“Sam, is there any way to warn my teenaged niece about not giving out too much information about herself on Facebook?” asked Duane.
Survival Sam took a sip of coffee. “You can try, but I doubt if you’ll get very far.”
“That’s not helpful,” Duane frowned.
“You could tell her,” said Sam, “that anything posted on Facebook is legally theirs. They own it and can do with it as they please. Photos and posts can have potential audiences of several hundred thousand people. Many magazines and newspapers covet such numbers. You could ask your niece if she wants so much personal information to go to that many unknowns, though it won’t likely mean anything to her.”
“It scares the heck out of me,” said Duane. “Why don’t you think it will mean anything to her.”
“Young people who have grown up with online technology don’t fully understand the technology, its outreach, or the implications involved. They don’t have sense enough to care about such things. They’re used to putting information out there presumably to a certain network or niche. They think only certain people are going to be looking, but as I said, there may be hundreds of thousands looking on.”
“How much privacy can we really have these days anyway?” I asked.
“First,” Sam said, “privacy doesn’t mean what it used to. To most people these days, privacy no longer means being left alone, but controlling the information that’s out there. Obviously, on social sharing sites and so many other areas of life today, the control we thinkwe have just doesn’t exist.”
“I remember a financial guy on the radio several years ago,” said Duane, “saying that he could practically figure out your life story just by having your Social Security number. I’m sure things haven’t gotten any safer or more secure for us today. It’s amazing what someone can find out with just a few key strokes.”
“I heard a man once say you shouldn’t put anything in an e-mail that you wouldn’t put on a postcard,” I said. “I’ll bet postal workers learned plenty of juicy tidbits by reading postcards before e-mail became so dominant.”
“Could be,” said Sam. “I’ve never asked a mailman to reveal gossip. What I do know is that e-mails and other online communications can potentially be monitored. Whether they actually are in each individual’s case is another matter, but no one has the certainty that they’re not being monitored. These days it may be safest to assume they are, and then write what you have to say accordingly.”
“Nobody can monitor them all, can they?” I asked.
“Some human being has to go through and find key words computers might be looking for,” said Sam. “Fortunately, the Internet is still a relatively difficult place to control and censor. However, be aware that Internet service providers and phone companies have clauses written into the user agreement you have with them that permits them to turn over any potentially incriminating information to the government. By signing on with these companies, you implicitly agree, whether you know it or not, or whether you like it or not, that it’s OK with you if your communications are monitored. You can’t get out of such agreements unless you stop all phone and Internet service ties with these companies.”
“Never mind my niece keeping her privacy,” said Duane. “You’re painting a bleak picture for all of us.”
“Oh, that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface regarding loss of privacy,” Sam said. “For example, if you pay for your groceries with a debit or credit card, that purchase is most certainly traceable. If you have a loyalty card from the store, you can be sure someone is gathering information about your buying habits. You can pay with cash and make it more difficult to track your purchases, but your face is probably on at least one surveillance camera in the store. If you make a larger purchase than usual, or if you pay more on your credit card bill than usual, the banks notice it and may question you about it.”
“That could work in my favor,” said Duane, “if someone’s trying to steal my identity and make unauthorized purchases on my card.”
“Ah, yes,” Sam said, “but just be aware that irregularities do get noticed. I’m no expert on cleaning up problems caused by identity theft, but you should make it a habit of checking your credit reports regularly to see if anything is going on that shouldn’t be. It’s the law now that you can get a report from each of the three credit bureaus without charge once a year.”
“True,” said Duane, “but if you avoid credit cards and make more purchases with cash and start flashing wads of it around, someone may wonder if you’re a drug dealer.”
“It sounds like a no-win situation,” I said.
“I think the bottom line,” said Sam, “is to be aware of the world we live in, and be wary. Be on the alert. Walk circumspectly.”