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It's not dead, it's just resting
September 2, 2008 7:25 AM   Subscribe

Privacy is dead - get over it [part 2] is a talk by private investigator Steve Rambam. It's a talk he has been giving for a number of years where he shows how privacy is being taken away, not by sinister plots but because people are giving it away. With people putting up everything and nothing on MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and so on, as well as a growing quantity of data held in private databases, he shows how easy it is to find out enormous amounts of data on just about anyone.

All in all the video is three hours long, but if you have the time it's well worth watching. It includes Steve summing up how much info he managed to get on a volunteer in four and a half hours (a lot, everything really). And how he made a bet seeing if the same volunteer could avoid being tracked down by Steve for 60 days (it involved some more stuff, but you'll have to watch the video).

This version of the talk was recorded at The Last HOPE conference, where MeFi's own Adam Savage also had a talk.
posted by bjrn (65 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
Fortunately, we are each more insignificant than ever, so it's less likely that anyone will want to know anything about us.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 7:42 AM on September 2, 2008 [4 favorites]


I used to frequent a forum pitched towards younger women, and a lot of teenage girls would also come in too. I remember having to often warn them about putting lots of their personal information in their profiles, and invariably they would scoff that they didn't have to worry about it.

About ten minutes later, when I emailed them a photo I'd found of them on their basketball team at high school or whatever other kind of similar online evidence of them I'd found, they changed their minds.

What I found true of them is that they all seemed to have the attitude that strangers on the Internet should have the courtesy to NOT look at what they wrote if they weren't being directly addressed. For some reason the Internet wasn't "public" to them.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:51 AM on September 2, 2008


OMG there's a whole wide world on the web out there!
posted by infini at 8:03 AM on September 2, 2008


What I found true of them is that they all seemed to have the attitude that strangers on the Internet should have the courtesy to NOT look at what they wrote if they weren't being directly addressed.

That's an interesting insight, and one that the Manhunt article that was recently posted seemed to reinforce, e.g. major entertainment execs putting up naked pics of themselves on a site with millions of users.

I think the general concept of "the Internet" escapes many people.

But privacy is certainly not dead. There are things I know that would make my friends go crazy, and I'm not telling. ;p

Also, if I close my front door and the blinds on my windows, nobody knows what's going on inside. (I think that's still true.)
posted by mrgrimm at 8:05 AM on September 2, 2008


You see, it's exactly because of shit like this that I exercise extreme control over my online personae. I don't relish giving up too much information, because the internet is forever.
posted by malaprohibita at 8:12 AM on September 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


What I find most disturbing is that my nieces and nephews (13-21 years of age) want everyone to know everything about them. The celebrity of being alive is very exciting to them. If people don't know who you are, then you apparently don't "exist," and that's a bad (?) thing, I gather. This extends to GPS and all other manner of tracking -- they claim that they "have nothing to hide." Good thing they feel that way, I suppose, since they will likely never know what we consider a modicum of privacy.

I've been schooled: my not wanting everyone to know every fucking detail about me is "just because [I'm] old and from a different generation and shit. Totally understandable, man."

I find that I'm okay with that. Maaannn.
posted by heyho at 8:14 AM on September 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


Also, if I close my front door and the blinds on my windows, nobody knows what's going on inside. (I think that's still true.)

Thanks, mrgrimm, but for the love of god, could you please turn off that webcam, too?
posted by rokusan at 8:14 AM on September 2, 2008 [4 favorites]


...it's less likely that anyone will want to know anything about us.

But when they do, the Internet will be waiting. It's not a series of tubes. It's a big truck. And it is patient.
posted by DU at 8:15 AM on September 2, 2008 [4 favorites]


Privacy is dead. You can't hide things -- I always laugh at people who are tight-lipped about things because they let things slip in other ways -- and they are usually the ones with a spouse or parent or child who reveals all anyway.

