Privacy: A myth in the digital age

Photo by Rosaura Ochoa, via flickr 

Moises Fuertes/Contributing Writer

I am sure some of us recall a time when Facebook was not prominent, with that time perhaps dating back to online experiences during the Myspace era.

I can recall mine starting out in simple AOL chat rooms filled with random people who logged on for no other purpose than to chat with others.

The Internet offered at the time was a more simplistic and open model with no strings attached. Back in those days, I felt like I actually had a sense of privacy online.

I recall that in the AOL chat rooms, I was just another person with an alias. I was not Moises Fuertes, at least not in the sense that the other random individuals online knew exactly who I was.

All of this immediately changed with the introduction of Myspace, where we could be searched for by age, height, ethnicity, and even relationship status.

I did not realize it then, but the lines of privacy were only just beginning to blur.

Facebook surfaced as Myspace died out, further destroying what was left of online privacy.

I will spare the details of this debacle, suffice to say that Facebook is the prominent social media website today given the fact that it has over 1 billion users, as reported by USA Today in 2012.

But as if it was not already hard enough to keep our profiles private as it is, things just got a whole lot harder with Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement of Facebook Home.

Now, if someone installs this application, he or she will basically give up any shred of privacy they had left, given the fact that Facebook Home is always on. Add this to Facebook’s Graph Search, and maintaining one’s privacy would be nothing short of impossible.

But social media didn’t stop there and evolved into even more public domains, such as Twitter. From the ground up, Twitter is by default asking its users to update events as they happen with a limit of 150 characters per post. Tie this into hashtags and it all becomes overly revealing and pervasive.

We are always on, always connected and no longer private. The thin line that separated public from private has disappeared and what privacy we think there still is online is an illusion.

We all leave a bright footprint online, resulting in everything anyone does being tracked.

This can be seen in the fact that I can tweet my Facebook posts automatically, which is quite appalling. Similarly, Instagram auto-posts images onto a person’s linked Facebook account unless otherwise told not to; it does the same to all “liked” images.

Even ads on my computer ask me if I wish to retweet them!

Why can’t I just be completely private? It’s redundant how much I have to do to try and keep my profiles private.

It may seem like there is the option of leaving, of opting out, as all it takes is not agreeing to the terms of service. And we might, but we return just as quickly.

We rely on Google, as it has become the world’s virtual library. We rely on Facebook to stay connected to friends, colleagues, and family. We also rely on the Net for business, education, and even political elections.

How then, is it so difficult to grasp that privacy online is as important as privacy in our physical world?  Today, governments can learn more about a person through a virtual search than they can through a physical search of that person’s home.

We live in an ecosystem of bits. It is time those bits became the complete property of the individuals who created them. 


1. “Facebook tops 1 billion users,”  via USA Today

About the Author

Moises Fuertes
: a Digital Media Studies student at FIU. His productions include audio commercials, video coverage/reviews and still-image projects. He specializes in the video game industry and social media.

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