Lori Andrews’ book, I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did, subtitled Social Networks and the Death of Privacy, is a scary, scary read. There’s no actual news in it—we all know we are tracked, aggregated and pitched to and that whatever we place on the Internet is public no matter what “privacy safeguards” are in place. Or we should. But the sheer volume of facts about what we are worth to the billionaires who control the Web and the absolute shredding of personal privacy is daunting. Read this and weep—or retreat from the 21st century. Or fall into irremediable despair.
You don’t just have cookies on your hard drive. You have zombie cookies that are capable of regenerating no matter how many spy-scanners you install to remove them. Your every click is logged and tracked. Your news and searches are filtered by a profile that is built in the data vaults of cyberspace, beyond your control or knowledge. There is a you walking around, living your life and logging on and off social media sites, smart phones and email accounts. And there is a second you, created by faceless information aggregators that make assumptions based on Amazon purchases, search engine results and photo tags. That second you may be loaded with errors and damaging to the personal life, education choices and job possibilities your real self relies on. Tough. Live with it. Because you are powerless to prevent, control or delete it.
Facebook is the third largest “nation” in the world, with 750 million members. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, is regularly consulted by heads of state. Since its inception, Facebook has steadily and deliberately eroded the privacy of its members to make a greater and greater profit. You can’t opt out of some of the exposure and the default settings to salvage what privacy you can require the expertise of an IT specialist to navigate. Amazon knows you well enough to suggest products and reading material you might like—and Amazon is a thing, not a person. Hackers routinely breach security to capture your passwords, banking and credit card information, confidential medical files and complete identity.
Laptop computers issued by school districts have recorded unaware students with always-on cameras. Custody has been awarded or denied based on social network postings. Many college admissions officers look up applicants online before making their decisions. Big Brother lives in your PC. Cyber-bullying, Skype-spying and online predators have caused suicides and homicides. Perfectly innocent photographs, shared “privately” with friends and family, have cost jobs, college acceptances and careers. Criminal and civil lawsuits have been determined by googling. Judges have “friended” attorneys who try cases before them.
All this adds up to no control for you, major profit for someone who doesn’t care about your little life, a big “so what?” from the architects of the new “transparency” who claim that privacy is an outdated notion and that people are accustomed to forfeiting it to stay connected.
Andrews makes her case that a Social Network Constitution is an urgent necessity. Our laws are outdated, the framers of the U.S. Constitution had some far-reaching ideas about protecting individuals but they never imagined the technology we live with and depend on today. Hers is an interesting idea but it smacks up against the loss of our most basic protections since the drum-beating and jingoism post-911 resulted in a quasi-police state. We are monitored, restricted, tracked and controlled to an alarming degree offline now. Where is the optimism to predict success at curbing corporate greed in order to restore some protections to us and draw a curtain over our most private lives, our motives and our material worth online?
I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did: Social Networks and the Death of Privacy Lori Andrews | Free Press 2011