In the age of social networking, there's no such thing as privacy

2013 or 1984? Think before you post, because Big Brother is always watching.

May 6, 2013

Surprise, surprise: Millenials are more willing than any other generation to share personal information online.
 
According to a new survey from the University of California's Center for the Digital Future, Millenials, ages 18-34, were more likely to share their location in order to receive coupons from nearby businesses: 56 percent vs. 42 percent of those 35 and over. More than half of the Millenials surveyed also said that they would share private information with a company if they got something in return. 
 
This push for active participation in social media may seem harmless at first, until you look at the bigger picture and cringe at the Orwellian nature of it all.
 
For example, have you ever bought a product at your favorite store, and then saw an advertisement for a similar product pop up on your Facebook sidebar just moments later? Cue the Big Brother shiver up your spine: that's no coincidence.
 
Everything that we post to our personal websites can be tracked, and the Internet is always watching. Whether we admit to ourselves or not, and whether we like it or not, we live in a surveillance state that is growing more efficient and eerily omniscient by the day. 
 
Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon rule the Web; and consequently, have delved deeper into our private lives and personal interactions than ever before. Apple tracks us on or iPhones and iPads. Google tracks us on every page that it has access to, and Facebook does the same, even following non-Facebook users in their pursuit of prime marketing data. One reporter used a tool called Collusion to track who was tracking him, and discovered that 105 companies tracked his Internet use in one 36-hour period. 
 
Sometimes we fight back, like when Instagram proposed giving advertisers free reign over all posted photos and then backed down when users threatened to boycott. Sometimes the Internet giants admit their wrongdoing, like when Google apologized (after being slapped with a $7M fine, of course) for "data-scooping" personal information from zillions of unencrypted databases.
 
But the truth is, these highly-sophisticated apps and websites thrive on monitering our every move, and we may be powerless to stop them. If the director of the CIA can't maintain his privacy on the Internet, then what hope is there for the rest of us?
 

Consider the major data breaches of networking sites in 2012 alone: 

  • LinkedIn: 6.5 million passwords stolen
  • Yahoo: 400,000 passwords stolen
  • Global Payments: 1.5 million customers' credit card numbers and PINs exposed

Facebook experienced yet another privacy breach in February, two weeks after Twitter made a similar admission. Also, users have been quitting Facebook in record numbers for months now. Perhaps people are finally catching on to the "privacy paradox" and deciding to forgo social media altogether, although the more likely scenario is that this decline is only temporary. 

Statistics prove that most of these Facebook users will likely return (because, sadly, nearly 40 percent of Americans would rather have a root canal than give up their social networking profiles for good) so where does that leave us? We can combine forces to change the pervasive nature of the Internet, or we can look inward and start by changing ourselves.

If we really want our private lives to remain private, then we can't give up without a fight. 

Leah Pickett writes about popular culture for WBEZ. She still uses Twitter and Facebook, but has given a year without Internet some serious thought.