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Web 2.0 and Privacy

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Warning: I’m in deep thought mode

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I’m job hunting. The emergence of Web 2.0, and in particular the social networking component, has considerably changed the job search process, making it easier to research employers, track resumes, and even search jobs by distance from your neighborhood. This is generally a good thing.

However, I spoke with a potential employer earlier this week, and during the course of our conversation, he mentioned that he had Googled me prior to contacting me. (Of course, I had Googled me, too, before I even sent out the first resume.) This fellow was a little more tech-savvy than most, though, and had the good sense to Google my email address sans the domain name, i.e. username vs. username@gmail.com. That strategy pretty much brings up my entire surfing history since I generally use the same username at all sites. (I’m not nearly smart enough to remember different user names for all of the sites – that would literally be hundreds.)

I have to admit here to a bit of unease about just anyone being able to turn up that much information about me. I have nothing to hide – in fact, I’d bet that my online reputation is better than most since I’ve always taken care to manage it carefully. However, if someone had the time and energy, say a marketing entity, I’d bet they could put together a pretty comprehensive profile on me based on my memberships. For example, just by visiting this blog, one can find my location, my sex, my website, whether I’m a parent, that I like photography, that I take vacations, that I like to read – and even the genres, that I’m buying drapes, that I iron (not professionally, but I do know how to handle a can of spray starch with the best of them), that I own a dog, and even my height. And that’s just from three posts!

Start following the links – especially to my website, which is a treasure trove of information, and one could probably form a pretty good picture of my buying habits, etc. Now multiply that by thousands and you have a pretty valuable mailing list.

It May Be That We’re Our Own Worst Enemy

There are plenty of privacy initiatives to go around, but these are largely instituted by individual websites to define how they use personal information; there’s nothing they can do to prevent the casual – or devious – surfer from utilizing any information one has chosen to make public.

Every day we read about supposedly secure data being compromised by thieves and hackers, but I imagine that the real danger is from the information that a lot of us put out there for everyone to see. (Even worse is the information that friends and family post about us that we’re not even aware of.)

Are We Safe?

Of particular concern to me is how easy it would be for a predator to identify and locate potential victims from information obtained from the Internet. Back when the Internet first became popular, I remember reading a caution against posting any pictures on your site that could identify where you live, but with the explosion of photo sharing sites, it’s now become incredibly easy to identify neighborhoods, and in some case, the actual home address. With enough time, I’ll warrant that a predator could go victim shopping, then assemble a dossier from published information.

Almost as frightening to me is identity theft. Currently it’s humans that are aggregating (stealing) the data, but imagine how much more efficient thieves would be if they had computers to do it. That reality might not be far off. Tim Berners-Lee, the father of the Internet, imagines an internet that can “become capable of analyzing all the data on the Web – the content, links, and transactions between people and computers.” In the wrong hands that could be disastrous.

So what’s the answer? I don’t know, but I suspect that it will be a combination of personal responsibility and legislation. I’m not an Internet security expert, but it would seem that the best tools we can employ in managing our information, and our online safety, are refreshingly low-tech: common sense and education. (Years ago I read a book by Gavin De Becker called The Gift of Fear. Although it was written before the Internet became a social phenomenon, it contains many safety strategies that can be ported to the Internet. I also came across another book on Amazon that deals with keeping kids safe online. It’s called Safety Monitor: How to Protect Your Kids Online by Detective Mike Sullivan. Also check out NetSmartz.org for additional online safety information for kids and teens.)

Today I’ve covered Gloom and Doom 2.0; tomorrow I’ll post the upside of sharing information, and a very real way that Web 2.0 is being used for a better tomorrow.


1 Comment

  1. Alex Rudloff says:

    Great post Danielle.

    Personally, I guess I got to a point where I really started to put effort into maintaining and managing my name on google. Not so much from a market research perspective, but more so from a professional one.

    In regards to market research, it can, in a backwards sort of way, be almost a good things. The market as a whole becomes a lot more sensitive to negative product response. Of course, profile building is a scary thing.. soo.. who knows.

    For professional perspective, the front page on google now returns only things that I’ve posted, had my hands in, and my resume. Embarrasing flickr images get pushed down some 😉

    Anyway.. great thoughts! Best of luck on your job hunt 🙂


    Alex Rudloff
    Emurse.com Blog

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