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Giving Away Our Privacy

I had to remind folks out on my Facebook Fan Page again the other day not to post personal information. (I delete posts that contain that kind of stuff, as I do in comments on Ask Leo! articles.) It got me to thinking a little.

On one hand we rail against the supposed loss of privacy posed by the various services we use and companies behind them, not to mention concerns that various governments might be doing some kind of snooping.

And yet, we give away our private information – posting it publicly even – without hesitation.

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Lack of understanding?

Part of it, I suppose, could be a lack of understanding.

Perhaps people don’t understand that when they post something on a Facebook fan page anyone can see it. Perhaps they think it’s a direct and private line to me, somehow; in spite of the fact that they can see everyone else’s postings to me alongside their own.

Perhaps folks don’t get that comments posted on Ask Leo! are not only visible to anyone who happens to come by, but they’re regularly spidered by the search engines and archived by internet archive sites. Not only is what’s posted in a comment public, but once posted it’s very possible it can never be completely removed from the internet even if it is removed from my site.

And yet, with all the publicity internet privacy has received of late, shouldn’t people understand that public is now more public than it’s ever been? Quite literally billions of people could potentially see what you post.1

Disregard for consequences?

People post email addresses online all the time. And then they wonder why they get spam.

Keep it PrivateTry this: go to (you won’t need an account) and search for Or Have a look at how many people have committed their email address – often their personal, private email address – to the permanently public Twitter archive. I get that businesses will do so as part of their own publicity, but I see too many individuals posting their private personal email addresses there without realizing what they’re in for.

In the old days Usenet used to be the place for spammers to harvest email address. I’m sure Twitter is a veritable gold mine for them.

And phone numbers? Would you put your phone number on a bathroom or telephone booth wall for anyone to see? Of course not. So why are people posting them on blog comments and Facebook pages? I can only imagine that they’re opening themselves up to all sorts of potential abuse or harassment.

Privacy is your responsibility too

Yes, we should absolutely be ever watchful for corporate and government abuse, without a doubt.

But privacy starts at home. Much as it is with malware prevention, individuals are often the weakest link in the chain.

Watch who you’re giving your information to – and this goes well beyond just email addresses and phone numbers. Just because a form randomly pops up asking for something doesn’t mean you have to give it (or that it has to be accurate). Use common sense, use good judgement.

And as with so many things on line, be skeptical.

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Footnotes & references

1: No, I’m not saying billions will, I’m saying that any of the billions of people on the internet today could.

4 comments on “Giving Away Our Privacy”

  1. That’s why I usually use a Yahoo email address when I’m required to provide an email address. You never know who will have it or what they will do with it. For example, I used that email address to post this comment. Not that I don’t trust Leo. It’s just a matter of habit. My real email address is private for people I choose to give it to.

    The one thing that I’ve always found funny is the people who claim they care about their privacy and not wanting anyone to have too much information about themselves. And then they have a gmail address, use Google Maps, and search for things using the Google search engine (and the list goes on); they might even have a Google android phone. They say they want their privacy but then they give Google every detail about themselves.

    • That’s perfectly fine when you post a comment to Ask Leo! but if you ask a question via the Ask page, be sure to include an email address which you plan to check because the answers are sent to that address.

  2. The over sharing and what I may erroneously consider narcissistic behavior online nowadays boggles my mind. I don’t care to divulge too much about myself for the simple reason I am not that interesting. I love freebies on the internet, and give my real email address to these companies because I can simply delete the spam in exchange for a free magazine subscription or calendar. Other than that, I try to keep a low profile. I just did a quick google of my email address, and luckily only 2 pages returned, and of those hits, only 4-6 were actually my email address and comments, but as Leo said, one is from 2005 and I see no way to delete it!! As my grandmother said, a bought lesson is the best lesson.

  3. Well said, Lenny. I don’t even have a Facebook account, and I cannot see that I have missed anything . . . yet. The kids who do the power posting, questionable pics, shouting from the mountain tops all their personal business; I can almost guarantee that it will bite them back in the near future. A lawyer came to my daughters’ college and talked at length about this very subject, especially regarding Facebook. As Leo said in an earlier article, “forever and in the worst possible light.”


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