And things are only a big deal because people put currency on them -- if the Internet has shown us anything, it's that people aren't the special individuals that they fancy themselves to be -- there are a whole army of others who like the same things or have gone through the same things as well.

But it's always been like that -- do you really think your neighbors don't know you're fooling around with a co-worker or that you like to walk around the house nekkid? Of course they do -- they just don't tell you to your face that they know. The technology just confirms the obvious....
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 8:26 AM on September 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


Hear that, Savage? We OWN you! OWN YOU!!! Ahahahaha. Fool.... You'll never escape us.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 8:32 AM on September 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've been watching how inner city kids distribute personal information about themselves for a while now. It's just jaw dropping what they put out there; photos of guns, huge money stacks, duffel bags full of drugs. I can't really determine whether they don't understand that the technology's reach isn't limited to their circle of friends when their Myspace profile is set to public, or that they're so steeped in their own nihilism that they just don't give a fuck.

These links will take you to an annoying PDF reader, but here's a couple articles I did recently on this angle, with some pictures that will give you an idea of what I'm talking about (the newspaper butchered my text so don't hold that against me). Here are some even crazier pics that the paper wouldn't run because they had cold feet about printing too many pictures with guns pointing at the reader.

I've got at least a hundred more of these kinds of pics on my harddrive, all taken from public Myspace profiles.
posted by The Straightener at 8:38 AM on September 2, 2008 [11 favorites]


Does privacy still matter if you don't give a toss what people think of you?
posted by SciencePunk at 8:49 AM on September 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


Indeed, Internet industry executives and government officials have acknowledged that Internet traffic passing through the switching equipment of companies based in the United States has proved a distinct advantage for American intelligence agencies. In December 2005, The New York Times reported that the National Security Agency had established a program with the cooperation of American telecommunications firms that included the interception of foreign Internet communications.

Some Internet technologists and privacy advocates say those actions and other government policies may be hastening the shift in Canadian and European traffic away from the United States.
via the NYT
posted by infini at 8:50 AM on September 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


What I found true of them is that they all seemed to have the attitude that strangers on the Internet should have the courtesy to NOT look at what they wrote if they weren't being directly addressed.

. . . because strangers on the Internet are always courteous and respectful to each other.
posted by jason's_planet at 8:53 AM on September 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


@ Straightener -- I am a bit perplexed at your question -- if these kids aren't afraid of dying, why would they care about showing their pictures? It's their reality -- something they see day in and day out. They've been shot at. They've been in jail or have family who has or is serving time. If they are involved in gang activity, they are dealing drugs, obviously not all that afraid of being caught. We have mainstream entertainers singing about that kind of life and we're not using those lyrics to investigate their possible criminal activities. It's not right, but it's a reality.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 8:53 AM on September 2, 2008


They know you watched that video! Gah, now they know you're reading this! And they know I'm writing it!

I dunno. You could live your life thinking about this, but I think you'd go mad.
posted by bink at 8:54 AM on September 2, 2008


Does privacy still matter if you don't give a toss what people think of you?

Not at all. Hey, any chance you could spare some of those millions that allow you to never have to worry about getting a job/finding a client again?
posted by enn at 8:58 AM on September 2, 2008


Also, if I close my front door and the blinds on my windows, nobody knows what's going on inside. (I think that's still true.)

I think you need to Google the term "thermal imaging."
posted by Thorzdad at 9:00 AM on September 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


I am a bit perplexed at your question -- if these kids aren't afraid of dying, why would they care about showing their pictures?

Because they are building an incredibly detailed body of incriminating information about themselves and basically serving it up to law enforcement and the District Attorney's office on a plate?
posted by The Straightener at 9:02 AM on September 2, 2008


"The device is primary aimed for Law Enforcement and Security Professionals but can be purchased by anyone." Paraben's CSI Stick Copies Data from Cell Phones.
posted by Kronos_to_Earth at 9:04 AM on September 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


When Andy Warhol said we'd all be famous for fifteen minutes, he meant it as a warning. Welcome to the future, folks, where the wisdom lies in anonymity, of which there's a certain amount percolating around this site (hence all the nick names).
posted by philip-random at 9:04 AM on September 2, 2008


Because they are building an incredibly detailed body of incriminating information about themselves and basically serving it up to law enforcement and the District Attorney's office on a plate?

