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Privacy is best offline

Art Petty Eric Rodriguez has a blog post about being fired for what is said on Facebook.:

Dan Leone is the perfect example; he was a stadium operations manager for the Philadelphia Eagles, and in 2009 when he found out that his favorite Eagles’ player, Brian Dawkins, signed with the Denver Broncos he posted this on his Facebook page:
“Dan is [expletive] devastated about Dawkins signing with Denver … Dam Eagles R Retarted!!”
(By the way, the spelling errors are Leone’s not mine.)

The next day management found out about Dan’s comments and told him they were letting him go to “Denver or Oakland or maybe Pittsburgh.” But, they really didn’t care how he would get there because Dan was to be terminated immediately for his offensive remarks about the Eagles and people with mental disabilities.
Dan’s termination illustrates this decade’s newest form of corporate dismissals – Facebook firings.
There are people in my generation who think “What happens on Facebook stays on Facebook.” Someone actually told me this and I responded with, “It’s all fun and games – until someone gets fired.”

Art Eric Rodriguez is repeating “and the sky is blue” reminders and unfortunately people do need to be reminded that the “sky is blue”. And that things “are not fair”.

<snark>Zuckerberg would be very upset with Art Eric Rodriguez. After all, you should want to share, and share, and share!</snark>

My solution is very simple. I am very minimalist online. I don’t create content online. This is especially true on something like Facebook.

I am not about to put my career in the hands of the never-ending privacy policy changes coming from Facebook or any other website owner.

Look at the questions asked by Facebook:

  • “I am interested in Males or Females” – sexual orientation are now freely available for employers to discriminate based on.
  • “Political beliefs” – another area that Facebook encourages users to answer. Another question that employers are allowed to ask about but is now freely available to discriminate on.
  • “Relationship status” – normally the single or married status of a job candidate is off-limits, but if it is publicly shared then it is impossible to prove employment discrimination based on marital status. Not married and living with your girlfriend/boyfriend? This is a problem with a large number of religious managers.

Most of the content that I create is on my blog, hosted on my server. When I say something online, if it is longer than a paragraph, then I just write a overview and a link to my blog. If I ever decide to delete the content, it is deleted.

Sure someone could go through the effort to copy my blog, but at least its a *manual* effort on their part.

In an age where google searches are easy, there are only a few defenses. The best one is to not post content on external sites. Quite simply anything written down can be held against you.

I find it incredibly revealing that the people who loudly proclaim that privacy is dead are well-off and able to financially deal with the impacts of private information being public.

Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, is a good example. But even he reacted strongly when his privacy was invaded. In 2005, Cnet reporters were banned access to Google.

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) – Google Inc. has blacklisted all CNET reporters for a year, after the popular technology news website published personal information of one of Google’s founders in a story about growing privacy concerns for the Internet search engine, according to a CNET statement.

CNET on Friday reported “Google representatives have instituted a policy of not talking with CNET News reporters until July 2006 in response to privacy issues raised by a previous story.” That story, by reporter Elinor Mills ran under the headline “Google balances privacy, reach.”

Google spokesman David Krane told CNN the company declined comment.

The CNET story, dated July 14, focused on privacy concerns since Google is amassing such enormous amounts of data about people. It reported that some analysts fear it is becoming a great risk to privacy, because it would be a tempting target for hackers, “zealous government investigators, or even a Google insider who falls short of the company’s ethics,” the article said.

To underscore its point about how much personal information is available, the CNET report published some personal information about Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt — his salary; his neighborhood, some of his hobbies and political donations — all obtained through Google searches.

Schmidt is officially Google’s chief champion and defender, and has publicly said that there has to be a trade-off between privacy concerns and functionality. He has brought up Google’s corporate motto, “Don’t Be Evil” in those defenses.

Five years later, Eric Schmidt seems little changed:

For those concerned with privacy, Google CEO Eric Schmidt gave them a few more things to start worrying about.

At a conference here Wednesday, Schmidt noted that using artificial intelligence, computers can take 14 pictures of anyone on the Internet and stand a good chance of identifying that person. Similarly, the data collected by location-based services can be used not only to show where someone is at, but to also predict with a lot of accuracy where they might be headed next.

“Pretty interesting,” Schmidt said. “Good idea, Bad idea?…The technology of course is neutral but society is not fundamentally ready.”

His comments came at the start of Techonomy, a new conference devoted to looking at how technology is changing and can change society.

Schmidt said that society really isn’t prepared for all of the changes being thrust upon it. “I think it’s time for people to get ready for it.”

Schmidt said these records are a challenge for everyone, himself included, as he noted he was a child of the 1960s.

On balance, Schmidt said that technology is good, but he said that the only way to manage the challenges is “much greater transparency and no anonymity.”

Schmidt said that in an era of asymmetric threats, “true anonymity is too dangerous.”

If this is so true, then why is Eric still sensitive about all his private information?

For me, I am help with a very common name including very famous people with an identical name. Google searching me turns up bad information. And that is just fine by me.

Update ( 18 March 2011): Brad Feld, a VC, seems to have rediscovered the value of privacy:

We were enjoying our sushi and talking about random things, like what our family restaurant was when we were growing up (Godfathers, Pizza Hut, Burger King were three of them) and where the smokers hung out at high school. Someone was mid-sentence when the manager of Japango walked up and asked if I was Brad Feld. I said yes; he handed me the landline phone and said “someone is on the phone with an urgent call for you.”

Everyone paused while he handed me the phone.

Me: “Hello?”

Them: In a voice that was clearly masked “Is this Brad Feld”

Me: “Yes, who is this?”

Them: “I wrrrr whrrr your rrrr.”

Me: “I’m sorry – I can’t understand you. What are you saying.”

Them “Brad Feld – I know whrrr you rrr.”

This went on for a few more exchanges. I figured out what the person was trying to say but I wasn’t really processing it so I kept asking what they wanted. Eventually I hung up. I explained to my friends what had just happened and we had a short conversation about checking in on Foursquare and I speculated that was what had prompted the call.

A few minutes later the manager came by, picked up the phone, and asked if everything was alright. I quickly told him the story – he was pretty perplexed and apologized for bothering us. A few minutes later he came back and said the person was on the phone again asking for me. I once again picked up the phone, this time with a little anxiety, but by the time I got on the line the person was gone.

Brad describes a repeated call and then concludes:

But yesterday’s call spooked me. I didn’t check in for the balance of the day. When I walked out of Japango, I was a little nervous about where I physically was for the first time I can remember while in Boulder. And I had a heightened awareness of my surroundings last night as I walked home.

I haven’t sorted this out yet, but as an early adopter – and a promiscuous one – of location-based checkin – I’m rethinking how I use this stuff and broadcast where I am. I expect this will be a much bigger issue in the future as humans become transmitters of their location (don’t believe me – just go read Daemon and Freedom.)

I guess it’s a good thing that this just happened and caused me to think harder about the implications. One of the reasons I immerse myself in this stuff is to understand the products and services, but also to understand the impact on humans and our society. While it’s easy to think intellectually about privacy, it’s a whole different deal when you have to process the ideas in the context of real issues that you encounter.

Posted in privacy, social commentary.

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