The trade-off between privacy and exposure

Photo by Brennan Martinez on Unsplash

We’ve all been there. Seconds away from posting that photo on Facebook, that comment on Telegram, or that blog post on Medium, we hesitate, we overthink, we edit and then we edit some more… and finally, we click Publish…or don’t.

We want to share, to be honest, to reach out to people, to relate. When we hide behind a wall is very difficult to engage. To be human is to be able to connect with others knowing that they share our problems, insecurities and dreams.

On the other hand, you don’t want to give too much away, you want to protect your privacy. You want to draw a line between your public persona and your private self. That line is blurring more and more in today’s world but still you should set some limits.

The problems with sharing too much

Often we see the two extremes: oversharing and paranoia. While some share very intimate details about their lives others give away nothing.

There are two kinds of “enemies” online you have to watch out for: Humans and Machines.

Humans

Humans can be very opinionated, nasty and even aggressive but don’t take it personally. They are just reacting to some inner problem, it’s not usually about you. The good thing about humans is that they forget very quickly and they are usually self- centered so, don’t worry too much. It’s not about you, it’s about them.

  • Trolls and haters. Don’t worry too much about these, they are a sign that you are beginning to build an audience, in every group, there are always rotten apples. You are nobody online until you get haters, take it as a compliment.
  • Voyeurs and stalkers. Again, take it as a compliment. Don’t worry too much about them providing you are sensible.
  • Predators. These could be dangerous, especially for children. You need to have total control over what your kids share online.
  • Friends & family. These can be tricky. One thing is publishing for the world at large and another is knowing that your Mum, your son or your ex, will read it and find it offensive, distasteful or embarrassing.
  • Bosses, coworkers and customers. Obviously, you have to be careful about this Don’t share anything that can damage your professional image or your company’s.
  • Hackers. Avoid sharing bank or money details, location or any information that could be used for identity theft.

Machines

The problem with machines is that they never forget. Every single piece of data that they gather about you, is part of your digital profile forever, and your future self might not be as relaxed about what you share as you are now.

  • AI. Your digital footprint is pervasive. The cloud has infinite and eternal memory. All this data is constantly digested and cross-checked by Machine Learning algorithms and it could be used in the future in ways we are not even aware of yet.
  • Big Brother. Governments are constantly trying to gain more power and erase our liberties. The latest trend is compulsory tracking devices to know your location and who you’ve been in contact with. Of course, this is all for the general good — to limit the spread of the virus and all that — but once we lose our freedoms is very difficult to take them back.
  • The law. Everybody has done something illegal at some point. Even a minor offense can come back to haunt you or even your children in the future.
  • GAFA. (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) They already know everything about you but they want more. What will they do with that information? Who will they share it with? It’s bad enough that they manipulate us into buying more stuff but they can also influence who we vote for — the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Consecuences and ramificacions

  • Blacklisting. There are a number of countries with no sense of humor — China, Russia, North Korea, Venezuela, Philippines, Saudi, just to name a few — that could prevent you from entering their borders for some negative comment you made online. You might not be interested in visiting these countries anyway, but what if you have to go for business reasons or your flight has to divert there in an emergency.
  • Insurance. Once insurance companies know about your bad habits they will either increase your premium or refuse to cover you altogether. This has been happening for a while now, but the more information they have the more selective they will become
  • Blackmail. Those countries with 5G technology can force other countries into submission if they want to keep up. Huawei’s security scandal is just the beginning.

Freedom of speech

On the other hand, we don’t want to censor ourselves and curtail our opinions. Our grandparents fought hard to achieve these liberties that we now take for granted and we should fight to keep them for our children.

Do you want to live in a world where you might be prosecuted for your ideas and views?

I certainly don’t.

Vulnerability

Another type of content we share has to do with our personal stories — the mistakes we made in the past, embarrassing moments or flaws that make us cringe before we hit publish.

These make us vulnerable but also more relatable, more humans. I see an increase in the number of content providers that want to show not only the positive but also the negative.

James Altucher comes to mind. He is this nerdy, shy, introvert type who takes pride in sharing how bad he was with girls as a teenager or how many times he’s lost fortunes due to stupid mistakes. That comes with risks for sure, but for him it has paid off. He has mastered the art of vulnerability and shows us that it’s ok to be fallible.

Also my mentor, Ayodeji Awosika, willingly shares details about his past most of us would probably choose to hide. He often talks about his turbulent past with drugs, problems with the police and violence. I admire his courage, you need some cojones to be able to share certain things. But that makes him very relatable, very human and has inspired thousands to change their lives for the better.