That makes me wonder -- how many criminal cases nowadays use information freely volunteered on Myspace/Facebook/etc. as evidence?
posted by jason's_planet at 9:07 AM on September 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


is it generational however? those of us who were adults by any count (30 when I saw my first tcp/ip page and 29 when I saw it on Pine) have always been a tad more careful and known that its permanent etc whereas for the digital babies who've grown up immersed in media and 'sharing' its an entirely different worldview?

just rambling
posted by infini at 9:08 AM on September 2, 2008


Because they are building an incredibly detailed body of incriminating information about themselves and basically serving it up to law enforcement and the District Attorney's office on a plate?

If they are willing to DIE, why do they care about being in jail? Some people have a completely different point of reference -- you can't think in terms of what you'd do, but look at the most severe behavior of someone else and then compare it to the behavior that puzzles you -- is going to jail worse than getting gunned down crippling or killing you? Besides, for a lot of people jail is not only no worse than their free life, in many cases, it is a vast improvement.

So I am still perplexed at why you're perplexed...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 9:17 AM on September 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'd suggest that people actually watch the video. Rambam's talk is mainly focused on information available to private individuals, not the government.
posted by roll truck roll at 9:17 AM on September 2, 2008


That makes me wonder -- how many criminal cases nowadays use information freely volunteered on Myspace/Facebook/etc. as evidence?

A Mefite actually helped me get a great contact in the Philly DA's office for the story, but nobody there would touch the Myspace question with a ten foot pole. They bounced me around over the course of five days to different public relations people, who bounced me back to the original contact, who bounced me somewhere else. The police were equally tight lipped, after days of being similarly bounced around I got a detective on the phone who wouldn't say anything beyond "we're aware of this situation" to every question I put to him.

It would lead one to believe that they don't appreciate the press covering this because it's a goldmine for them, but honestly I'm not so sure. There were off the record comments made after the article printed that lead me to believe that they didn't want to talk about it because they had no idea about it. I personally don't know of any examples locally yet where a Myspace profile was used in building a case against a defendant, but there's someone else here who can give you better information about something like that than I can.
posted by The Straightener at 9:18 AM on September 2, 2008


Sounds like the worst offenders are the government licensing and regulatory processes that put private data out there with no opt out.
posted by acro at 9:18 AM on September 2, 2008


If they are willing to DIE, why do they care about being in jail? Some people have a completely different point of reference -- you can't think in terms of what you'd do, but look at the most severe behavior of someone else and then compare it to the behavior that puzzles you -- is going to jail worse than getting gunned down crippling or killing you? Besides, for a lot of people jail is not only no worse than their free life, in many cases, it is a vast improvement.

You can spare me the lecture, I've worked in the worst neighborhoods you can imagine very extensively as a social worker and written about them equally extensively as a freelance writer so this is not new territory to me. The fact is that not every kid fits your profile. Yes, there are the sociopaths who don't give a fuck, but there's also thirteen and fourteen year old kids putting pictures like these out there only to have cousins and sisters commenting on it, "You better take that picture down before mommy sees it," or "You damn fool, get that picture off there before the police see it." There's plenty of evidence to suggest that for many very socially isolated kids this is simply a new medium and they don't understand the potential long term implications about the information they share.
posted by The Straightener at 9:29 AM on September 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


That makes me wonder -- how many criminal cases nowadays use information freely volunteered on Myspace/Facebook/etc. as evidence?

