Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Shaun’s Musings: The Internet and Privacy

 

My father bought the house’s first computer in 1995. Before then, I had used a rickety old typewriter with a flying ‘g’ that seemed to eat the ink cartridges faster than I could replace them. Happy with my father’s new purchase, I set to work on writing a novel. We had AOL in those days, but the Internet was not anywhere near where it is today. On the first day I started using the Internet, my father sat down with me and gave me a good piece of advice that I have never forgotten. “The Internet is a public place,” he told me. “I don’t care what website says it’s private. Automatically assume that everything you write, buy, and look at online will still be visible twenty years from now.”

That advice came in handy years later when I lost an entire manuscript I had saved since I was sixteen. Remembering that I had shared the file with some friends in order to gain some feedback, I was quickly able to find and download it. The date? May, 1997, just weeks before I graduated high school.

I had heard about Ashley Madison, the affair website, back in about 2003, and it became a sort of running joke between my friends and I, who were single, very geeky, and computer nerds. We joked about setting up fake profiles to see if anyone would be interested in a couple of twentysomethings that had yet to get their rocks off, but in actuality I think we were all a bit surprised that the Internet had suddenly become this gateway, this way of being able to hide your true identity or persona. One anonymous individual posted an article about his affair through Ashley Madison, and was extremely unapologetic about it. Of course, he posted it under the name anonymous, which tells us all something.

While many of us fight for deeper encryption and increased security, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security desire very much for applications and programs to have a “back door” that allows them to monitor computers and users, all under the guise of cracking down on domestic terrorism. As a writer, I have to wonder how my Internet searches are taken: I am working on two novels right now, one that takes place a few miles north of my house, and one that focuses on an uprising and an eventual revolution overtaking the United States. When all else fails, I go to the library or Barnes & Noble for military information, especially that of a sensitive nature.

People often argue that they have nothing to hide, so they do not worry about Internet privacy. However, that is like saying that the First Amendment doesn’t mean anything to you because you don’t have anything to say. A silent majority is always trumped by a vocal minority. The trouble is, today so many people aren’t aware of, or don’t care about, the idea of privacy: It has become one of those long-lost concepts. We have entered a stage where the up-and-coming generation cannot recall an age when they did not have technology, and they did not experience the uneasy peaceful times before September 11th, 2001. Often, teenagers will say they are simply playing video games, and as a result they really aren’t doing anything that warrants scrutiny.

I’m not concerned about Internet privacy because I’m doing something wrong. It is the fear of doing something wrong that concerns me. When we do not search on the Internet for information about military terms, conspiracy theories, or even our favorite United States warship out of concern that the FBI or some other entity is watching us, freedom has failed and tyranny has taken over.

The erosion of our freedoms has been slow and calls to mind the metaphor of a frog, placed in water that’s slowly boiling, failing to realize it is being cooked to death. We are in danger of having our voices silenced not through the banning of free speech, but through the fear of what might happen if we exercise it. This is, of course, coupled with intense stigmatizing as politically incorrect of anyone who says anything against the prevailing views, but that is another discussion for another day.

The Internet has solved many problems. We are able to find information that once would have sent us scrambling to the dictionary or to the library. My doctoral dissertation took six weeks of research, as opposed to six months for my masters’ thesis. However, it has also created problems. The ease with which we can post information on the Internet also makes it easier for us to be monitored.

The fate of a future United States President will depend on a Tweet or Facebook post that he or she made as a teenager.

 

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  1. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor

    I was just having this conversation with my brother. We were both saying that we are terribly concerned about this, and I agree with you: A generation has come of age that has no idea what it was like to live in privacy.

    You beat me to writing a very similar post.

    • #1
    • July 26, 2015, at 8:32 AM PDT
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  2. Nick Stuart Inactive

    S.D. Curran:The fate of a future United States President will depend on a Tweet or Facebook post that he or she made as a teenager.

    Well, maybe if that person is a Republican. Once upon a time divorce was a disqualifier. Then drug use. Ronald Reagan disproved the former. Barack Obama disproved the latter.

    Absolutely look for photos from the drunken college party or random tweets to figure in upcoming campaigns as opposition research. Still, the truth about, say, Hillary Clinton is absolutely damning and disqualifying, but I expect she’ll still get 48% of the vote and maybe even win regardless.

