A Scenic Tour of the Online World

The Onion on Privacy

Friday, March 12th, 2010

This would be funnier if it weren’t so scary. (But it’s still pretty funny.)

Google Responds To Privacy Concerns With Unsettlingly Specific Apology

I’m fascinated with privacy issues, both online and off. We share things now that our parents wouldn’t have dreamed of sharing in the past. (Don’t you have an older relative who still  only whispers the word “cancer?”)

  • A friend of a friend whose husband left her (under terrible circumstances, to be sure) opened her home to the casserole brigade organized by a network of friends struck me as odd. It’s the sort of response that I would have expected when someone dies suddenly. The support is wonderful, but seems a bit invasive for a situation that’s tough, but not life-or-death.
  • Facebook birthday greetings. People are comfortable showing the date and year they were born! When I signed up I put fake info. (Credit to Sue Q. who found me on Facebook after being out of touch for many years and dryly noted that she used to think I was smart but now realized I must have been 26 when we graduated from high school.) The birthday wishes I got that first year really seemed creepy until I figured out how they arose.
  • Websites like Mint allow you to do all sorts of neat financial tracking, but not only do you have upload sensitive personal data (which I would never do), but you have to link the account to your brokerage and banking accounts. Holy weak links, Batman. Talk about waiting to have your identity stolen!

Attitudes on this break largely along generational lines, not surprisingly. Which makes me wonder whether the entire issue disappears in the coming decade. If everything is open and available, and the assumption is that nothing is private, perhaps the ubiquitous (and illegal) requirement that we provide our social security number to any institution that asks for it disappears in favor of iris scanning, voice pattern recognition or some other biological marker. Maybe the market for ID numbers and credit card accounts dries up.

That would be great. But as any good science fiction fan knows, those bio-security measures will be hacked before they’ve even developed into standards. The arms race continues.

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