Good question, I'm not sure if Rambam mentioned content of social networking/personal websites in court cases, I just remember how he said it made his life as a private investigator so much easier.
posted by bjrn at 9:35 AM on September 2, 2008


A fervent desire for privacy is the mark of those who fear that our differences are irreconcilable or that the secrets which all of us catalog in our hearts as terrible sins are indeed unforgivable.
posted by koeselitz at 9:39 AM on September 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


there's also thirteen and fourteen year old kids putting pictures like these out there only to have cousins and sisters commenting on it, "You better take that picture down before mommy sees it," or "You damn fool, get that picture off there before the police see it." There's plenty of evidence to suggest that for many very socially isolated kids this is simply a new medium and they don't understand the potential long term implications about the information they share.

Maybe this is just me, but as a thirteen then fourteen year old kid, my understanding of long term implications of any kind were severely limited.

s it generational however? those of us who were adults by any count (30 when I saw my first tcp/ip page and 29 when I saw it on Pine) have always been a tad more careful and known that its permanent

Maybe you and I use the word "generational" differently. You were careful because you were 30, not because you were always raised to be careful. What would you have done with the technology had you had it when you were 13?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:39 AM on September 2, 2008


Hmm, on reread, I think that's probably your use of the word, too. A generational gap in access, then, not in character.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:41 AM on September 2, 2008


The celebrity of being alive is very exciting to them. If people don't know who you are, then you apparently don't "exist," and that's a bad (?) thing, I gather.

There is a wack job (or perhaps not so wacked) called Bob Neveritt who talks about 'chip bodies' and 'electronic bodies' - and prattles on about exactly the quote above.

More on his line of thinking so you can figure out if Bob is wacked or not:
http://www.fivebodied.com/viewtopic.php?t=3333
posted by rough ashlar at 9:46 AM on September 2, 2008


yes, exactly. there's a difference in the pattern of usage and approach to the web between my father and myself although we both were introduced to the desktop in 1982 and then the internet as soon as it was available. similarly the young have gone on the mobile phone in way that I just can't imagine doing so, I can barely text and walk.
posted by infini at 9:46 AM on September 2, 2008


Bruce Schneier: The Myth of the "Transparent Society"
posted by homunculus at 9:52 AM on September 2, 2008 [5 favorites]


Can't watch the video now, so I don't know if he makes the same point or the opposite but here it comes.

For me the right to privacy and keeping public and private life separate have always been associated with old England. So, in those times in that society, how well was data protected, compared to those societies that didn't care about privacy?

Not well, I guess. If a gentleman had private secrets, probably every member of servant class in that household knew about it: sex life, alcohol, illegitemate children etc. - having vices required assistance from other people like everything else in that lifestyle did. Did people really count on that servants didn't gossip? I think not. Still that is looked back as a time and place where people had privacy.

Privacy then was not about that you are not able to get information about people's private life, but that you are not allowed to use that kind of information in public life, much like you are not allowed in court to use evidence gained by illegitemate means. Separation of private and public was not about what data should be available, it was about what data should be used. Because there always were difficulties in drawing the line where privacy should start, privacy was a big issue.

Newspapers and wars kind of eroded that sense of private data as something that should not be used and slowly replaced it with private data as something that is not known.

I too think that privacy is dead, if privacy is understood as information not known to others. It was a formulation of privacy for a time when information sources were limited and could be gamed and now it needs to be replaced. In these days, copying of information is so basic that once you have one piece of information, you can assume that everyone else can have it too.

So we should go back to private as a social classification. Only protection of privacy you should fight for should be in form of strict social rules and/or laws governing what is allowed to be used against you -- in love, in friendships, in your family, in your work, in your community, in legal issues, in healthcare, in politic campaigns. All of these fields need different rules and agreeing in those is the challenge of information society.

People you should fight against are people who think they have a right to use any available means, any available information they can get their hands on, against their perceived enemies. You must play nicely with information and not yield to those who won't.
posted by Free word order! at 9:57 AM on September 2, 2008 [6 favorites]


This has always been the thing about the global village: villages are fucking shit. Everybody knows your business and gossip rules the day.

On the other hand, villages are great -- you fall down, somebody picks you up. You get attacked, somebody's got your back. Out of sugar? Someone will lend you some.