    The Internet is essentially like a clothing optional beach. Don’t show anything you don’t want anybody to look at. And don’t think because you’re wearing a floppy hat and sunglasses that you can’t be recognized.

    • #2
    • July 26, 2015, at 8:36 AM PDT
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  3. MJBubba Inactive

    Google knows everything there is to know about you.

    So does Microsoft.

    Privacy is an illusion.

    • #3
    • July 26, 2015, at 9:25 AM PDT
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  4. Nick Stuart Inactive

    Something I find really creepy are the multiple choice security questions my bank asks for me to verify my login when I login from a new computer: “Which of these people do you know?” “Which county were you living in in 1968?” “Which of the these cars did you ever own?”

    How the [CoC-redacted] does my bank have access to every car I ever owned? [Rhetorical question, I suppose it has something to do with their access to credit-rating agency databases].

    • #4
    • July 26, 2015, at 9:43 AM PDT
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  5. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    MJBubba:Google knows everything there is to know about you.

    This is not entirely true.

    The internet knows what you have done up until now. It does not know what you will do next. Whom will you love? What will you create? What is your next Ricochet post?

    • #5
    • July 26, 2015, at 9:48 AM PDT
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  6. MarciN Member

    Nick Stuart:Something I find really creepy are the multiple choice security questions my bank asks for me to verify my login when I login from a new computer: “Which of these people do you know?” “Which county were you living in in 1968?” “Which of the these cars did you ever own?”

    How the [CoC-redacted] does my bank have access to every car I ever owned? [Rhetorical question, I suppose it has something to do with their access to credit-rating agency databases].

    I’ve freaking out about that too lately. Holy cow. Where are they getting this stuff!

    • #6
    • July 26, 2015, at 9:50 AM PDT
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  7. MLH Inactive
    MLH

    MarciN:

    Nick Stuart:Something I find really creepy are the multiple choice security questions my bank asks for me to verify my login when I login from a new computer: “Which of these people do you know?” “Which county were you living in in 1968?” “Which of the these cars did you ever own?”

    How the [CoC-redacted] does my bank have access to every car I ever owned? [Rhetorical question, I suppose it has something to do with their access to credit-rating agency databases].

    I’ve freaking out about that too lately. Holy cow. Where are they getting this stuff!

    It’t not like you have to enter truthful answers when you fill out the security stuff. Just remember what you make up.

    • #7
    • July 26, 2015, at 9:53 AM PDT
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  8. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Nick Stuart:Something I find really creepy are the multiple choice security questions my bank asks for me to verify my login when I login from a new computer: “Which of these people do you know?” “Which county were you living in in 1968?” “Which of the these cars did you ever own?”

    I find comfort in the fact that they often get these wrong. Though the confusion wreaks havoc with getting things done.

    • #8
    • July 26, 2015, at 9:53 AM PDT
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  9. Owen Findy Member

    MJBubba: Privacy is an illusion.

    If we’ve lost it, then, yes, accept it and live accordingly.

    But there’s value in remembering what it is, and that it’s worth having and why. It can still be used as a principle against which to judge where the world’s going.

    • #9
    • July 26, 2015, at 10:27 AM PDT
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  10. Owen Findy Member

    iWe: It does not know what you will do next. Whom will you love? What will you create? What is your next Ricochet post?

    Yeah, for now.

    • #10
    • July 26, 2015, at 10:28 AM PDT
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  11. MarciN Member

    What bothers me the most is that there are people out there with names the same as or similar to yours. Some who even live near enough to you that a person might wonder if that person is actually you. Sometimes in the same professional fields.

    Just for the heck of it, put in a search box on Google your own name and its many variants and read the entries that come up. I did it for myself, and I was shocked at how people came close to my name and had done things I might have done professionally or personally. None of it was terrible, but what if it were?

    I am acutely aware of this when I edit references and bibliographies. I have no idea why, but people whose last names start with the letter S are inordinately drawn to geology! :) It’s very noticeable in the professional areas. And funny.

    So the human resources and credit rating agencies and colleges and universities and the FBI hire people to comb the Internet to see what applicants have ever said. Someone with a name that looks a lot like yours is doing stuff you would never do. So you’ll lose that job or that loan, you’ll never know why.

