Personal stuff & the internet

november 21, 2017

Published in november 2017
Last edited in march 2019

On a few occasions in the past some people asked me why there isn’t that much personal information about me on the internet. No resume, no up close and personal stuff, no Facebook account, a rather poor Linkedin profile, no…. you name it. People might be wondering, do I have a secret identity, am I fighting a highly classified war against evil, am I collaborating with an alien species? Nope, none of that all.

However last week I received the same question about my online absence again. So here is a little write up on how I look at the internet and information vs people. In this article I express my personal thoughts & beliefs combined with my professional knowledge of data & online and offline communications.

Shifting paradigm

The fact that you can share things on the internet is great. However it does not necessarily mean that you have to share everything on the internet. I mean that is how it’s supposed to be according to me.

Then

I was raised in a pre-internet era where it was perfectly fine to only share your personal information (data) with people who it mattered to. There were strict laws on how companies where supposed to handle your personal data (cv, medical docs etc). The data was always attached to the purpose it was provided for in the first place.

Now

If I look back from that time to now, I’ve seen a whole culture change to a new social norm where it is okay to distrust people who have a small online foot print, who don’t have a Facebook profile or people who do not share an extended (open accessible) resume. Some people even consider you to be weird, shady or paranoia if you don’t share along like everyone else does. Sharing has become the new norm. Keeping things to yourself seems to be the new taboo.

Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say

The emotional & privacy paradox

There seems to exist a certain tension between the right to privacy on the one hand and the feeling of wanting to belong on the other, actually meaning that what we share online isn’t always as optional as we would like to think. Let’s dig a little deeper.

Be cautious not to screw up

Some internet experts warned us and advised to be careful with what you share online, because it can haunt you for years in case you screw up. The internet (and the internet community) doesn’t forget and therefor it does not allow you to forget your behaviour, actions, opinions and mistakes.

Not screwing up… This fact in itself already can be stressful. Not being allowed to make any mistakes ever? Think about it. Rants from the past that are taken out of context and blown out of proportion. It can hurt you in real life, even years later. In fact, this has been happening for a while already and some people refer to it as ‘social justice’. I rather call it online shaming.

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The image of success

On top of that, people are trying very hard to create a perfect image of themselves these days. They prefer to present themselves the way they want to be seen. Even if that image isn’t always the truth (even of that moment). Sometimes it’s even like a competitive bidding war on who is the most successful in life. This is another very stressful act in my opinion.

Sometimes I feel a little pressured into joining to this act. Some of my colleagues asked me why I don’t have thousands of followers or connections on social media, especially because I am after all an online professional. Having a big amount of followers is their definition of success. Is it really? I think being successful and looking successful (image of success) are two different things.

But this passive scent of disapproval does have an emotional effect on me. I think it’s only human nature, wanting to eliminate that feeling. And people who do find it important what others think of them, probably will go to far lengths to eliminate that feeling and will try to live up to that perfect image instead. Which I think is very unhealthy.

Should we play along?

So while these experts advise you to be cautious with the information you share, at the same time data driven organizations (Google, Facebook and Linkedin but also almost all online magazines, advertising networks etc) build their infrastructure in a way to strongly encourage you to share as many personal specifics as you can.

When you want something for free you pay with your personal data. When you want to join your friends in some online activity (like a game or something), you pay… yes again with your personal data. Not engaging in these kind of activities makes you tend to be feeling left out or missing out on some group activity and nobody wants to feel like that.

So even when not feeling perfectly comfortable with sharing this information, people do share it, jumping on a riding train having absolutely no idea where it’s heading. Ask yourself this question; If some random stranger asked these bits of information about you, would you provide it?

Personal information psychology

Knowledge GAP

What also needs to be taken into account is that a lot of people do not understand how these data organizations and their technologies work. When there is no danger to be seen, there will be no panic. If everyone else in the world shares it, what can possibly go wrong? Before you know it sensitive data falls into the wrong hands and may be misused at some point.

Update: 03-2018
Facebook data falls into the wrong hands. A lot of people start to panic and #deletefacebook is trending on Twitter.

Realize that once you shared your data, you’ll never exactly know where it’s heading, who has access to it and what kind of new context can be applied to it. Even years later, even though at first glance the data isn’t recognized as being sensitive at all.

So peer pressure and not wanting to be feeling left out leads people to share sensitive personal information with anonymous entities who link the data to their third parties… etc. This can only lead to regret later.