Privacy's worth the trade there, I think it might be worth the trade here too. We just need to update our etiquette. Perhaps strangers on the Internet should have the courtesy to NOT look at what they wrote if they weren't being directly addressed. is exactly right.
posted by bonaldi at 9:57 AM on September 2, 2008


A fervent desire for privacy is the mark of those who fear that our differences are irreconcilable or that the secrets which all of us catalog in our hearts as terrible sins are indeed unforgivable.

Or that someone can drain your bank account and destroy you financially.
posted by Mr_Zero at 10:10 AM on September 2, 2008


A fervent desire for privacy is the mark of those who fear that our differences are irreconcilable or that the secrets which all of us catalog in our hearts as terrible sins are indeed unforgivable.

No, its based on the observation of 'people in power' and simple interactions with them.

4 cops darkened my doorstep one day, based on charges that I was 'running a drug lab'. Had they come inside they would have found my RS-232 scale that I use to weigh hazelnuts to select for weight to breed them, the beakers and petri dishes I use to culture oyster mushrooms and who knows what the hell else they'd call 'drug making stuff'.

If I ever decided to get glassware for vapor seperation of plant oils, that would also have been nabbed.

As it was, the one keystone copper got a woody over my having 5 gal pails outside that used to hold Nitric and Phosphoric acid that is used as a sterlization wash for making beer OR for part of the fungi growing. Was claiming it was proof of drug making. Nevermind the adding of dye to the chemical to make pH color detection hard - it was all the proof they needed. Why were the pails outside? I was using 'em to ferry dirt in my 'illegal mining operation'. Yup - removing soil violates the rights of the entity that holds the mineral rights on my land. Good thing I didn't point THAT out to the cops eh? If I had been smart(ass) I would have told 'em that I had buried bodies 6 foot down in the spots I wanted dug up for new garden/fungus beds.
the cops/garden joke


If the pails had been inside - they would have had no further basis to screw with me.
posted by rough ashlar at 10:12 AM on September 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


A different point of view:

"I shop on Amazon.com and I like its book recommendation service. But does that mean that I don't care about my privacy? Far from it. I would be upset if Amazon kept the data insecure, if it didn't inform me of the data it had, if it disclosed it to the government without my consent, if it started posting my book purchases online for the world to see, and so on. Caring about "privacy" is more than merely caring about hiding information.
For example, many people care about the privacy of their financial information, yet they share this data with banks, credit card companies, and various merchants. The fact that people give out this information doesn't mean that they don't care about "privacy." In today's Information Age, if people really wanted to keep all their information concealed, they'd have to live in a shack in the woods. The fact that people give out data in an age where it is nearly impossible not to do so has little bearing on the value of privacy."

More at: Concurring opinions: Fallacies about privacy.
posted by rjs at 10:22 AM on September 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


> But privacy is certainly not dead. There are things I know that would make my friends go crazy, and I'm not telling. ;p

I know where I'm ticklish, and I'm not about to tell.
posted by jfuller at 10:22 AM on September 2, 2008


A fervent desire for privacy is the mark of those who fear that our differences are irreconcilable or that the secrets which all of us catalog in our hearts as terrible sins are indeed unforgivable.

In my case, it's the mark of a guy who doesn't really care to process all of these differences and personal secrets with any random dipshit who has access to a computer and teh Intertubes.
posted by jason's_planet at 10:27 AM on September 2, 2008


A fervent desire for privacy is the mark of those who fear that our differences are irreconcilable or that the secrets which all of us catalog in our hearts as terrible sins are indeed unforgivable.

That might wash in some egalitarian world where everyone has equal access to information and the ability to use it. But thats not our world.

Court trials are one big data transaction where each side tries to leverage what data they can to decide if you should go to jail or perhaps be put to death. Jury of your peers means little when confronted by a power which can control and manipulate data.