    Very disturbing, and I can’t imagine how a person could protect himself or herself from it.

    • #11
    • July 26, 2015, at 10:34 AM PDT
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  12. S.D. Curran Inactive
    S.D. Curran

    Nick Stuart:Something I find really creepy are the multiple choice security questions my bank asks for me to verify my login when I login from a new computer: “Which of these people do you know?” “Which county were you living in in 1968?” “Which of the these cars did you ever own?”

    How the [CoC-redacted] does my bank have access to every car I ever owned? [Rhetorical question, I suppose it has something to do with their access to credit-rating agency databases].

    That is something that has always disturbed me, as well. At times it has taken me a few minutes to think: “Which car did I woen in 2002?”

    • #12
    • July 26, 2015, at 10:51 AM PDT
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  13. S.D. Curran Inactive
    S.D. Curran

    MarciN:

    Nick Stuart:Something I find really creepy are the multiple choice security questions my bank asks for me to verify my login when I login from a new computer: “Which of these people do you know?” “Which county were you living in in 1968?” “Which of the these cars did you ever own?”

    How the [CoC-redacted] does my bank have access to every car I ever owned? [Rhetorical question, I suppose it has something to do with their access to credit-rating agency databases].

    I’ve freaking out about that too lately. Holy cow. Where are they getting this stuff!

    Access from IRS, Data registries, etc. What are the chances that they’re selling your information?

    • #13
    • July 26, 2015, at 10:52 AM PDT
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  14. S.D. Curran Inactive
    S.D. Curran

    iWe:

    MJBubba:Google knows everything there is to know about you.

    This is not entirely true.

    The internet knows what you have done up until now. It does not know what you will do next. Whom will you love? What will you create? What is your next Ricochet post?

    Well, that’s a relief =) I don’t even know what I’ll do next =) As long as there isn’t a ‘Minority Report’ in the foreseeable future, we’re good!

    • #14
    • July 26, 2015, at 10:53 AM PDT
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  15. S.D. Curran Inactive
    S.D. Curran

    MarciN:What bothers me the most is that there are people out there with names the same as or similar to yours. Some who even live near enough to you that a person might wonder if that person is actually you. Sometimes in the same professional fields.

    Just for the heck of it, put in a search box on Google your own name and its many variants and read the entries that come up. I did it for myself, and I was shocked at how people came close to my name and had done things I might have done professionally or personally. None of it was terrible, but what if it were?

    So the human resources and credit rating agencies and colleges and universities and the FBI hire people to comb the Internet to see what applicants have ever said. Someone with a name that looks a lot like yours is doing stuff you would never do. So you’ll lose that job or that loan, you’ll never know why.

    Very disturbing, and I can imagine how a person could protect himself or herself from it.

    Excellent point here! There is another Shaun Curran in Reading, Mass, who is developmentally disabled, so the chances he will do something is limited, but it is scary. Hence why my internet name is S.D. Curran.

    • #15
    • July 26, 2015, at 10:54 AM PDT
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  16. Shawn Buell, Jeopardy Champ! Contributor

    MJBubba:Google knows everything there is to know about you.

    So does Microsoft.

    Privacy is an illusion.

    Anonymity is probably over if you engage in the internet. That’s a different thing than “privacy.” If you want “privacy” get some blackout shades.

    This business of worrying about credit rating agencies and whatnot having relatively detailed histories of your financial life is a feature, not a bug… if you’re a good credit risk. If not, it will follow you around like you’re dragging an anchor wherever you go.

    • #16
    • July 26, 2015, at 11:13 AM PDT
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  17. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    S.D. Curran: However, it has also created problems.

    I question this statement.

    I question that it is the Internet which has created problems, but rather how people choose to use the Internet which has created problems.

    I do not believe that automobiles cause drunk driving.

    I do not believe that firearms cause theatre shootings.

    I do not believe that the Internet causes breaches of personal information.

    • #17
    • July 26, 2015, at 11:16 AM PDT
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  18. S.D. Curran Inactive
    S.D. Curran

    Misthiocracy:

    S.D. Curran: However, it has also created problems.

    I question this statement.

