Online privacy – An Oxymoron?

The whole notion of “online privacy” is a hot topic these days. I wrote briefly about this issue in last week’s newsletter because we happened to have a new submission to the library at both and which outlines all the places online we are exposed and in what ways. Internet Security Fundamentals does a very good job of giving us the basics of how we expose ourselves online every day and how we can be alert for and wary of the different pitfalls of establishing and maintaining an online presence in this technological age.

No Reading HereBrowsing my Facebook feed one morning last week, I stumbled onto yet another reminder of how our seemingly innocuous online behavior is trackable and most likely stored on a server (or servers) where it is accessible by anyone with the right credentials. Even our eReaders are not immune to this malady. When I think about all the books I’ve bought and downloaded to my Kindle over the years, I cringe. Yet I also know that read widely and somewhat voraciously, so my eBook reading history is a goldmine of information.

My advice, dispensed within the newsletter, was to just keep reading. I’d further that advice here by saying not only should we keep reading, we should read as widely and as voraciously as we can too. The reason is simple: the more diverse content we consume, the more benign we look. And this is not to say that I am trying to give you ways in which to “fool” those eyes who have access to our online histories – not at all. This is simply my way of comforting myself that while my reading history contains some iffy subjects, my “big-picture” reading choices is somewhat diffused by the variety of other subject matter that I read as well. And I offer it as a solution for you as well.

I read all kinds of things. My Kindle library is a true testament to just how wide my interests are. I’ve got gardening books, writing books, religious books, non-religious books, romance, thriller, horror, conspiracy novels, war novels, classics and reference material for work and school loaded all at once… hell, I even have articles, newspapers, and magazines loaded onto my Kindle. Anyone looking at my library can only conclude that I will read anything so long as it has words. And thus, I don’t worry much about people having access to my information.

The thing is, I see the phrase “online privacy” as an oxymoron. I spent over 10 years of my life working in the technology field – at least 4 of which in telecommunications (specifically mobile communications). I know that every little thing you do is recorded somewhere, somehow. The information is available for anyone who wants to view it and we have little control over who actually does get access to it because the corporations who are entrusted with our information are, in fact, bound by the law of the land. According to the news about PRISM, that information is not only kept by U.S. corporations, it’s also most likely turned over to the government. Does that scare me? Oh yes, it most certainly does. I don’t particularly like the idea of some faceless bureaucrat examining my online activity and making judgement calls on my personality or tendencies.

For example, one of the books I only recently loaded onto my Kindle is Stephen King’s “Rage”. This novel is no longer available for purchase because the author himself pulled it from bookshelves. After the Columbine shootings, he stated he wasn’t comfortable with the fact that his writing was associated with teen violence. And while I commend him for that move, I wanted to read the book for myself. (Can you imagine that there actually is a Stephen King novel that I have not read?) I want to see what it could possibly contain that might spur a teenager into a murderous rage. Additionally, law enforcement training sometimes refers to books and films that have been blamed in this manner. I like to be educated and reading widely is the only way I know to do that. But … reading “Rage” does not make me a threat to anyone.

So the U.S. government has access, and uses said access, to view our online activity – this is now a given; a fact. Those of us savvy enough with technology and the workings of politicians were probably not too surprised about that revelation. I would hate to think that this revelation will curb our reading habits. And I wonder how many of us are going to abandon our eReaders for paperback books again… Would that seem like a step backward to you?

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