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Privacy and illusions of anonymity

retrieved from http://xkcd.com/1269/

retrieved from http://xkcd.com/1269/

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.