Is There Any Privacy Left?

December 16, 2009

There’s been a lot of buzz this week about Facebook’s new privacy policy. Basically, Facebook set up new defaults that open your personal informationĀ to search engines, thereby opening your posts, friendsĀ and photos to a lot more people. You can dial back your privacy settings, but they didn’t make it easy or intuitive.

Why did they do it? Because Facebook, the fifth most popular website in the world, still isn’t making money. They have to find ways to monetize all that traffic. Selling access to members is one way of doing that.

Wall Street Journal technology columnist Julia Angwin is among those objecting to the move. Angwin says she’s going to remove every last vestige of personal information from Facebook and bemoans the loss of privacy. Our lives are increasingly being bundled and sold as digital commodities, she says.

I agree. But I long ago concluded that any expectation of real privacy is a quaint notion of a rapidly receding past. Today, anyone can snap a photo of you anyplace and instantly publish it to the world. That time you passed out at a high school kegger and your friends drew a mustache on your face? If someone has a snapshot of that moment, they can scan it and post it.

The government is monitoring your phone calls and Web searches. I’ve read that there’s virtually noplace in London that’s not monitored by surveillance cameras, and there’s no reason to expect that won’t be a worldwide norm sometime in the near future.

So I long ago decided not to fight it. I live my life as if anything I do could be laid bare at any moment. It’s not paranoia — in fact, quite the opposite. It’s just a realization that we’re all 1’s and 0’s in that great digital river.