Privacy worries? Google shouldn't be your biggest fear

Privacy worries? Google shouldn't be your biggest fear

Summary: The bigger threats to compromising your privacy are you, your friends and your family - they're posting about you on social networks, too.


I've been thinking a lot about privacy lately, mostly about my own comfort levels with what's known about me from my Internet footprint. Granted, there's a lot of information about me on the Web - mostly because of my work as a tech journalist - so I'm not really all that paranoid anymore.

Maybe that's why I tend to not buy into a lot of the Google bashing that goes on over privacy and the suggestion that Google is spying on us and stealing our information so that they can do something sinister with it - like make money and provide online services that impact our daily lives. I've been using free GMail, Google Maps and Google Search for years and I've yet to have my identity stolen, my personal data compromised or my trash sifted through by a stalker who tracked me down because I used Google Maps for driving directions.

Here's what's funny: When it comes to being worried about the information being made available about me on the Web, it's not Google that I'm worried about. It's me that I'm worried about, the guy who's posting regularly on social networks. It's my family and friends and what they might be saying - or posting - about me on their pages. It's all of you, the readers, and what you're saying about me in the comments or in your own blogs. (Yup! Easily searchable.)

This might explain why I was particularly intrigued by something that was said by author and social media expert Brian Solis at the Latinos in Social Media conference in Silicon Valley over the weekend. Solis, who was talking about how people engage in social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, suggested that people who are concerned about privacy on the Internet don't really understand how social media works.

His point was that we all have three lives: our public lives, our private lives and our secret lives - and it's up to each one of us to determine what sort of information we put out there about ourselves. Solis got a great laugh when he noted that Congressman Anthony Weiner just screwed up because he forgot which life he was broadcasting on Twitter.

All laughs aside, I think Solis made an excellent point - and his suggestion that we have three types of lives got me thinking about privacy again. Could I actually place every detail about my life into one of those three categories? Would there be overlap? How would I control it? I actually put some thought into it - and here's what I came up with:

My Secret Life: To me, secret almost seemed like the incorrect word here because it implies that I'm doing something wrong in my life and am trying to keep people from finding out. Sure, maybe we all have something that fits into that category - but I thought that "My Secret Life" would be better as "Stuff in my life that's none of your damn business." What sort of details would I put in there? Well, for starter's my social security number and my personal finances would fall into that category. Of course, those aren't necessarily "secret" details. I share this kind of information with my wife, my accountant, my bank and the IRS. I might broadcast on my social networks that I've taken a new job but I'm certainly not going to announce my salary at that new job.

My Private Life: Again, thinking about what I would share on social media, I would think that things like my home address, my kids' names or my mother's maiden name would be private. Certainly, I'm limiting how much of this information I put online. But as your family, neighbors and even your teenage kids start popping up on social networks more often, checking in and snapping pics all the while, it's harder to keep some details quiet. Here's how I see it: I'm not renting out a billboard on the side of the freeway to advertise any information about myself - but I'm also not losing any sleep if my daughter's friend "checks in" at our house.

My Public Life: How old am I? Where did I go to school? Where have I worked? I have no problem with my resume being online. (In fact, it is.) What are my thoughts about the iPad, Google, Facebook? Clearly, I have no problem posting those thoughts to the Internet, given my work for ZDNet. What kind of music do I listen to? What do I watch on TV? Which way do I lean politically? If you're my Facebook friend (or my wife's), you already know these things about me.

Speaking of politics, my thoughts about privacy popped up again last week when the news media began to salivate over the release of the Sarah Palin e-mails, hoping to outscoop each other with some juicy detail - only to find that there really wasn't a there there. I don't have much respect for Palin, her politics or her loose-cannon style of speaking before thinking - but I do think the media frenzy was a bit too much. Palin has proven that she's savvy enough to recognize the difference between her three lives and has worked hard to manage them.

She wouldn't have gotten as far as she has if Secret Life stuff had slipped into the Public Life stream, right?

