Privacy and illusions of anonymity

retrieved from

retrieved from

This week’s reading by Paine Schofield and Joinson about privacy gave me a lot of information to think over. Even though their writings occurred in the 1960’s and 70’s, their definitions are still very relent in today’s digital age. Westin defined privacy as “the claim of individuals, groups, or institutions to determine for themselves when, how and to what extent information about them is communicated to others”. Altman defined privacy as “the selective control of access to the self”. In most cases, unless someone is a celebrity or politician, they decide their own level of privacy or access to the self.

The Paine Schofield and Joinson reading also shared the ideas of Ingham, who stated that “man, we are repeatedly told is a social animal, and yet he constantly seeks to achieve a state of privacy”. I found this an interesting idea, but it does work with the ideas of Westin and Altman described above. Each person defines their own level of desired privacy. Some people choose to live very private lives. These people choose to share limited information online, and restrict it only to those they choose. These would also be the celebrities that we almost never hear about, that choose a life of discretion rather than embracing the spotlight that would normally follow them.

In a past reading, Qualman introduced the term “glass house generation”, which described how some people choose to live out their lives online. These people allow more access to themselves in the online world through social network sites, blogs, and also vlogs , and they share all sorts of personal information and opinions. Some feel that they can share a lot of information because they still maintain a level of anonymity, and some don’t seem to care. They feel they care share whatever they want and don’t consider the repercussions.

Ingham indicates that there may be costs for those who are unable to achieve their desired level of privacy, but I think it goes beyond that. Some individuals who choose to live at their desired level of online privacy may experience costs such as having that level of privacy breached. They may leave only a breadcrumb trail of information around on the internet, but there are individuals who are bloodhounds for that sort of information. With the proper motivation, they will scour the internet using various tools to seek out the information they desire, and the results can make people feel much more vulnerable than they expected. Anonymity online only works if you never disclose enough information to easily identify you, or if the information you do disclose doesn’t help to identify you.

I’ve been casually following the Kickstarter campaign for a board game called Shadows of Brimstone. I won’t go too deep into the short history of the game, but basically overall price, backer levels, and general issues with crowd-funding has caused this to become a controversial Kickstarter campaign. There are many strong opinions, and many have voiced their frustrations. I stumbled on this blog entry a few days ago and found it fitting with this week’s readings. I did not see the original post, but this amended post tells a great deal. The blog author shared an opinion someone didn’t agree with. That individual decided to track him down using bits of information, and then sent the author a creepy email directed at him and his fiancée. The author felt understandably vulnerable, because his illusion of anonymity and security had been shaken.

I find the above situation despicable, but it does serve as an example to the rest of us. Be careful what information you choose to share, because someday, someone may try to track you down. Personally, I would prefer it if they either came up empty, or ended up chasing their tail looking for a trail that has either long gone cold, or one that never existed in the first place.

Posted on November 17, 2013, in Social Media, Trust and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. Greetings. I would be the blogger in question, and you’re right. I usually have a thicker skin, and I’ve always been able to take negativity in stride, and I’m not that worried about anyone doing anything to me. This person crossed the line when they decided to drag an innocent into the situation. I’m no stranger to a few emails calling me names, or questioning my intelligence, but I never had so much bile directed at me at once. That post you saw had tripled my record for a single article for hits, and it’s so unfortunate that it had to be something negative that drew people to my blog. If anything, I learned the value of changing a few Facebook settings, and a lesson in dealing with a massive wave of negative feedback. It’s amazing the lengths some folks will take to enforce an opinion. We live in interesting times.

    • Hello! I hope you didn’t take any offense to my referencing your blog, it certainly wasn’t intended. We use this blog for our graduate course, and your unfortunate situation happened to fit in with topics we had been reading about.
      I would think that you would have to have a thick skin because you are putting yourself out there, and people are likely to disagree. I think this goes beyond having a thick skin, and I would’ve had the same response as you. It really is sad to see the lengths a person will go to online over something as trivial as a difference of opinion. I’ll admit that I never saw the original post, but I expect it was along the lines of many others I have seen discussing frustrations over the Shadows of Brimstone Kickstarter. For someone to take it that personally is upsetting to me, but sadly not surprising. 😦 I hope you continue to blog; I’ll try to follow it.

      • No offense taken at all! In fact, you were that small bit of good that came out from the negative feedback. People who agree with you tend to just nod silently and move on, rather than leave commentary. That’s why it always feels like there’s more bad than good feedback. I have every intention of continuing to blog, and eventually moving into tabletop game review videos. This past post was just a bit of a shock due to the fact that it went practically viral compared to my other articles. Thanks again!

        • Hello, docbelmont, and welcome to our blog discussions! The fact that you saw my classmate’s link from your blog and traced it back to ours is another reminder that we’re not out here, floating anonymously in Cyberville. I have to remember that when planning my blog for this class each week especially if I decide to reference work or people I know. Because you never know who will see it! So sorry to read about the jerk who threatened you and your fiancée. Seriously…some people need to get a grip!

          • Thank you, Lori. I don’t believe there is anything wrong with some connection between bloggers, or some healthy discussion. More often than not, being interconnected isn’t a bad thing. It’s usually that one bad apple, though, that spoils the experience.

  2. Great conversation – it never fails that the negative gets more interest than the positive. Kind of like the evening news!

    As our discussion is about privacy and, at times, anonymity, why is it that when you want followers and good discussion, it never seems to come. And when you don’t want it, or as in your example, it is nasty, we can’t seem to get away from it? I was a pretty avid user of Twitter for a while but when I would interact with others, it was hard to get any interaction going. I would have loved more followers but now I am back to using it like a newsfeed versus true conversation.

    • Excellent conversation here and the appearance by docbelmont reminds me of Jill Walker’s piece “Learning in Public” though, and this is why I’m replying to Jennifer’s point, I think it’s true that more conversations and interactions happen when something negative or controversial happens rather than positive. I feel I know enough people to converse with on Twitter but because of time constraints I too end up using it more as a newsfeed, unless I’m at a conference!

  3. Hi:

    So cool that we have others joining us! (though sorry for the circumstances)

    My interest in this subject and conversation strayed from the topic of privacy and led me to explore more about what a “kickstarter” is, something I vaguely recalled from Qualman ( I think — can someone help me out?). Anyway, as ususal, this late adopter found it fascinating to read about the projects and process of funding.

    Great conversation!

  4. How interesting. Both the blog post and the discussion. I am something of an internet hider, but as you pointed out, it is impossible to really hide if you choose to use the internet at all. I really had forgotten that this blog was public, so it is interesting to be reminded the week we are discussing privacy.

  5. It is very interesting that others can track this blog. I actually had a Pingback on one of my first blog post of this semester. I went and looked at it and couldn’t quite figure out how my article related to his post, but it was neat to see someone else reviewing my ideas. It definitely makes me more conscious about what I post and blog.

  1. Pingback: Final paper and conclusion | Communication Strategies for Emerging Media

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