Back in 2000, while I was working for a small dot com in Reading, someone asked me how much I bought online. As the office geek, they assumed I sat at home ordering things from boo.com or any of the other online retailers who participated in the early online gold rush. I told this guy that I don’t shop online– I don’t trust the online retailers. I can still remember his response “Isn’t it ironic that our web developer doesn’t trust the web?!?”
I didn’t trust the web. More accurately, I didn’t trust all web developers. Back then, everyone was rushing to build an online store and no one was investing heavily in security. People could literally hack into other people’s accounts by playing the query string on the url. I want to give these people my credit card info? Back then, some high profile breaches made a lot of people stay away from online shopping.
But everyone has come around now– including myself. Online retailing has proven itself far superior to bricks and mortar retailing (Royal Mail and other shipping companies seem to be the week link in the chain). I couldn’t imagine not having online banking. Still, I mainly stick to the large retailers (like Amazon) or anyone who uses PayPal–minimising the exposure to my credit card number.
Back in 2000, the public was still skeptical about the info they handed over online. They are definitely not so skeptical anymore.
But social networking is the other end of the extreme. I guess I’m a fan. I blog, I like to tweet, I have a Facebook account (although I don’t use it as much) . It is a lot of fun. I have to admit that there is something exciting about adding some transparency to your life. It could be that no one wants to know anything about me, but if they did it’s not hard to find out. It feels honest to put yourself out there for who you are.
I have an online identity. But that’s my decision. I can’t make that decision for my family.
Back to trusting the net — I don’t mind uploading some pictures of myself to Facebook or this blog, but I don’t include pictures of my family or personal information that doesn’t belong there. I see too many people who post (potentially embarrassing) pictures of their kids or spouses online. This is weird at best, scary at worst.
Sure, it might not seem all that bad to post some pictures online of my small kids doing something cute. Our kids are the biggest part of our lives, so we want to share that. Why not put them on a pedestal? There’s nothing wrong with that. But, kids grow up and have to create lives of their own. They will become independent individuals who will create their own stories and identities.
As the expressions goes, “Google never forgets.” None of us had “Google baggage” to contend with growing up. When I was feeling awkward in social situations in elementary school, at least I didn’t have to contend with the fear that someone could Google me and find that picture of me dressed as Batman when I was 5. I don’t have to worry about someone finding an online comment made by my parents 10 years earlier that I had a bed-wetting problem and asking the online community for advice. As far as the other kids in class knew, what they saw is what they got. I made my own social mistakes and learned my own social lessons.
I know that Facebook is closed and that you invite people into your world. People can only see your profile if you allow them to. Everyone can’t Google you and see the pictures you post– you need to give permission. But we are still putting our safety back into the hands of developers. We are relying on the promises made to us by a company in 2009 that may change by 2014.
There was a story by BBC News last week about sites that store copies of deleted photos after you delete them: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8060407.stm
I’m not saying that all this is bad. It’s just different. Maybe this is a rebellious luddite streak that I’ve been suppressing for the past decade manifesting itself. I mean, no one should expect the kids of today to grow up in the same conditions we grew up in. Their world is different. But, I just think we need to think about the consequences of our online actions before leaping in.
So, in the social networking hype– just like with the ecommerce hype of a decade ago, I’m skeptical. I value the identities of my family members far more than I do my credit card info.