Do We Care About Privacy Anymore?
Are you sharing too much online?
The final interview for your dream job is going perfectly. They love your CV, your skills, and your on-point pencil skirt. “Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?” the interviewer asks. Sure is! “Here’s me getting annihilated last weekend,” you say, sliding a stack of photos across the desk. “And that’s me getting a shoulder ride from a guy at a festival. With no top on, obvs.” You would never… But if you’ve posted pics on your “private” feeds, you won’t need to. They already have access to them. Everybody does. According to a recent study, more than half of 18-25-year-olds regret something they’ve posted online, while over 80 per cent say they didn’t appreciate the long-term fall-out of those hasty posts at the time. As part of the first generation to grow up on the web, working out how job prospects, relationships, and mental health may be impacted by our online selves has been a trial-and-somuch-error kind of thing. Surprisingly, the same survey found that, contrary to the myths about Gen Overshare’s taste for exhibitionism, digital natives (oldperson buzzword!) are more concerned about privacy than we used to be.
Everything we post, every photo or tweet, will live forever online. Even after deleting it, digital info sticks around (as anyone who’s ever cancelled their Facebook profile and then opted back in, to find it completely intact, will know.) But you already know that, right? And chances are, you learned it the hard way. “We’re living our lives more and more in this sort of public state and the lines between public and private are so blurred,” says Goggin. “We’re really only just coming to terms with our digital footprint – how long it lasts, how persistent it is, our right to delete or be forgotten.” And, according to Danah Boyd, tech guru-ess and author of It’s Complicated: The Social Lives Of Networked Teens, most of us struggle with one fundamental misconception where our online selves are concerned: that our information is private by default, and public when we make it so. However, exactly the opposite is true, Boyd says. Everything is public, until we go out of our way to make it private.
Staking Out Territory
“There’s no evidence to say that young people have loosened their attitudes to privacy,” says University of Sydney professor Gerard Goggin, who specialises in digital media. “In fact, young people tend to be very savvy, making a lot of fine-grain decisions about what’s private, what’s public and what those concepts even mean.” Because the boundaries keep shifting, staying in control of our personal information online is harder than keeping tabs on John Mayer’s dating status. Every time Facebook resets its privacy terms or a new app tempts us to check in and share our location, we’re forced to make a spurof-the-moment choice about what that means, now and in the long-term.
Knowledge Is Power
We might know the fundamentals inside-out – don’t post financial information online (shout out to the dumb-dumb craze for posting pics of your first credit card, with the number showing!), don’t post a pic of your amaze handbag collection then mention you’re heading out of town (like Paris Hilton did before The Bling Ring broke into her house), but what about the nitty-gritty privacy pitfalls? “People don’t realise any text you dictate to Siri is stored by Apple,” says digital privacy expert Stephen Wilson. “Apple’s terms and conditions make hardly any mention of Siri which means they’re free to do what they want with any information you put in a text.” Like potentially trading info with third parties about your shopping, socialising or search habits, so you end up with a tonne of related spam and direct advertising. Wilson cites the (shudder) case in the US, where Target worked out how to predict a customer is pregnant, based on changes in her purchasing habits and search terms. Before she’s announced it publicly, Target had the news and was pumping her Facebook full of related info. “That sort of thing can be a catastrophe,” Wilson says. A catastrophe for us, that is. But for the companies collecting, saving and selling the data, it’s a major moneymaker. “We’re constantly forced to make trade-offs between the immediate benefits and the consequences down the line,” Wilson says. Faced with an impenetrable 5,000-word privacy statement, most of us will click “I agree” immediately so we can jump straight to the fun stuff. “The penalty for not being on Facebook and feeling socially excluded is much more immediate than some vague idea about privacy,” Wilson says. And maybe none of that will matter in the long term. Maybe your few dumb posts and those incriminating festival pics will get buried under the cyber-pile of other people’s even dumber posts. “But particularly when you’re starting out in work and adult life and you haven’t established your credibility,” Wilson advises, “why not be as careful as you can?”