Am I Naked Online?

November 2007

I worry about revealing about myself online. I care who gets to see my profile. It matters to me what they do with that information. Should I care or is it too late to worry about my privacy?

Life today, demands being on the web - for work, for school and for socializing and personal relationships. An increasing number of web and mobile applications make it easy for you to post more information about yourself online dangerously easy.

Until now the world of online publishing has been restricted to businesses, entrepreneurs and whiz-kids, however, today more people than ever before are cultivating their online personas. And they do so with little or no regard for privacy. The risks of publishing personal details online must surely be eclipsed by the benefits, or so it seems.

I see a time-bomb set to explode when a critical mass of personal information becomes available online. Identity theft did not exist before the advent of centralized credit scoring, in the same way, the massive amount of online personal data has yet to spawn its own style of violation and abuse.

My Online Persona

The web is now as real as the printed page, if not more so - my 2006 U.S. tax return was entirely completed online, I have found jobs via Linked-In, rented apartments and bought cars using Craigslist and maintained friendships in Facebook. For me and others like me, online interactions have superseded print, paper and mail and they are only augmented by telephone, text and in-person meetings.

As a consequence of this online activity, I publish a growing collection of information about myself. Information that I have implicitly entrusted to various federal and corporate databases. Each time I sign up for a new online service, eager to begin, I breeze past the Terms and Conditions agreement, checking boxes to confirm that I have read it. Am I too trusting of these organizations and what will be the consequences of this?

What is Privacy, and should I care?

I define my privacy as the right to manage who knows what about me, and when. I see two parts to this individual privacy - social and commercial.

Offline, I manage access to my information: family and close friends can be trusted with everything, yet acquaintances and professional colleagues know only certain aspects. Strangers have a highly restricted public domain knowledge; yet online, this is definitely not the case. Social Networking communities are working to replicate the offline model, but what happens when it goes wrong?

If you are signed into Facebook and you are an approved contact (i.e. friend), you will be able to see a photo of me at the Norwich Union Data Services Christmas party having my nails painted. Am I ashamed of this? Not at all. Would I rather it were not there? Probably. So what of the Personal Private Information that is out of my control?

Emily Nussbaum describes the social risks in her New York Magazine article Kids, the Internet and the End of Privacy where she provides a vivid description of life online for the internet generation. She describes cases where individuals have had their privacy violated by the online publication of explicit videos or personal comments about them. However, kids today have an instinctive feel for what they give away and to whom and for maintaining a transparency that allows them to operate online. She does leave an unanswered question: as published personal information makes its way to authorities, employers and partners, what effects will this have on those relationships in the future? As she states,"We're living in frontier country right now"

How your privacy is being exploited from a commercial angle was articulated in Wil Harris' astute 2006 article Why Web2.0 will end your privacy He poses the question of Web2.0 start-ups, “Why are the companies worth so much money? Why is MySpace worth over half a billion dollars without a proper revenue model, he goes on to say, The answer is data. Information. Marketing. Every detail about you and me. That's where the money is./i>

There is commercial value in your personal data , and not just the information you post online but the trail of data you leave as you chat, surf, search and purchase (as Adam Fields points out in his blog). This data does not seem like much today, but as it accumulates over time, you will be painting a detailed picture of your habits, preferences and most importantly a log where you spend your money. The holy-grail for most marketing companies is to gain access to this information and to tie it back to you, so we are currently witnessing a 'land-grab' for personal information - all of which makes me feel a little exposed.

Here's where I reveal a little of me online: Too Much Information

What about you? I'm interested to hear how you feel about the availability of your personal information


1. Say Everything by Emily Nussbaum
2. Why Web 2.0 will end your privacy by Wil Harris (June 3, 2006)
3. “I’ve Got Nothing To Hide” And Other Misunderstandings Of Privacy by Daniel J. Solove
4. The Eternal Value of Privacy by Bruce Schneier (May 18, 2006)
5. Breaches of personal data: blaming the myth and punishing the victim by John Timmer (March 14, 2007)
6. ISPs apparently sell your clickstream data by Adam Fields (March 16, 2007)

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