“If you’re not paying for a service, you’re the product that’s being sold.” –Unknown
Unless you’re completely off the grid (which makes me a teensy bit jealous of you), by now you’ve heard there’s been a privacy breach at “the Facebook.” Also, if you call it “the Facebook,” you’re likely a victim of the breach. Even if you don’t call it “the Facebook,” but you have friends or relatives that enjoy forwarding you quizzes about your celebrity spirit animal, then those people probably exposed you to the breach somehow. I don’t know the ins and outs of it, but it sounds a lot like internet lice. Ewwwww.
When the news of this latest privacy breach broke, I had to laugh. It’s hard to think about anyone squawking about their privacy on a platform where so many people share entirely too much information. Every day I log in to Facebook and I see intimate details of the lives of people who I barely know in real life. Literally hundreds of people that might not speak to me in the grocery store, but I know exactly what their kitchen looks like, where their children go to school, their favorite spot for takeout, and what they like for breakfast. And that’s just the standard stuff. There’s also a subset of people who freely share the particulars of their latest injuries and maladies (complete with pictures) or remarks about very personal bodily functions. So, you’re telling me that you want me to know about your bowel habits, but your gender and birthday are privileged information?
If I sit and think about it too much, I can get really angry about all the cost and effort I put into protecting the things that are, without a doubt, MINE. We are in a constant battle to defend ourselves against people trying to take our things. Our homes and cars have alarms to alert us to intruders. We install video surveillance to record suspicious activity. We use shredders to deter people who might go through our trash. We struggle to set up passwords that are challenging to hackers but are still simple for us to remember. We get stumped trying to remember the answers to our own “secret questions.” My favorite one is the company we pay monthly to protect us from identity theft. They were breached several months ago, exposing millions of their customers’ personal information. The fox lives in the henhouse. You work hard so you can have more things, just so you can work even harder to keep what’s yours out of the hands of others. Frustrating to say the least.
It’s one thing to protect your hard-earned, physical possessions from theft. It’s quite another thing to put safeguards on the objects that are more cloudy and ethereal, like your online presence and your personal and financial identities. These are things that may carry far more worth than many of your tangible belongings, and their loss or misrepresentation can cause you more hurt and hassle than any collateral damage.
I consider myself at an intermediate level when it comes to technology. I do all I know to do to protect myself and my family online. But this latest privacy breach has forced me to take pause and consider my personal privacy settings. Not the buttons that I push on the screen in my profile, but the decisions I make about what I want to share about myself and my family with the social media community.
I’m a mother, and like most parents, my children are the things in my life that I am most proud of. I think they’re funny and smart, beautiful and clever, incredibly unique, and, at times, a giant pain in the neck. Something in me wants to share their awesomeness with the world, and, likewise, find company in our situations that maybe aren’t so ideal. Enter social media to the rescue. “Thumbs up, mama.” “Love to you, girl.” “Those babies are precious!” “I know, my kids are bloodsuckers, too. We’re all in this together!” It takes 30 seconds for me to post, but I might receive a day and a half of affirmation. If it weren’t for the kids, my social media would simply be a place for me to ask for handyman recommendations, avoid sales pitches, and make smart remarks about traffic. Not nearly as affirming.
One of my daughters is camera-shy and generally attention-averse. Often, when I whip my camera out to capture a moment, she puts a hand up over her face like a harassed celebrity. I get it. I’m not a huge fan of having my picture taken, either. But I’m the mama, and it’s my job to document our lives, so I coax and coerce until she gives in. Also, because I’m the mama, I worry about the reasons behind her photography ban. Is she unhappy with the way she looks in photos? Does she think I’m being pushy? Am I spending more time on getting the photo than experiencing the moment? Worry, worry, worry. Then one day, while convincing her to let me take a photo, my daughter said, “Fine, take it. Just don’t post it, OK?.” “Oh, sure, darlin’,” I answered. “This one is just for me, I promise.” And I meant it. Because if I don’t honor her requests regarding social media now, how can she feel empowered to control her own social media narrative later, when it becomes a much bigger issue?
I truly dread the day I have to start navigating the social media waters with my kids. As it stands right now, they’re not old enough to have social media accounts, and they’re really just beginning to get to the age to even think about asking for access. I rarely tell them when I’ve posted a picture or anecdote about them, and I never tell them how many “likes” they’ve gotten. For girls especially, frivolous compliments (in this case, in the form of “likes”) are a fast way to fill the self-worth bucket. But that bucket drains quickly, and what good is a full bucket if it’s filled with a bunch of junk anyway?
I don’t know what Facebook is doing with my data. I don’t know what my bank is doing with my data. Or my CPA, or my doctor, or my dry cleaner. I realize this sounds naive, but I don’t care if the Russians know my birthday. (Although, you would think they could send a card with some of their finest vodkas if they really wanted to influence my voting habits.). Unfortunately, the risk of having your basic information exploited is the cost of doing business these days.
So, yeah, my name, my address, my birthday, and who knows what other about me are out there floating in cyberspace, waiting for someone to snatch them up and analyze for their own purposes. The analysts would say they’re trying to “improve my online experience,” which I think is just code for “we’re trying to sell you something.” Is this a justifiable risk for having access to community event information, the kids’ activity schedules, and the privilege of seeing that random girl from high school’s new living room addition? 2.2 billion Facebook users think so.
But I can’t stop thinking of my daughter asking me, “Just don’t post it, ok?” My kids, my family, my friends, my home, our special times, those are the things that I hold most dear. There’s a difference between your basic demographic information and your personal details. Those personal, intimate details are the things that make us who we are, and some of us are sharing those details without so much as a second thought. We’re making multiple copies of the keys to the castle and handing them out like candy at a parade. Of those 2.2 billion Facebook users, it’s estimated that the median number of “friends” each user has is around 200. Do you know 200 real people with whom you feel comfortable sharing your most precious moments? Would you say you have 200 people in your life that you trust enough to hand a picture of your child and have zero concerns over what they will do with it? What if you were asked to fill a room with 200 people that you could easily stand in front of and share a funny anecdote from your recent family beach trip? I can’t say that I have 200 of those people in my life. And that’s not so unusual. See, the average Facebook user has 200 “friends.” But a recent Gallup poll asked people how many real close friends they have. Spoiler: The answer was not 200. Not even close. A real poll of real people revealed that the average real person has about 9 close friends. Nine!
Maybe I can’t keep my social security number from being sold on the dark web, but I do still have control over how my real personal information is shared. It might be time for my social media to be just that: social. I do have 200 or more people who I don’t mind knowing that I have been blessed with an incredible family and group of friends that make me so very happy. I want to share my happiness and success and, likewise, see theirs. I even have 200 or more people who I don’t mind if they see some of my smaller failures, with whom I can laugh and commiserate over this crazy life we’re all living. The first day of school, the Santa visits, the beach pictures. All those I will share with pride and reckless abandon. But that funny little booty shake my daughter does when she’s feeling happy? Or that sweet, sincere smile that shows the dimple that both my husband and other daughter share? What about that uncontrollable laughing-until-we’re-snorting fit I had with my friends last night over dinner and wine? I don’t know 200 people who would appreciate those precious moments for the pure gold that they are. Those moments? They’re all mine.
I want to keep more of that mined gold for myself and those few people who can accept what I’m giving with an attitude of joy, empathy, and mutual respect. My most treasured experiences are not on the virtual auction block, put forth to be scrolled past and swiped over. In a day and age when is so much is being taken away from us without our permission, why would we willfully give so much away?
Simply put, I think it’s time to update my privacy settings.