Saving private information online

Our information is being shared with the world, but there are some simple ways we can avoid it.

by Hemang Sharma

Facebook’s privacy settings — these words invoke a complex array of emotions inside us Americans. Everyone agrees that they are a nightmare. They change too often, are immensely ambiguous and are hard to configure.

A chain status update has been clogging my newsfeed, warning people to post a copyright declaration of sorts, which would disallow Facebook from selling their personal information. This is a laughable notion.

People abetting this hoax are forgetting the fact that they signed up for this. Facebook is a service that lays out its privacy and data-usage policy to everyone when they create an account. This policy clearly states that Facebook shares our information with advertisers. It took me less than two minutes to create a new Facebook profile which had the usual “by agreeing to the following terms and condition” spiel. I bypassed that by clicking “I agree” like everyone does for almost everything on the Internet.

When we click “I agree,” we are giving Facebook consent to use our information. Mark Zuckerberg isn’t forcing us to use Facebook or even forcing us to read the long data-use policy. He certainly didn’t ask us to put sensitive information up there. Then why are people outraged over the idea that our information on the Internet isn’t private?

Facebook is a free service, so of course we would have to pay for it one way or the other. We pay for it by sacrificing our privacy. Facebook’s ads are scarily accurate. I have noticed when I update my status about Sons of Anarchy, a TV show about an outlaw motorcycle club, I get ads such as: “Learn how to fix Harleys” or an ad for a motorcycle dealer in my vicinity. Clearly my information is being shared with others. I have given up on even trying to figure out who sees what on my profile

“I hereby declare that my copyright is attached to all of my personal details, illustrations, comics, paintings, photos and videos, etc.,” reads the message that plans on serving as a copyright declaration and as a legal notice to Facebook.

The problem is, declaring a copyright on things is a complex process. One usually has to seek a lawyer, consult the complexities and language with the justice department to put a copyright over some content. It is not possible to simply post a status and say you are the owner of your content. The Facebook wall is not the right avenue to declare a copyright — though it is the correct way to annoy your “friends.” Their lawyers would laugh at anyone thinking that that particular status update is going to hold in any court, so they have no reason to stop doing what they are doing.

The concept of privacy on the Internet is laughable. IP addresses can be tracked on each website you access, no matter what settings you have. Most websites are incorporating your social media in to comment software so even your troll comments can be linked to your information. Google compiles everything we do in their accounts — a scarier notion when one considers the fact that your YouTube history, all emails, search history, map searches and other potentially sensitive information is available to someone at some time. Though there is so much information online to keep track of, a directed effort to find specific information can yield results with ease.

To those who seek peace of mind from the potentially destructive outcomes of leaked sensitive information posted online, I would recommend not posting the information that you do not want to be compromised. Begin by saving us the ridiculous status update message, which means nothing.

Most people I know make their phone numbers, employment information and family photos available to the general public via their profile or cover photo, or simply by having loose privacy settings. Individuals, employers and corporations are going to creep on our information at some point. But we can’t blame them. We are the ones that have created our online presence with little to no regard for our own privacy and safety.

There is no reason why one should post information that can be potentially damning  if it were to end up in the wrong hands. This is true for all things online. There are ways of coping outside of  giving websites private information. If you know you have sensitive details on your social media page, let your own moral and professional ideals guide the decision-making progress. Keep your accounts separate rather than linking them together if you have to. Readjust your privacy settings across all your frequented websites to match what type of information you’re making available.

Don’t want to land up on some voyeuristic website, as some University of Minnesota students have on a sub-Reddit? While you shouldn’t model your behavior out of fear for being “creeped” on, a little care can go a long way. “Un-tag” yourself from sensitive photos or status updates. Directly message your friends  rather than  posting on their “wall.” Keep your events private to avoid party crashers.

We have to do now what we do any time Facebook rolls out new privacy settings: We adapt. Carefully read the privacy settings, delete the information you think can be damaging and refrain from adding such information again. It is a personal responsibility initiative. Unless there are harsh laws made that bar Web companies from sharing our information, we can’t breathe a sigh of relief. We have to be vigilant and proactive.