Some authors take risks when they express their opinions about touchy subjects. J.M Valderrama comes to mind. I recalled a scene in one of his books -Dias de nada y rosas — about Christmas dinner with the in-laws and the comic situations that can reveal profound dislikes between the members of the clan. I wonder if they are still speaking to him.

All these examples show that to be great you have to take some risks, you have to show parts of yourself we normally hide and you have to make yourself vulnerable if you want to connect.

Paranoia

On the other extreme, you find the hermits — people that never share anything — they wouldn’t share a picture, their name or their gender even if they interact with you regularly. I am in various WhatsApp groups in which the majority of people are completely anonymous. I understand the reasons behind that but, still, it’s very uncomfortable to speak to somebody named “^p” and not even knowing their gender or even if they are human.

I think they have gone too far the other way, if you want to stay completely anonymous is very difficult to have a meaningful conversation. Plus, that is not protecting them from the real dangers — the algorithms- They know who you are even if you hide behind a pseudonym.

5 types of information you disseminate online

  • Openly shared information. Your FB status, Instagram pics, comments, conversations, posts, etc.
  • Private messages. Emails, chats, and any communication that is only intended for one person but once is online is outside your control
  • Information you share inadvertently. Location, purchases, travel, exercise, contacts. We are surrounded by tracking devices; phone, watch, Alexa. These gather and share information you are not aware of. Every time we click “Agree” we give away tons of data and there is no turning back
  • Stolen information. Hackers, spyware, trojans and all that might be taking your info illegally.
  • Indirect information. By cross-referencing data with from different platforms they can predict your future location and what activities you engage in.

How to protect yourself

There is a number of measures you can take in order to reduce the amount of data you spread online:

  • Use a VPN connection. Virtual Private Networks allow your devices to connect to public networks as if they were private. This increases security and privacy
  • Use search engines like DuckDuckGo that don’t collect or share your information.
  • Use the Tor Network to provide total anonymity of the web pages you browse
  • Use encryption so the traffic to and from your devices is scrambled and can’t be read by anyone
  • Besides these technological solutions you can use discretion and common sense — never share your location, don’t connect to public wifis, never share banking details or passwords with anyone, use double authentication protocol and so on.

The privacy paradox

According to a study by Dr. Spyros Kokolakis, there is an inconsistency between our concern from privacy and our actual behavior online. This is just another example of how, what we say and what we do, run in opposite directions.

We are very concerned about our privacy, yet, we do nothing about it. Maybe we are not that concerned, maybe we just don’t realize what is at stake. In any case we should do something about such contradiction, make a privacy plan and stick to it.

Do some introspection, ask yourself a few questions and answer them honestly. What do you consider public and what private? Where do you draw the line? Make a Dos and Don’ts list and stick to it. And always remember that one of the people that will see your post is your future self. Will that person agree with what you are about to share? That’s a very difficult question to answer but try anyway, it’s a great exercise in responsibility and self-awareness. Write down your answer but don’t publish it ( at least not yet). Review it on a regular basis to see if you still agree with it.

One thing is being ashamed of publishing your content because you don’t think is good enough, and another to share intimate details about your life that you might regret later.

Where is the balance between vulnerability and regret? I don’t know. It’s a tough call. You have to determine that yourself. Most people err on the cautious side and that’s fine but you want to push the limits a bit and see how you feel. What’s the worst that can happen? If it’s not that bad go for it.

For a long time, I’ve been very self-aware about what I share online but I’ve realized that mostly I was trying to protect my Ego — that hungry beast full of fear and insecurities- and I’ve come to the conclusion that my ego is my enemy, so, whatever he tells me to do, I do the opposite.

In Conclusion

Be always careful with what you post online, consider if it can damage you or your family in any way, now or in the future. Be sensible.

But at the same time don’t be afraid of expressing your ideas, your views, your opinion or your inner self. You have something to share and by being too cautious you are building a shell, and nothing of value can trespass that barrier. Look at the people you admire, they are almost transparent, that’s why you relate to them. Don’t be afraid of other people’s opinions, that’s your ego talking. Develop a thick skin and enjoy the ride.

At the end of the day, we are only here for a short while. You only have this chance to make your voice heard, leave your footprint and perhaps inspire others.

When you are in your deathbed you won’t regret what you have done, you’ll regret what you haven’t done…and what you didn’t say. So, go and do what you have to do and say what you have to say.

We are looking forward to hearing from you.

Student of life. Trying to make sense of it all, be happy and help others achieve their dreams. Join me at: albertotheauthor@gmail.com

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