Monday, April 15, 2013

Your Anonymity is showing

There is no anonymity, at least not on the Internet.  Or at least that's how Google and Facebook want it.  It's likely that just like me you have multiple Google accounts and now the parent company of anything that matters on the Internet wants to you to come clean.

Log into YouTube and you're constantly prodded to use your real name on your YouTube channel.  Want to log in using your channel alias?  Forget it, they want the email address you used to sign up with.  Just like Facebook, Google Plus doesn't allow aliases either.  In fact they want more information than I provided the bank to finance my car. 

Want to start a Facebook page for your business?  Be prepared to provide everything short of your articles of incorporation and 5 years of tax returns to do it. 

Contingent on using any of these services is the requirement to reveal more information about yourself than anyone should be comfortable with.  Thing is, for most, it's no big deal.  For the generations that came after mine it's nothing to "Broadcast Yourself" for all the world to see.  As some have found, to their own peril when that party video posted to your Facebook page gets in front of a potential employer.

It's gotten so easy to lay ourselves bare (in some cases literally) that many don't even think about the consequences of our cavalier attitude toward online privacy.   That is, until something happens that makes you regret clicking "I Agree" to the 10000 word terms of service.

It's not simply a question of privacy, for the most part that's gone if you leave your house.  It's a question of giving away the power of your own predestination.  I have no doubt that being a private investigator is no longer as lucrative as it once was.  What used to take them weeks is offered up freely under the guise of being "social"

Just ask the unfaithful spouse who found out just how much power they'd given away when their Facebook exploits were admitted as evidence in the legal proceedings that followed.

You may feel that it's a good thing that it's harder for those with something to hide to retreat behind anonymity.  Well Mr. Public Parts, we all have something to hide even if we haven't broken any laws.  Nobody should demand we reveal it just to be online.

What happens, for example,  when an author can no longer write under a pen name?  What about the  corporate whistle blower exposed by a change in some online service's privacy policy?  Should they have to sacrifice a career because an entire industry can now blackball them for it?

If you're Jeff Jarvis I suppose everything's a Public Part so it shouldn't matter what gets revealed.  In the real world where people can't afford to have their every action judged it becomes a problem.  I'm not in favor of the merging of private and public and stay off of services like Facebook and increasingly Google because of it.

Now, I may be running contrary to the Internet punditry proclaiming the glories of the new social construct that's arisen out of our constant connectivity in what I'm about to say. 

In short, I think it's Bull. 

I'd rather not be sitting in a job interview at 40 years of age having to explain something stupid I did in my teens to a potential employer.  It'd be nice if the world was populated only by the open minded with no personal agendas but that's just not how it works.  Experience has taught me the better parts of human nature rarely come into play in a job interview.

Think about the now common practice of job applicants having to submit to a credit check at the application stage.  I usually give them the "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" response in which I agree to allow the check only if I can have the same information from every member of the executive staff and the board. 
People usually just think I'm being a wiseacre and look at me as though I should be wearing a straightjacket when they find out I'm being serious.  Funny, I feel the same about them.

I think more people need to do that, actually.  In fact, I suggest it be the basis of a new movement.  A friend of mine is fond of saying corporations will keep pushing the boundaries until someone pushes back.  This can be where it starts.  After all, nobody has any right to know how timely I pay my debts unless they're loaning me money or I'm in charge of the keys to the bank vault.

It's exactly because of how the world works that we need to retain control of our own personas.  Making your new job contingent on a good credit score is just one symptom of the problem.

Look at it this way.  Do I really want to find out that my trusted mechanic of decades is a cross dresser on the weekends? 

Now I can care less if he is or not but some people might which could have consequences to his livelihood. 

The reality is that it's not critical information to know if he's just fixing my car.  If you think it is you're just being nosy and bigoted.    

That's what I mean by public and private.  I don't want to know any more about you than I need to know and what I need to know has limits. 

Say my mechanic is going to get married soon, I'd fully expect his potential bride (or groom) may want to know about such things but I don't.  If he's installing a supercharger on my Mustang, I could care less about his fashion adventures.

He shouldn't be required to expose that information and I shouldn't have the opportunity to pass any judgment on anything not directly related to him fixing my car.

That also means he should have the freedom to indulge in a private online existence apart from his public one.   Being online shouldn't have to mean that you abdicate your right to withhold information people don't need to know about you. 

In fact, knowing too much about a person can lead to even more discrimination simply because it becomes easier to apply our own personal biases based on irrelevant information.   Even if what we find has nothing to do with why we were interested in the first place the damage is done and our world grows a little colder.

We're all so concerned about safety these days and it's sure to come up whenever someone's abdicating the requirement to vomit up even more private information.  

Someone will always bring up the child molester, terrorist or bank robber that might have been stopped if we just had more information about them earlier.  Perhaps so but is it worth the whole of humanity living under a microscope to prevent it?  At what point does civilized society fall victim to Orwell's "thoughtcrime" ?

 The question you have to ask is if everyone's going to eventually be required to lay themselves bare online then who's qualified to sit in ultimate judgment of your actions?  You're tried, convicted and sentenced before you even realize you've done something wrong.

That sounds a bit "Minority Report" to me.