The stock market is one big data market. Who knows what? And when? Billions are made and lost. Money exists as data, weakly protected by PIN numbers and passwords.

So, offhand, I'd say my desire for privacy rests on the desire not to be locked away for life, not to be put to Death, not to become bankrupt. Reasonable desires, I think.
posted by vacapinta at 10:28 AM on September 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oops, forgot the link. Here it is.
posted by rjs at 10:40 AM on September 2, 2008


Our differences are irreconcilable for many values of 'our'. That's the real world.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 10:48 AM on September 2, 2008


I protect my privacy by aggressively establishing my worth as a nobody.
posted by basicchannel at 11:20 AM on September 2, 2008


A private investigator named Rambam?
Rambam P.I.?
I’m a dick. A shamus. A gumshoe. My name?
*cue noirish montage of fists flying, people hurled down stairs, a sultry brunette, a cat licking its paw, someone playing piano is shot, a window shatters, a square jawed man ducks and fires back from a snub nose .38*
Rambam...P.I.
*duh da daaaaaahhnnnn!*

“Does privacy still matter if you don't give a toss what people think of you?”

It matters when what people think of you can be managed into something you might not like.
(The Yakuza make a healthy profit from extortion this way in terms of they won’t tarnish your corporate image by showing up at your - whatever - and being garish.)

And indeed, by lowering the bar for public scrutiny you invite greater social conformity and ultimately less control and autonomy. Defeating (what I take to be) your point there.
(homunculus’ Schneier link covers that well too)

I’ll add - does McNealy masturbate and defecate in public?
Another reason we value privacy is not just the vanity implicit in that question, but our value in not being exposed to it. I don’t want to see the guy crap or jerk off.

The ‘privacy’ walls around bathroom stalls are a testament to this. We *can* easily look over or under them. We could easily leave the door wide open, or prop it open with our foot to display ourselves as we take a dump.

That the wall is easily circumvented does not mean we don’t have privacy, or the expectation of privacy, in that situation. Going both ways.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:35 AM on September 2, 2008


Perhaps strangers on the Internet should have the courtesy to NOT look at what they wrote if they weren't being directly addressed. is exactly right.

So, bonaldi, given that this is directly addressed to you, is everyone else being discourteous by reading it?

Or if I wanted to communicate privately should I maybe have not written on a public forum?
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 12:16 PM on September 2, 2008


Oh shush you worry warts. It's not like you could get sued for posting a cut and pasted clip from some brochure.
posted by benzenedream at 12:31 PM on September 2, 2008


So, bonaldi, given that this is directly addressed to you, is everyone else being discourteous by reading it?
I think what the girls are getting at is that, yes, it's cool for anyone who likes their team to look at the pictures, but don't hunt them down precisely because they're pictures of them.

In real life, for instance, It's OK for people to listen in if you're talking to me on a platform or we're in a debate, but if those same people then follow you everywhere you go and listen in to all your conversations and visit your workplace and read the company brochures looking for your name, and visit your school to check out all the bulletin boards for mentions of you ... well, that's stalking and it's poor etiquette.

It's still all public though, isn't it?
posted by bonaldi at 12:41 PM on September 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


When Andy Warhol said we'd all be famous for fifteen minutes, he meant it as a warning. Welcome to the future, folks, where the wisdom lies in anonymity, of which there's a certain amount percolating around this site (hence all the nick names).

I remember a particular witty quote I read a couple of years ago that more accurately amended the Warhol quote to be: "In the future everybody will be famous for 15 people". I'm not sure of the source.
posted by any major dude at 12:43 PM on September 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


I remember a particular witty quote I read a couple of years ago that more accurately amended the Warhol quote to be: "In the future everybody will be famous for 15 people". I'm not sure of the source.

