Concerning "Privacy" Developments

The way I see it, there are two ways to protect your privacy (and future inquiries into your identity) online.

The first: Just be careful what you post! Don’t put anything out there that you wouldn’t want a future boss to read!

The second: Be anonymous! Use a pseudonym!

There’s only one teeny little problem: they don’t work.

The first ensures that you will never say anything interesting. Don’t offend, don’t offer an opinion, heck – don’t have an opinion – just be careful and safe and boring.

The second has two major flaws. No one trusts pseudonyms or aliases. The web has evolved beyond that, and readers now expect genuine humans to identify themselves as such in their writing.

Not that a pseudonym is actually anonymous anyway.

As Brooke Gladstone revealed in last week’s episode of On the Media:

Some might say, look, you don’t have to use your real name. And yet there’s this company called PeekYou LLC which has just applied for a patent that would use information about you that’s scattered all over the Web to match your real name with whatever pseudonym you might use on a place like Twitter. Does that presage the end of Internet anonymity?

And seriously guys: “PeekYou?” Are you trying to sound evil and illiterate?

I’m all for promoting a healthy amount of caution and foresight when posting stuff online, especially when you’re using your real name. (Truly.)

But my concern is for free speech, intimidation, and the ability for anyone to instantaneously track our every move in this new world we all inhabit. It’s not like there’s an epidemic of kids getting kicked out of school for their blog, or teachers getting fired for the content of their Facebook page, it’s the fear of that retaliation that worries me the most, the chilling effect on speech that a culture of easy surveillance promotes.

Of course, we could just change our names. Or form an Internet Privacy Committee. Or read a book and go off the grid entirely…