in part to preserve privacy.

When I began blogging, I used my own version of a nom-de-plume. Not a full fledged alternative identity, but one which did not use my real name. Over time, most people have figured it out. That has been part of the fun of blogging for me--figuring out the names behind the pseudonyms bloggers choose to use. I understand completely the desire for privacy.

In this electronic age, some people choose to go entirely underground--no online identity of any kind. That kind of anonymity is very hard to achieve and maintain. Frankly, our identities are practically plastered all over the place--what the electronic age with the Internet has done has made it EASIER to find out someone's name, address, phone number and maybe much more. I recently made a request to put a list of names and addresses online, and got the response--what about privacy? My first thought was--those names and addresses are available in any phone book. Even when the paper version of the phone book goes away, the online version will still be there.

So, how do I pull together the three impetus inspirations for this blog. Certainly what Julian Assange has done is a cautionary tale. He has decided that it is his right, no--make that his duty to share information with the world. He believes that only the harsh light of revelation can lead people to make correct decisions. The information he deals in is weighty--world-changing in fact. Privacy be damned, inan Assange world, we all have the RIGHT to know whatever, even if it results in someone's being killed--as it surely has. Mark Zuckerberg's brainchild Facebook demonstrates that no tidbit of information is too trivial to keep it from being shared. Sadly, there are people who use such a social network to berate, belittle and besmirch people. Information becomes a cudgel with that approach. The world of blogging is different from the first two examples. The exposure there is slower developing--some blogs may have large readerships, but most probably do not. Sometimes bloggers long for more readers, but certainly not at the cost of what Suzi Hileman has had to endure.

Truth be told, I really don't know where my thoughts are going. I certainly prefer privacy, but I also love information. Are the two irreconcilable?

Anyone out there have an answer? Anyone?


Jayne said...

It's funny, but I find because my blog is accessible to ALL, I do try and maintain a higher level of privacy there. No last name or location etc. (Location which truly can be found on any site stats meter so who am I kidding?)

However, for those people (like you my friend) that I've communicated with via email, and who now are also "friends" on Fb, that anonymity is a thing I don't even consider. The thing is MOST of the people who read my blog don't "know" me on Fb. I prefer it that way.

Having said that, I have to admit that the other day when I sent an email to a fellow blogger I've followed for a long time to see how she was doing, and got a response telling me her "real" name with a (who blogs as ****), I was taken aback. Really? That never was her name?

It's a funny thing this need to maintain some privacy in a world where we are truly never private to anyone if they really want to know who we are.

Anvilcloud said...

As you know, I use a plumey, but it's more or less as a sop to others who have concerns. It's quite unnecessary really -- although, paradoxically, my plumey has in a way become my real name online, and I kind of like it.

Ruth said...

I don't worry about revealing my real name to the world. Any attempts to conceal my identity are mainly directed toward my employer. The privacy office at the hospital is always checking for online breaches of confidentiality. Some people have been reprimanded for very subtle references to their job. Nowhere on my FB page do I mention my employer, nor do I join any group of fellow employees.

Ginnie said...

Very interesting. I find that my blog is the one place where I can "let it all out", as it were. I am very careful not to use my children's real names, etc. but where I am concerned I don't care. I am usually non-judgemental but when I feel something deeply I see no reason why I can't express it. A commentor just this morning took offense at what I'd written and challenged me to post his comment. Of course I will post it (I only delete those that are smut or obvious advertising ploys) and I think that's what makes our world an interesting place. I love the differences and hopefully learn from them.
I share your confusion about all this and find the comments fascinating.

JeanMac said...

I used to not post pictures but after several people found my blog, and knew our situation, I thought, "What the heck." (PS How is that for one awful sentence written on a prof's blog!)
Anyway, considering going private and will announce it as Wayne's condition deteriorates.

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