Topics: Legal, Google, Social Enterprise

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  • RE: Privacy worries? Google shouldn't be your biggest fear

    One fundamental thing you missed in your complete blog is automatic spoofing vs. deliberately posting. And that point itself totally made this entirely moot. I am not saying it is waste. You could have gone with "how best you, your friends could damage your privacy and social reputation" or something like that instead of bragging about Google by undermining its automatic spoofing issue.
    Ram U
    • RE: Privacy worries? Google shouldn't be your biggest fear

      @Rama.NET The American 'moot', where it is used as a mis pronounced form of 'mute' .. or the 'moot' the rest of the world uses where it is a topic of debate?
      • RE: Privacy worries? Google shouldn't be your biggest fear


        Americans use moot the same way everyone else does. I have no idea what that 'mute' thing you are talking about is unless you picked it up off of Jersey Shore or something.
      • RE: Privacy worries? Google shouldn't be your biggest fear

        @prof.ebral Perhaps this will help:

        particularly these parts: [i]of little or no practical value or meaning; purely academic.[/i], [i]of little or no practical value or meaning; purely academic.[/i]

        Which is HOW it was being used.

        Mute on the other hand...

        silent; refraining from speech or utterance.
        not emitting or having sound of any kind.
        incapable of speech; dumb.[/i]

        I hope this helps you out and enables a better understanding of what was said.
      • moo yute


        If I use "mute", some moron corrects me and tells me it's "moot".

        If I use "moot", some moron corrects me and tells me it's "mute".
    • Our "Job-seeking" lives

      @Rama.NET, I think the greatest reputational risk is to our "job-seeking" lives... perhaps a fourth classification of information. In your public life, you share information with your friends and family that you might not want a current, future, or former employee to see.
  • RE: Privacy worries? Google shouldn't be your biggest fear

    @Sam - too true.
    Same boat but different arena.
    Gmail since inception. No "G" issues at all.
    My biggest issue is what other people post about me and the level of detail they feel free to include with no real thought. They feel free to share their info and auto-include you in the same bucket.

    Google, Microsoft, Apple, etc.... As long as they let me know what they are doing Incan plan accordingly. Bucketing your "life" is a good step.
  • Public LifeStream

    Well said; I love that you've potentially coined the phrase "Public Life Stream" to describe our lives on the information Super Highway! I came to the 'net mostly for business, so I've spent considerable time and effort carefully presenting my "Public Life Stream."

    I heard the radio spot this morning for Reputation Defender and I had to smirk. Reputation is as much a part of Public Life Stream as any other information we present ourselves and I think the best way to protect it is to actively work on it. I accept flaming and bad comments as a given when commenting on the 'net, but I also accept personal responsibility for my reactions to negativity I encounter. I know---as should anyone who posts on the 'net---that my words, once I hit SEND, are forever pasted out there so I'd better be very careful and keep my cool before I say something I'm going to regret later.

    Thanks again Sam for a thought-provoking blog!
    Trevor Curran
  • RE: Privacy worries? Google shouldn't be your biggest fear

    My gmail address hasn't been hacked, but one of my son's accounts was infected. Sorry, but no email is completely safe from malicious attacks.
    • RE: Privacy worries? Google shouldn't be your biggest fear

      @Starman35 Sorry but no web mail account can ever be infected nor has one. But your computer can be affected or infected by malicious email sent to you. If you don't have proper preventive measures in place and don't heed the warnings plastered all over the web, then no doubt you'll reap the results in the cyber world just a you would in the real World!
    • RE: Privacy worries? Google shouldn't be your biggest fear

      @Starman35 In such cases, the root cause is usually malware on a client used to access the account, rather than a hack at Google's end (that would definitely be big news).
  • Gratuitous Palin Slam

    When I read your column, I didn't appreciate the gratuitous Palin slam. It undermined the very point you were making about the media salivating to find a juicy detail about her. It's not what I'm looking for or expecting in a tech piece.
    • Re: Gratuitous Palin Slam


