Anonymous online? Facebook, Blogs and Generation Y

Photo by sklathill - licensed under Creative Commons We all like to think of ourselves as plugged into the zeitgeist. The web? Was there in ’95. LinkedIn profile? Got one years ago? Skype? Tick. Blog? Tick (you’re looking at it). SecondLife? I’m there. 24 x 7 online gadgets? Got them in spades.

However, I have to confess to at least one embarassing form of personal failure up there with sexual inadequacy, I don’t have a Facebook account.

Why? At base, it comes down to a liking for anonymity. Surely one of the most wonderful things about the web when it first came about was the sense of freedom: you could write whatever you wanted and be whomever you wanted to be. Facebook, Myspace, and some other forms of social media are the very antithesis of this. It’s about setting down a version of yourself in stone. Forget re-invention, it’s about demonstrating how popular you are by the number of ‘Friends’ you have and creating a spider’s web of links that to me are something to be trapped in.

My generation Y late 20-something sister doesn’t understand my squeamishness about Facebook.

She doesn’t understand why I don’t like her posting photos of my small children in Facebook, “after all people have to be my Friends to see them” (well they aint necessarily my friends). And if she has got to grips with Facebook’s labyrinth of privacy settings it sure seems to be the case that other people (including the New York Times) haven’t.  And that’s before I mention my friend whose girlfriend was signficantly underwhelmed to see him in a photo that had been tagged with his name on Facebook in a nightclub in closer embrace than his girlfriend thought was proper with another girl.

It doesn’t matter whether only your Friends can see your pictures and other content. We’ve got to remember that this is the digital age and anything once digital is w-a-y more transmissible than it ever was before. Just ask the copyright owners of digital music. All it takes is a right-click and copy and it’s out of your hands!  It’s not that I object to all forms of digital recording, for example I routinely record my Skype conference calls for work as the easiest form of note taking there is, and have been told off for doing so by colleagues, but I don’t post these on the web!

As more and more websites open themselves to the all-seeing scrutiny of the Googlebot we need to realize that your online footprints don’t  just stop with text. We are not far away IMHO from ‘similar image’ search where for example you can put in a photo of a friend and have the search engine find digitally similar images wherever they are. Check out, for example, the GoogleLabs ‘Similar images’ project, or for that matter the image technology that will recognise photos of your aunt once you’ve tagged her in Picasa. Sure you can get Google in some cases to remove something but typically only with regard to a site  that you control. And even once removed we have things like Alexa’s ‘Wayback’ machine to show us pages as they were BEFORE they were deleted.

My own children are going to be exposed to totally different forms of bullying at school, someone who doesn’t like them taking a nude photo in the lockeroom using the camera in their phone and putting it up on the web (and if they have a reasonable understanding of search engine optimization knowing enough to use the name of my kid in some anchor text pointing at the link to improve it’s PageRank on Google) AKA ‘sexting’.

And call me paranoid but I wonder how many people on Facebook realize that it provides  a great resource for hackers following social engineering strategies? How many people out there have passwords which are the name of the dog or their children or spouse? And that’s before we get into the issue of people using the same password on different accounts (by various reports over half of us do this). If I make a phone call to your parents at your house how much can I find out by name-dropping a few names of your friends?

I realize that Facebook provides an easy way to keep in touch with a large bunch of scattered friends but most Facebook related studies show that in fact no matter how many ‘Friends’ we have we really only actively communicate with a small number. Why not simply email your friends an electronic Christmas card once a year with what you’re doing? You don’t have to be a genius to use Word and Outlook in a mail merge.

And for work who on earth would want their Facebook profile to come up in Google before say their business related information from their company website, or their LinkedIn profile?

I realize that all of the above may just label me (correctly) as Generation X (those born between ’61 and ’81). Perhaps it really is the case that I’m just too uptight and lack the perspective of a post-1980 digital native as expressed in ‘Born Digital’ by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser.  On the other hand maybe a lot of those digital natives are just young people like there have always been young people, who do not fully comprehend the impacts of what they’re doing online, and will only do so in about 20 years time.

 PS. It was pointed out to me that my whole argument is well and truly undercut by having a blog. Well, yes and no. My blog is hosted using the ‘Domains by Proxy’ service so that you cannot directly query the details on the domain owner. It’s not failsafe, there are a number of ways you could really track down who I am, but as per the above paragraphs if I it would be ruinous for me to have my identity made more public than it is then I need to still be a little bit careful about what I write on the blog.  A lot easier way to do it is to just set up a blog on something like using a Hotmail account!

This article filed under the following 'Interest' categories (click category for more) Hate pets, Unanswerable questions

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Article posted by @Drivelry on May 10, 2009

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