Friday, September 24, 2010

Web Privacy

Few days ago, I was trying to find a link to a Youtube video that I thought I had posted on my Facebook account few months back. For the first time that I checked my posting history and really saw the whole history of my communication through Facebook to my friends in the last few years. As an avid listener of BOL of Cnet and being a person who pay attention to tech news, I know Facebook for sure has kept every piece of information of all its 500 millions+ members. Cuz, every bit of information is valuable to them, if not for now, would be for tomorrow when they or their partners would be able to figure out how to turn them to be money-making opportunities. Anyway, that personal search that I did just made me think about the whole issue of privacy in the cyberspace in these days and age, which is so different from what the world in pre-web 2.0 was.

Forgot who said it, but I always take it to my heart that, once information is out in the web, it will become public. You can put all privacy settings in place all you want, everything on the web once will be known by somebody. So, if somebody really wants to find something about you, they can, period! That’s why for the most private stuff that we have, we should keep that off from the web. You might thought that we can still safely keep our accounts/passwords in a password-protected file and save it in our hard-drive, it is 99.999% that it is safe, but it is not 100%. Our PC can still be hacked by malware, virus, spamware or whatever. So, we just need to remember this all the time about what we should expose ourselves in the web.

Back in the old days, I mean maybe a decade ago or so, when a candidate wants to run for public office, he/she would be scrutinized by the media about their backgrounds, or things that they said before. For example, Arnold Schwarzenegger ran for the Governor office in California, his dad‘s alleged relationship with Nazi was brought up, but it never became a serious issue that affect his candidacy, neither did his alleged womanizing history. The latter was more prominent as he was a movie star before and media was able to dig up his past relatively easier than other regular Joes. However, in these days and age, when everybody has a Facebook account (except the billion or so behind the Great Firewall), and we, as normal human beings with free minds, love to express our emotion and pour our thoughts out on Facebook for our friends to notice, we often forget that those words, pictures, voices, video will all become public records. Something doesn’t make much sense or harmless when it was said, could become an issue in future in situation that you would never think of.

Facebook checking or similar sort with other social sites have already been a common and acceptable practice by HR of some major corporations, not only in hiring stage, but also for staff monitoring. Detectives or insurance companies also use Facebook to collect supporting evidences and use them in court cases on their favor. I wouldn’t be surprise that it will become more commonly widespread to become even a routine that would ultimately affect every aspect of our lives. For example, schools will check our or even
our parents’ public web records to determine if we should be admitted. All companies, organizations and government agencies would check our web record history in making any decision towards our application of any sort. If that happens, new industries (web personal record professional search, web record person profiling and analysis, web record person modification, enhancement and masking, etc) will be created, as big money will be made. Then, whatever we say on purpose would be discounted, whatever we said freely in the past would become evidence or components of our personal profile for public review and criticism for judgment. Consequently, it will become very difficult to find ‘pure’ candidates for certain jobs in our society when the job natures are expected to be ‘defenders’ of justice or morality of some sort. For example, judges, priests, moral leaders, or head of organizations that promote fairness. Also, some professionals which may not as seriously regarded as the above but do also need to make moral judgments with conscience every now and then will be difficult to find as well, like teachers, police, doctors, or even political leaders.

If what I mentioned above would be true in future, I guess that our society will need to change accordingly or we will be forced to change somehow. Namely, we may have to give up previously high expectation and begin to accept the fact that it is close to impossible to find as many ideal candidates as we need for those professions. For example, when we see scandalous images of political candidates, through the work of spin-doctors, we will be forced or deceived to accept those are not really scandals or shameful matters of candidates. They are just their innocent histories like more of us do have, and we should focus on the candidates’ good sides, abilities, as well as their ‘intentions to do good’ instead. Would that happen someday? I don’t know.

Also, in terms of role models, there will very unlikely be any new one emerged in current times. Cuz, it would be so hard to find one without any dirt in the past got dug up by the media. Instead, we will begin to focus on good ‘acts’ as they become more visible, rather than finding a good person as a whole since everybody’s fault will be more accessible and visible as well. Kids in future would less likely to believe in role models, cuz they would say that if there is Youtube, HD recording, etc back in the days, those so-called role models in history will expose their bad deeds as well. Would George Washington only tell the truth all the time? Would Abraham Lincoln may discriminatory remarks of other sorts? Kids would think so.

Come to think of it, I think I’ve been trying my best to say things carefully on the web so far. Not that I will run for any office soon or if ever, but I always believe that we are responsible of ourselves. Not just for what we do in person, but what we say on the web as well. Cuz, you never know who will use what we have exposed to go against us down the road in what occasion. Also, I will teach my kid to take note of such as well. Surely, he will make mistakes, but I think it is my duty to teach him to become a responsible cybercitizen. I think that would be good for him regardless what he wanna do in future.

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