When you think about privacy, whether it is your own or the privacy of other people, you’re probably still under the influence of a much less digital era. You may be thinking of distorted images intended to keep the privacy of people appearing on TV, spy pseudonyms (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy!), and maybe you’ve even gone so far as to romanticize witness protection programs – moving to a new place, with a new name, hey, maybe even a total makeover plastic surgery, if you want to go over the top?
The truth is, none of these things mean much online. Everything that pops into your head first when you think about yourself – like your reflection in the mirror, is not the data that is really being collected or that is of much interest to the companies buying the bulk data. So here are some things you’re doing wrong in an attempt to keep your privacy:
1. You have a fake profile picture
You look at your self in the mirror and you see your image looking back at you – what’s more personal, more “you” than that? It’s an image all your friends recognize, maybe even strangers if you’re any kind of public person, it’s the face I put under the texts I write, and it is completely irrelevant in the world of data. It’s too much 1s and 0s that tell nothing about you in the grand scheme of Big Data.
How tall you are might actually be interesting, as well as your body type, because that influences the things you buy – but the internet knows that already from your online purchases. Also, that you like blue eyeshadow, perhaps – and if you buy blue eyeshadow, your eye color doesn’t really matter because you’re going to keep buying it whether it matches your eyes or not, and that’s the kind of data advertisers are in for. Your eyes may be beautiful, and windows to your soul, but they tell little about your shopping habits.
If you have a fake profile picture, that portraits someone else, chances are you’re actually treading on someone else’s privacy, and the cute pictures of your dog or a blank spot where your profile picture should be do nothing in terms of data privacy.
Think of Edward Snowden – everyone knows what he looks like, but I bet all his other data are as private as it gets.
2. You use a pseudonym
Well, hey there, Smarty Pants! that’s a nice move, but it still does very little for you unless you’re trying to avoid nosy relatives on Facebook. The thing is, matching personal information to the data that’s collected on your behavior is still a no-no. In the world of big data, you are just a nameless profile made of your own browsing and shopping habits, and believe me, those are much more revealing to advertisers who use big data than your name.
On the other hand, I truly understand support avoiding nosy relatives on the social networks, as there seems to be a limitless amount of aunts that just pop up wondering why I haven’t married yet.
3. You lie about your age
Go ahead if it makes you feel any better. I might do it my self and fictively remain in my twenties for all eternity. But the big data you make every time you do something on the internet makes it fairly simple to put you in an age group – or a target group for that matter. Age is just a number anyways, and if you’re 50 and most of your googling is about Dragon Ball Z and related merchandize (I’m not judging, I’ve just ordered a Dragon Ball Z hoodie), you’d be a poor match for the products normally served to people of your age. it’s kind of cool, though – you can be forever young on the internet.
4. You post anonymously
Posting, and especially commenting anonymously can come back to bite you in the… Well, you know what. Comments are not that anonymous to begin with, even if you use pseudonyms, and what you say online is going to be around for a looooooong time, and it just might surface when someone does a web search for you. This isn’t as much a privacy issue as an online branding one,
The best advice I can give you is to ditch the anonymous comments and never ever (ever!) write something that you don’t stand behind 100%. If you wouldn’t say that comment to someone in person, don’t post it online.
5. You have stickers on your cameras
One of the funnier pieces of advice I’ve found is to put a sticker over the cameras on all the Internet-connected devices you have. You never know who’s watching, they say, but whoever is doing the watching has a really nice view of the inside of my back pocket. If the watchmen are focusing on that rather than the million pics I have on my phone, laptop, cloud services and social networks, I’ll be thoroughly insulted.
Sure, you can keep stickers all around, but you can also wear a tin-foil hat as a precaution.
What you really can do is regard everything as public property and think more soberly about what you share – whatever you share, share on purpose, and with an afterthought.