Illusions of online privacy

By Siobhan MacDermott ’05 and J.R. Smith

People worried about online privacy sometimes resort to extreme measures such as social media boycotts. But staying off Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter and similar sites does not guarantee that a person’s likeness and name will not be misused by others. In fact, people arguably sacrifice more control when they opt out of the social web because they do not know how others are using or abusing their information until someone happens to tell them about it. The truth is the Internet is not the real source of danger. Most privacy breaches result from the careless attitudes and distorted perceptions that people bring to the Internet. Our book, “Wide Open Privacy: Strategies for the Digital Life,” explores four common paradoxes of the digital world.

Invisibility Paradox: We know the Internet exposes us to the world, which should put us on our guard. Yet sitting alone with a computer prompts many of us to lose our inhibitions and to express ourselves more openly, even carelessly.

Impulse Paradox: Many of us view the digital world as an intense fantasy space from which instant escape is just a matter of logging off. We feel we are merely playing a role without real-life consequences, and therefore we are liable to act on impulse. Yet one thoughtless act in this environment may create a digital footprint as permanent as the one Neil Armstrong left on the moon.

Crowd Paradox: Online we might see ourselves as just one person in the crowd. This might give us the feeling of safety in numbers. Yet computers love big data. Even among billions, we can be picked out and tracked.

Island Paradox: Accessing the world via the Internet makes many of us feel invisible, anonymous and autonomous — like islands. Yet wireless networks connect us to people and entities we’ve never even met. Think about these paradoxes before you post your next status update, photo or video.

Siobhan MacDermott ’05 has a Thunderbird Executive MBA. She is Chief Policy Officer of AVG Technologies, a consumer security software company. J.R. Smith is CEO of AVG Technologies.

Wide Open Privacy: Strategies for the Digital Life
Authors: Siobhan MacDermott ’05 and J.R. Smith
Description: Paperback, 190 pages
Publisher: IT-Harvest Press, 2012

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