    I question that it is the Internet which has created problems, but rather how people choose to use the Internet which has created problems.

    I do not believe that automobiles cause drunk driving.

    I do not believe that firearms cause theatre shootings.

    I do not believe that the Internet causes breaches of personal information.

    Well put. I think it all comes down to personal responsibility. Still… I should not fear being investigated because I am doing research for a novel.

    • #18
    • July 26, 2015, at 11:24 AM PDT
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  19. drlorentz Member
    drlorentz Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    MJBubba:Google knows everything there is to know about you.

    So does Microsoft.

    Privacy is an illusion.

    Don’t use Google, at least not for everything (try DuckDuckGo). Same goes for Microsoft. Don’t use Facebook. Ask people not to tag you in pictures. Better yet, ask them not to post pictures with you in them.

    Take back your privacy, at least some of it.

    • #19
    • July 26, 2015, at 11:37 AM PDT
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  20. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    drlorentz:

    MJBubba:Google knows everything there is to know about you.

    So does Microsoft.

    Privacy is an illusion.

    Don’t use Google, at least not for everything (try DuckDuckGo). Same goes for Microsoft. Don’t use Facebook. Ask people not to tag you in pictures. Better yet, ask them not to post pictures with you in them.

    Take back your privacy, at least some of it.

    I use Epic Browser, myself. It has its own built-in search engine.

    On other browsers, I use the Disconnect and Disconnect Search plugins.

    The side benefit of this sorts of software solutions is how they speed up browsing, since you don’t get all the tracking ‘ware slowing you down.

    • #20
    • July 26, 2015, at 11:40 AM PDT
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  21. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    S.D. Curran:

    Misthiocracy:

    S.D. Curran: However, it has also created problems.

    I question this statement.

    I question that it is the Internet which has created problems, but rather how people choose to use the Internet which has created problems.

    I do not believe that automobiles cause drunk driving.

    I do not believe that firearms cause theatre shootings.

    I do not believe that the Internet causes breaches of personal information.

    Well put. I think it all comes down to personal responsibility. Still… I should not fear being investigated because I am doing research for a novel.

    The US Constitution does not guarantee freedom from fear.

    • #21
    • July 26, 2015, at 11:42 AM PDT
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  22. drlorentz Member
    drlorentz Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Misthiocracy:I use Epic Browser, myself. It has its own built-in search engine.

    On other browsers, I use the Disconnect and Disconnect Search plugins.

    The side benefit of this sorts of software solutions is how they speed up browsing, since you don’t get all the tracking ‘ware slowing you down.

    Good suggestions.

    • #22
    • July 26, 2015, at 11:47 AM PDT
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  23. Doctor Bass Monkey Inactive

    I’m most surprised that the generation that came of age in the 90s when much of this was new and available for the first time (email, chat rooms, message boards, webcams) apparently didn’t pass the lessons learned on to their younger siblings or children. The idea that there are folks posing as things they are not, identity thieves, young men conning naive girls into sending nude photos, data leaks where your private info is dispersed to the public, should not be a surprise today. They’ve been with us ever since the internet became available. Sometimes it feels like no one has been paying attention for the last 25 years.

    • #23
    • July 26, 2015, at 11:52 AM PDT
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  24. Great Ghost of Gödel Inactive

    Nick Stuart:How the [CoC-redacted] does my bank have access to every car I ever owned? [Rhetorical question, I suppose it has something to do with their access to credit-rating agency databases].

    Worse: the DMV.

    The unfortunate thing is that we have the worst of both worlds: sharing of records wholesale, with all of the privacy issues that entails, coupled with lack of record sharing that can materially affect our well-being. My “favorite” such horror story: I was stopped for driving on an expired license. In CA, that’s a mandatory 30-day impound. The mailing address on my license was old. The officers took the right one along with my car. I couldn’t afford to get it out of impound at that point. I didn’t worry, reasoning they had to give my car back to me after 30 days.

    Wrong. They auctioned it off… which they were legally obliged to notify me of, and apparently tried to, using the old address from my DMV records, rather than the current one the police dept. had.

