There was a report recently in the “New York Times” about a policeman who, I guess, tongue in cheek, listed his profession on Facebook as “Human Waste Disposal.” Nobody paid much attention until he was involved in a fatal on-duty shooting. A local television station dug up the old Facebook entry and he was quickly given a desk duty job.
Even if we are careful about our entries to social media pages, the search engines turn up everything we write – I discovered records of a letter I wrote to a Singapore newspaper years ago – and what others write about us.
Much to the embarrassment of politicians, remarks on or off the cuff will be unearthed years later and compared to their current stance. In Singapore, would-be MP Tin Pei Ling was embarrassed by an earlier shot clip of her confessing “I don’t know what to say” and stamping her feet in a childish manner”. This clip swiftly spread across the electorate.
Admitting you smoked a “joint” or had an abortion as a student on your Friendster page can cost you a job later in life. Uploading photographs of herself dancing, cost a USA woman her disability allowance.
Access to our private lives, either by criminals or just people curious to know more, is becoming common. Many middle aged people who should know better, in their anxiety to be part of the young digital age, have been too quick to jump in and reveal more of their private lives than is safe.
People are tweeting several times a day revealing what they are doing and where they are, without thinking about the short term and long term consequences.
Last week, it was revealed that the iPhone is not only able pinpoint your location when it is on or off with a remarkable degree of accuracy but automatically feeds back, on a regular basis, the various destinations where you have been. That visit last Saturday night to the red light district has been recorded and stored!
Take a photograph on a smartphone and the GPS function will enable anyone with the right software to tell where that picture of your young daughter was taken. Your home or the nursery can be traced when you place the picture on a Twitter site.
In this new age, we are losing our privacy, with and without our collusion, opening ourselves to unwanted and dangerous attention. That to me is worrying.
The advertising and marketing community, egged on by clients who clamour for more accurate data which ensures advertising dollars are spent more effectively, must bear some responsibility for these developments.
We demand from the online media precise targeting that we would never have expected from the traditional media owners. Google, not unexpectedly, has reacted to fulfil the need. By following users, recording their online habits, their purchases, noting how long they linger, whether they access by phone and from what location, we now have an amazing amount of information about nearly every person in country that has internet or wireless access.