Privacy is the Cost of Convenience in an Online World

Before I even had a chance to check my Bloglines feed, gabinator alerted me to a really great post by T. Scott about privacy and Facebook.  He discusses the outrage some feel about the way Facebook handles users’ privacy.  Apparently there are 170 privacy options within Facebook and while I think 170 options are too many and I favor something a little simpler, in general I have to agree with Scott when he says,  “If you want all of that information to be that private, what in the world are you doing on Facebook in the first place?”

I am dumbfounded by the stories I hear from librarians about patrons who refuse, due to privacy concerns, to give the library their address or phone number (despite assurances that we do not release that information to anyone unless they have a court order) but they have no problem talking loudly on their cell phone about their illness and doctor’s opinion on it. 

Privacy in an increasingly online and networked world is difficult because we have grown accustomed to convenience.  Back when I was in high school people were just beginning to dip their toes into AOL.  None of my friends had email. Digital cameras were in the relm of 007. Video cameras were still ginormous contraptions that caused your shoulder to start to ache and then go dead within the span of 5 minutes.  People bought airline tickets from travel agents or they called the airlines.  People paid their bills by mail with stamps.  If you wanted to keep in touch with friends or family you called them (and paid for long distance) or wrote a letter. 

Twenty years later (ugh am I really that old), things have changed.  I can order Chipotle from an iPhone app and the share with the world via FourSquare that I am at the Chipotle store picking up my burrito bowl.  Not only does everybody have email, many people have 3-4 accounts.  Phones include still and video cameras, are the size of a pack of cigarettes, people are canceling their landlines.  People are posting the cell phone videos and pictures online.  Banking and bill paying is done online.  People submit online vast amounts of personal information including dates their home will be left empty all in an effort to get a good deal on an airline ticket.  While people still talk on the phone, the art of letter writing is quickly becoming extinct.  And the ultimate in convenience, we can communicate online and read about what our “friends” and family are doing without even seeing or speaking to them (sometimes for years). 

Today we give up a little bit of our privacy for the modern online convenience of life.  How much we are willing to give up is really up to ourselves.  However, I would venture to say that there is more about a person online than they realize.  That is because they were willing to trade a little bit of their privacy to do something.  Whether it buying a new house (guess what many counties property records are online), banking online, or buying an airline ticket, the price for this online convenience is privacy.  If you truly want to be private then you have to ween yourself off of our modern day online life. 

For those of you who don’t want to go completely off the grid, you have to realize the price for communicating with  friends and family via Facebook is a certain amount of your privacy.  Knowing what you want to remain private and what you are willing to allow open is the key.  If you don’t want people to know about it, or if you feel uncomfortable that a total stranger might know something about you, don’t ever put it online.