I think it's supposed to be Momus.
posted by Stylus Happenstance at 1:01 PM on September 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


A somewhat tangential point about kids and the internet: Just this weekend, I was commenting to my teenager and her friends who had chosen not to buy a high school yearbook for their freshman year, and suggested that in the future, they might want to be able to remember and keep track of kids from other grades. My teen said, "but that's what Facebook is for."
posted by etaoin at 1:04 PM on September 2, 2008


Appropriately, Metafilter is the first website I opened in this new install of the Google Chrome browser, and then this thread is the first I clicked on, and this is the first post made.

I long ago gave up on being private on the web. It's too out there and too easy for people to find out about me. I have along and varied history on the web, detailing everything from old girlfriends to my young daughter. Once you put things out there, you are at the mercy of people's good or bad intentions, and there is no way to pull it all back.
posted by Kickstart70 at 2:16 PM on September 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


I wonder if the current trend of putting anything and everything on blogs, Myspace pages, and the like will be viewed nostalgically in a few years as the early days of online innocence. I just can't see how anything good could come of it so I keep my online presence minimal and as anonymous as possible, even though there's nothing I need to hide.

When potential employers google my name, all I want them to find is my scientific publications - anything else I do with my life is none of their damn business, no matter how innocuous it is. People who post all sorts of stuff under their real names are just asking for trouble if there's anything even slightly eyebrow-raising out there. If nothing else, they're at a competitive disadvantage against job applicants who have no whiff of skank about them. In an economy that's probably going to tank, that could make a huge difference.

I suspect that in a few years, the giddy fun of "being someone" online will wear off, and looking back on it, this era will seem as naive and innocent as Leave It To Beaver.

Also: Woot! Smedleyman's back!
posted by Quietgal at 5:54 PM on September 2, 2008


I suspect that in a few years, the giddy fun of "being someone" online will wear off, and looking back on it, this era will seem as naive and innocent as Leave It To Beaver.
I'm really in two minds about this one. What happens when the throw-it-all-on-the-net generation become the hiring managers? Then not having a warts-and-all online presence is going to seem weird, like you're some sort of disconnected social pariah with no friends, and who wants to work with that? Then the candidate with the tasteful but packed facebook page is going to seem like a catch, no?

Already I look a bit askance at people with next to no net presence, like something's wrong with them.
posted by bonaldi at 6:09 PM on September 2, 2008


Bonaldi, I'm of the opinion that anything you post can be used against you. I bet it will actually happen in some manner to some percent of bloggers/MySpacers/etc and put the fear into (most of) the rest. There's a few years yet for today's online carousers to get stung and grow up before they become hiring managers.

Of course people will continue to take naughty pictures and write questionable things and share them with their friends - I just think that the current practice of publishing them for the whole world to see will come to a stop. Not enough people have felt the consequences yet to put a damper on the whole thing, but I'm sure the day is coming. We already have background checks for jobs that shouldn't require them; you don't have to be too paranoid to see that an irresponsible "party girl" impression from a Google search is probably not going to help you compete for that high-level job.

I think that as long as job interviews include some face-to-face time, a candidate's personality can be gauged pretty accurately and lack of an online presence wouldn't make a pleasant person seem like a cold fish. (Of course, if everything is done remotely, it's harder to judge.)

Your final comment suggests a likely future scenario: everybody has a tasteful and completely fake blog/Facebook page for public consumption, and the real stuff is only accessible to select friends. Kind of like those perfectly decorated 1950s living rooms where the family never set foot, and the messy rumpus room downstairs where no guests were allowed.
posted by Quietgal at 6:55 PM on September 2, 2008


Ack. Delete "1950s".
posted by Quietgal at 7:30 PM on September 2, 2008


Your final comment suggests a likely future scenario: everybody has a tasteful and completely fake blog/Facebook page for public consumption, and the real stuff is only accessible to select friends.

This is already possible. Facebook allows a lot of granularity as to who can see exactly what parts of one's profile.