    As usual, this is a problem that need not exist. Selective Disclosure Credential Sets allow sharing important information specific to a recipient—”I am 21 or over” to get into a bar, for example—and no more (“my age is 25,” for example, let alone your name or address). The book—literally—on the subject is Rethinking Public Key Infrastructures and Digital Certificates: Building in Privacy. Warning: there’s math.

    • #24
    • July 26, 2015, at 12:12 PM PDT
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  25. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Whiskey Sam:I’m most surprised that the generation that came of age in the 90s when much of this was new and available for the first time (email, chat rooms, message boards, webcams) apparently didn’t pass the lessons learned on to their younger siblings or children.

    My hypothesis is that the vast majority of people who came of age in the 90s didn’t actually learn much about computers. Relatively few actually owned one. They used the PCs in the computer lab instead, and relied on the lab attendants to get the printer to work properly.

    I graduated from university in 1997, and I am forever surprised by the lack of computer literacy amongst university graduates younger than myself.

    (Thank goodness too, since their mindbogglingly idiotic computer problems are a big reason why I manage to remain employed. How else could I be considered a dark sorcerer simply because I know what F11 does?)

    • #25
    • July 26, 2015, at 12:52 PM PDT
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  26. S.D. Curran Inactive
    S.D. Curran

    Whiskey Sam:I’m most surprised that the generation that came of age in the 90s when much of this was new and available for the first time (email, chat rooms, message boards, webcams) apparently didn’t pass the lessons learned on to their younger siblings or children. The idea that there are folks posing as things they are not, identity thieves, young men conning naive girls into sending nude photos, data leaks where your private info is dispersed to the public, should not be a surprise today. They’ve been with us ever since the internet became available. Sometimes it feels like no one has been paying attention for the last 25 years.

    This is to say nothing of the epidemic of men posing as prepube girls on games like SecondLife and World of Warcraft. I know a few people who have done that for years.

    • #26
    • July 26, 2015, at 1:01 PM PDT
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  27. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    S.D. Curran:

    Whiskey Sam:I’m most surprised that the generation that came of age in the 90s when much of this was new and available for the first time (email, chat rooms, message boards, webcams) apparently didn’t pass the lessons learned on to their younger siblings or children. The idea that there are folks posing as things they are not, identity thieves, young men conning naive girls into sending nude photos, data leaks where your private info is dispersed to the public, should not be a surprise today. They’ve been with us ever since the internet became available. Sometimes it feels like no one has been paying attention for the last 25 years.

    This is to say nothing of the epidemic of men posing as prepube girls on games like SecondLife and World of Warcraft. I know a few people who have done that for years.

    People still play World of Warcraft and Second Life?

    • #27
    • July 26, 2015, at 1:06 PM PDT
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  28. S.D. Curran Inactive
    S.D. Curran

    They do. I have a couple of friends who are my age (35-36) who dump all of their extra time into it. We’re talking ten-to-twelve hours a day.

    • #28
    • July 26, 2015, at 1:09 PM PDT
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  29. Doctor Bass Monkey Inactive

    S.D. Curran:

    Whiskey Sam:I’m most surprised that the generation that came of age in the 90s when much of this was new and available for the first time (email, chat rooms, message boards, webcams) apparently didn’t pass the lessons learned on to their younger siblings or children. The idea that there are folks posing as things they are not, identity thieves, young men conning naive girls into sending nude photos, data leaks where your private info is dispersed to the public, should not be a surprise today. They’ve been with us ever since the internet became available. Sometimes it feels like no one has been paying attention for the last 25 years.

    This is to say nothing of the epidemic of men posing as prepube girls on games like SecondLife and World of Warcraft. I know a few people who have done that for years.

    There was a long-running joke (or word of caution) in AOL chat rooms in the late 90s where you just assumed all of the women were men.

    • #29
    • July 26, 2015, at 1:10 PM PDT
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  30. drlorentz Member
    drlorentz Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Misthiocracy:I use Epic Browser, myself. It has its own built-in search engine.

    On other browsers, I use the Disconnect and Disconnect Search plugins.

    The side benefit of this sorts of software solutions is how they speed up browsing, since you don’t get all the tracking ‘ware slowing you down.

    I just got the Disconnect plugin for my browser – highly recommended. It blocks and gives tab-by-tab tracking request data.

    • #30
    • July 26, 2015, at 1:13 PM PDT
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