Privacy? Not on this man's Internet!

A few days ago, as I did my morning perusal of the overnight Facebook updates, I noticed a curious comment that had been posted by a childhood classmate of mine. It was curious, not in its content, but more in its absurd vehemence. She was aggrieved, that one of her so-called friends would dare to let her louse of a ex-husband see any information that she had posted to her Facebook page. 
I get her pain. A break such as she had obviously been through is traumatic and damaging. To then have a second person, someone you had thought a friend, betray the trust you had given them in the form of access to your private information, and provide that information wholesale to the person who hurt you most, must be painful beyond doubt. I get that you’re hurting. I understand trust betrayed.

What I don’t understand is why this person felt they had any actual privacy in the first place.

Lets, for the sake of this discussion, call this woman Susie. Her statement, which in respect to her privacy I will not repeat, was laced with undertones of having some inalienable right to controlling the thoughts and actions of those she chose to call friend. To her, anyone who did anything with her personal information that wasn’t done so without her explicit permission was an affront to her dignity and humanity.

What Susie fails to understand is, she already gave not just her friends’ list, but frankly anyone who wants to make up the most phony of legal charges against her, the right to everything she ever said or uploaded into Facebook. By simply making a digital record of her thoughts, visits and actions, she has explicitly chosen to give up any rights to privacy she might have had.

The Constitution, the Bill of Rights and all the subsequent amendments back this up. The Constitution itself provides for no right to privacy, thus the Bill of Rights was added to specify what rights citizens of the Union had and did not have. The 1st amendment provides a right to privacy of beliefs, the 3rd against housing of military personnel, the 4th against unreasonable search and seizure, the 5th against self-incrimination and the 9th says that there may be other rights not included in the amendments or Constitution upon which, and this is the key part, that the government may not infringe upon.

What did you notice about that list? First, not one time in that list is there one provision stating that one person has a right to privacy from any other citizen. Sure, there are plenty of laws on the books to protect such rights, but there is no stated, universal right to such protected by (and from) our government, much less anyone else. Second, there is no provision stating that a person has a right to privacy from companies. In fact, the entire reasons companies can send you junk mail or solicit you over the telephone despite being on the Do Not Call registry is because when you enter into a business relationship with them, you give away your right to not be bothered by them (at least until you tell them to buzz off).

I could go on through the rest of the amendments, but I think you get the idea. You’ve got a right to privacy, but it is a right only in certain areas and from certain entities.

So if Susie doesn’t have a Constitutional right to keep her updates private, doesn’t the fact that Facebook includes privacy controls mean that if she blocks someone from seeing her updates that they shouldn’t ever know about those updates? Hardly.

Quick poll… who here believes that Facebook’s privacy controls are there to protect the privacy of their users? If you said ‘Yes’, you’re not paying attention. The reason those controls are there is to lull you into a false sense of security in order to get you to share more information.

Quick poll #2… who is Facebook’s customer? If you said its users, you really need to have all five of your senses checked, because once again, you’re just not paying attention. Facebook’s customers are the ones who pay them money. In a word, its advertisers.

Quick poll #3… if advertisers are Facebook’s customers, what is Facebook’s product? If you said, 'a website’, I must ask if you even have a Facebook account. No, the answer to this question is that you, its user base, are the product. Facebook sells your time, and more importantly your personal information (usually in a mostly anonymous, aggregated form) its to advertisers.

In other words, Facebook exists in order to make money off the information you freely post to the site. You’re being used.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a Facebook account and use it to an extent that would make most people blush. I’m being used, pimped out, put on a street corner and made to dance; however you want to say it, I’m being exploited for someone else’s profit. I know this and, strangely, I’m ok with it. If I post something to Facebook, I know that it is not private and that to expect it to not be used by someone is absurd.

Yet, the myth of privacy on Facebook, and really the Internet as a whole, still persists among the masses. It makes me scratch my head that anyone would believe in privacy at this point just boggles my mind.

Let me go back to Susie for a second. I have no idea what information someone shared with her ex-husband, but lets assume for a moment that we’re not talking about the Internet or Facebook and we’re talking about she and her new boyfriend sitting on a park bench, making out in the middle of a parade. People see this, and even had they only been holding hands and not sucking face, its likely someone would have talked about it with an acquaintance who wasn’t there. If your town is small enough, its likely that, eventually, given enough transmissions, the information would make it back to her ex-husband.

In this situation, does Susie have any right to be upset about her privacy being invaded? No. Absolutely not. None. Zero. Zip. Nada.

Don’t mistake privacy with courtesy. Yes, it is the height of discourtesy to talk about Susie and her boyfriend to the town gossip (ie, Facebook), yet the fact that Susie chose to make out in the middle of a parade (and given the large number of games, apps and ridiculous scams that are rampant on Facebook’s wall feed, it is a parade or maybe even a circus) ensures that she has no privacy.

Susie, complain all you want about people being mean, cruel, vicious and spiteful, but don’t for a second bemoan your so-called privacy being invaded when you publicly announced to the world your activities. Anything you post to Facebook, or the Internet in general, will eventually come out. Any security measure, any privacy filter, can be broken with little to no effort for someone who knows what they are doing and are sufficiently motivated to do so. The only way most of us keep our privacy is that we are so supremely uninteresting that it is not worth the small amount of time needed to crack our accounts and share the contents with the world.

So, Susie, if you are really that concerned about violations of your privacy, what should you do about it? The first, and most obvious by now, should be to not put anything online. Stop posting pictures from your last vacation, stop talking about what you ate for dinner last night or about that cute guy down at the coffee shop you really have a thing for now that the ink has dried on the divorce papers.

But if you feel you must post to Facebook, and I’m not advising you to stop, do a few things. First, segment your friends into lists and put anyone you think as questionable on a restricted list which only sees a limited subset of information you specifically want them to see. Second, if you have questionable friends, just boot them from your list. Most people have been using Facebook long enough that they have accumulated enough friends that they won’t miss you until you’ve been gone a long time (if then). Lastly, moderate what it is you do share. If its not something you wouldn’t want your mother to know about, Facebook probably isn’t the place. Email, instant message, even Facebook messages would be a better option for you than a wall post if privacy is really that big of a concern.

The last point, and this is the one I’ve been building to this entire time, is to stop complaining about it when you’ve been 'invaded’ due to your own stupidity. No one held you at gun point and forced you to upload that pic of you doing Jagerbombs down at the bar last Friday night. When your grandmother asks to try one of those tasty-looking beverages at the next family picnic, remember it was your choice in what to share, just as its my choice to block your idiot self from appearing in my news feed.