      Good call. I found the "I don?t have much respect for Palin, her politics or her loose-cannon style of speaking before thinking - " trite and silly. It's the kind of thing somebody posts to prove their "intellectual" credentials when they dare to defend somebody who it is faddish to call "stupid." It pretty much translates to "I think she's stupid too, guys, just like all of you self-declared smart people, but this went too far." Way to insulate yourself from having to worry about anybody accidentally believing that you're a Palin fan, Sammy. Gotta protect that "Public life stream," eh?
      • RE: Privacy worries? Google shouldn't be your biggest fear

        @aaronc0027 So Sam has little respect or love for Palin... so what? As it happens I don't care for her myself but I do find it quite amusing that nothing was found in those emails. She's either as she appears to be or is really that good at covering her tracks or has hired someone that good at covering her tracks.
      • RE: Privacy worries? Google shouldn't be your biggest fear

        It goes beyond that. It's funny watching people qualify their statements so they don't fall afoul of the faddish. It's pretty cowardly. He obviously felt the need to qualify the fact that he doesn't care for Palin before he felt comfortable commenting on the situation lest he be accused of being a fan of Palin. Weak sauce.
      • RE: Privacy worries? Google shouldn't be your biggest fear

        @aaronc0027 I didn't have any opinion on Sarah Palin what so ever prior to the Paul Revere incident. Being neither conservative or liberal. My politics ride somewhere in the middle being more moderate. But that all changed when she opened her big mouth in Boston of all places!

        Wrong!!! Paul Revere had already put up the two lanterns in the church steeple. "One if by Land, Two if by Sea" and rode warning other patriots that the British were coming as well as helping to get as many as 40 other riders. He also helped move some of our leader's family to safety.

        He was captured and torture till he finally told them what he had been up to and to call that warning the British the Patriots were coming is asinine and ludicrous at best. Most likely she got confused and meant Benedict Arnold, who did warn the British about us. "Warning" is a prevenative action or measure not an informative one as she claims was his sole intent!!!

        So ......seems she forgot about the "British are Coming" Warning to colonists, with lanterns and horse ride being Paul Revere's primary goal. Then her and her fans tried to rewrite history! Which is disgraceful, that she couldn't just admit she made a mistake!!!

        As for Sam stating his opinion? He has every right to. Do I think he's right about Google? Absolutely!!! ....never had one single problem with Google's products and revealing information about me. If anything it's been FACEBOOK!!!
      • Actually, what Sam did was contrary to intellectual savvy or honesty.

        Sam is incapable of understanding that, there are always two or more sides to any story or any issue.
        • athynz: Really? Your PDS knows no bounds...

          and you're the type that doesn't use his mind to just accept the facts, because, those facts are quite contrary to your idealism or your agenda.

          So, according to you, Palin must've covered her tracks or somebody did it for her, because, she is a republican and evil, and there absolutely must be some dirt in anything she ever did.

          It's time to face reality and realize that, the people doing the witch-hunt against Palin are most likely the ones with the dastardly agenda, namely the liberal press and the liberal leadership which put the up to the witch-hunt.
        • KronJohn: Time to update your knowledge, because, Palin has been proven

          to be right on the Revere history, and the press and pundits who thought they knew better and attacked her, have all been proven wrong, and in actuality, many of them have admitted it and even many historians have vouched for Palins account of history.
      • RE: Privacy worries? Google shouldn't be your biggest fear

        Or maybe, just maybe, "nothing" is the right answer. No particular skeletons, and no particular good points either. I'm not that concered about whether palin is "stupid" or "smart" but the general preoccupation with her, tells me one thing about the society I live in: we put a HUGE stock in how somebody looks. To some extent we do not even listen to the vacuous things she says, we just shut down the cortex and look at her with the brain stem. Does this not relate to the subject at hand? Maybe, maybe not: vacuous behavior is partly what we are being warned against, in terms of giving up our hard fought freedoms and presumed boundaries of privacy. Palin just represents one of the many facets of our societal vacuousness. Both good and bad points, those.