I don't think many people bother.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 8:26 PM on September 2, 2008


I agree with Quietgal, ever since I went freelance I started assiduously managing my "google" results for my name, realising that in today's world, that is your brand and you do have to put a consistent image out there. people in your life who know you for real will love and accept you warts and all, but is it a given that the world out there will necessarily be able to interpret your snarks in the right way, given that they don't know you as a person?
posted by infini at 9:04 PM on September 2, 2008


People with common names (John Smith, Mary Jones, etc) probably have some privacy left, simply because there are so many of them. They can always say, oh, that must have been one of the others, not me. The more there are of your name, the more your trees just blend into the forest.

I took a different route: I legally changed my name to one that is not common as an actual person's name (I'm probably the only one on the planet), but it is the name of a character in literature, and is also the name of a movie. But my spelling is just slightly off, so it actually appears as if I'm using a pseudonym and don't know how to spell the name of the character. I do, of course, but I didn't want to change my first name or its spelling, so I kept it my way. There are others who use the name too, as a pseudonym, and accidentally misspell it the same way I purposely spell it. It's worked out great! Anybody who recognizes the name doesn't believe it's real. And most people who don't recognize the name can neither pronounce it nor spell it.

Now you're going to wonder why I changed it. Well, I actually don't have much of a reason; I did it on a lark, basically. I thought that was kind of the ultimate expression of taking control of your own life, to name yourself (however unoriginally). In retrospect, it was more of a pain in the ass than I expected (new Social Security card, birth certificates, everything).

Anyway, if you think outside the box a bit, there are ways to at least enhance your privacy levels.
posted by jamstigator at 9:13 PM on September 2, 2008


When potential employers google my name, all I want them to find is my scientific publications

The thing is that you're not the only one writing about you. If your friends (or anyone really) start writing about you or what they did together with you, that's beyond your control, and everyone can see it.
posted by bjrn at 12:51 AM on September 3, 2008


What bothers me is the not-so-subtle conflation of 'there's a ton of data out there about you, and many people freely add to it with little concern about their privacy' with 'privacy is dead, get over it, stop moaning about corporations and governments knowing about everything you do'. The erosion of personal privacy (where data is collected, stored and shared by 3rd parties with minimal oversight) is the huge floating mass of ice that sits under the visible iceberg of things like Facebook profiles. And every bit of that data is collected because of conscious decisions by individuals and organisations. For instance, British police forces didn't have to turn speeding and dropping litter into matters of criminal record, but they did, because they wanted to be able to collect DNA swabs and grow their database.

Techie libertarian types who have their eyes set on a joyous future of completely transparent panoptical government and society can start by publishing their complete browser history, personal correspondence and intimate photos on the web, and they can finish by fucking the fuck off.
posted by Happy Dave at 1:19 AM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Don't know whether it ultimately was used in prosecution, but when NFL player Sean Taylor was murdered in Miami last year, the media quickly tracked down the suspects' myspace pages. (Talk about poor grammar!) Myspace and the like is a treasure trove for the media.
posted by stargell at 7:05 AM on September 3, 2008


Interesting link, though it wasn't really anything new. I suppose it makes sense that social networks and private websites can be subpoenaed all the time, you just don't think about it. In fact I've definitely seen Law and Order episodes where they do that, so it must be true.

I joined metafilter 3 years ago at 13, so many of my peers have awful, explicit, life wrecking myspace and facebooks. Even if their profiles are private, several of my friends have explicit profile pictures. And there is the classic myspace whore, the girl who inevitably decides to start a blog or myspace about the school. This never ends well, and actually led to disciplinary action at a highschool I went to.

I'd like to say kids don't realize that what they say is public, but that is not the case. Just the other day I was facebooking a girl who posted extremely sexual pictures of herself, and the latest one was subtitled "here come all the haters and people saying "put on more clothes." One part of applying for college is scrubbing your facebook of illicitness, because everyone knows colleges check now.

The conversations people are willing to have with each other on public spaces (facebook walls, etc) can be ridiculous. Facebooks are crucial figure out if someone is cheating etc, and reading someones messages can tell you a lot about them.
posted by Suparnova at 1:29 PM on September 3, 2008


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