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Why are we so obsessed with privacy?

  1. Mar 4, 2010 #1
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2010
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 4, 2010 #2
    In general I do agree we are too self conscious as a culture. We go about our days wearing different masks for different people. We carefully choose what we say and how we say it. We craft these elaborate illusions to impress people. The online world is no different. We share different photos with different people. Only show certain details to certain groups. When in reality it's so much less effort and more rewarding to just say "Here I am" and let it go.

    But... that doesn't mean you twitter that your boss is an idiot or post photos of yourself in underwear. No one wants to hear or see that.
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2010
  4. Mar 4, 2010 #3


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    I think part of it is that in the days where social communities were face to face, you didn't fear the unknown as much. Of course when that tall dark stranger road into town, you brought your children inside and the men confronted this potential "danger" to the community until they felt certain he was ok or they ran him out of town. Ok, that's an old TV Western, but you get my point. People have always been more wary of strangers.

    When you put your real identity out on the internet, unless you set up some kind of level of privacy, you're inviting all of those scary strangers into your life, and what's worse you don't always know who's looking.

    I've made many friends on the internet, I don't mind giving out my true identity to people I've come to trust. I find that many, if not most young adults my daughter's age don't think twice about giving out information about themselves, but at least she has privacy settings up. My impression is that it's more a security issue.

    It's an interesting subject. Would you say males are less likely to feel a need for privacy than a female?
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2010
  5. Mar 4, 2010 #4


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    Very interesting, Greg!

    I think that our perceived need for privacy is our basic tribalism asserting itself:
    We are made to function optimally in groups of 30-50 individuals, beyond that, we have the "strangers" category.

    1. Neighbours are no longer our relatives nor our colleagues.

    To some extent this has been made possible by vastly improved systems of communications/transport:

    Employees can house themselves within a far larger circle about their place of work, and STILL reach work on time.

    Thus, the employee density around a work-place has lessened considerably, and the probability that a neighbour is your colleague you can chat with over the fence has plummeted.

    Furthermore, since we have 24-hour open shops where we can get all our commodities, we need not go over to the neighbour and borrow it any longer, in addition to not getting the necessary coffee-chat that traditionally went along with such visits.

    Basically, aside from quarreling with the neighbour about that damned tree in his garden, we don't have that much to "legitimately" talk with him about.

    Thus, neighbours are much more of strangers for us than they were just a generation ago.

    2. Similar observations might be made concerning those who are "just" colleagues, and those who are just "relatives".

    For the latter group, the vastly enriched, and changing education field means that the elderly rarely have relevant skills to teach/train the young ones in.

    Again, the "utility" of relatives has narrowed, making them "strangers".

    3. Amongst all these strangers, the desire to keep some tiny zone of "this is MY tribe, please keep out!" might grow stronger in all of us..
  6. Mar 4, 2010 #5
    I think it goes beyond that. We've heard lately about employees who've been fired for what they've posted on Facebook. How much of what we've written online could influence whether we get a job, loan, apartment or admission to a college, rightly or wrongly?

    For someone intent on surveillance, the trail we leave on the internet leaves us open to identity theft, blackmail, stalking or just plain harassment.
  7. Mar 4, 2010 #6
    I agree and disagree with that statement. I think socially we are made to optimally function in that range, but with respect to economics and progression of technology and so forth, the more the better. its the same idea with corporations and franchises. For example pizza places in particular. You have on one side your mom and pops pizza store with one location with possibly better pizza than pizza hut. But because pizza hut has many locations, advertising is more affective because it does not need to be targeted to 5 square miles.(or what i suspect is a delivery zone). Since they are bigger, they bring in more money from other large corporations such as coke and pepsi. Anyways, I'm extremely off topic.

    I think that vanity is an increasing trait in modern society and people are afraid to be caught on camera picking their nose or scratching their butt. I personally don't care, take all the pictures of me that you want. I think it is probably a good think in public areas the thwart crime and so on.
  8. Mar 4, 2010 #7
    In the highly civilized world dependency of technology and our self-imposed isolation slowly drags us into a dysfunctional state with symptoms similar to autism. Less and less real social interaction, we communicate more through avatars on internet, than healthy face to face communication. We dont even have to go out to buy the newspaper, TV and internet deliver. We depersonalize ourselves a bit into this virtual world.

    We hide, we are afraid what somebody can do with our SSN, IDs, credit card numbers. More and more jobs require only a shadow of physical work.

    The perspective looks grim. :devil:
  9. Mar 4, 2010 #8


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    Some people are obsessed with privacy, but others (often young folks) are very free and loose with personal information. A young lady at my wife's work got fired for using her personal networking page to insult her "imbecile" co-workers, brag about how little work she did, etc. And she made those posts during company time when she was supposed to be working. Obviously, she could have used a lesson or two in discretion, network security, etc. At least some of her on-line "friends" must have ratted her out, prompting the investigation into her work-hours activities.

    Another woman that my wife works with has loaded her MySpace page with way too much stuff that could be used to ID her and her family and friends, houses, etc. She's no spring chicken, and has grown kids of her own, but she puts a lot of info out there with little concern for privacy. She captions images with peoples' real names and doesn't bother editing out street addresses, license plates, etc.
  10. Mar 4, 2010 #9

    Ivan Seeking

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    Given that identity theft is the fastest growing crime, yes, I am very concerned about privacy. Beyond that, there are plenty of crazies in the world. No sense making oneself a target with an address. There are also other valid concerns. For example, while I may be open with my political views here, I cannot afford to be so in a professional setting. If I knew that any customer could find me on the net, I would not be at liberty to discuss my real views for fear of alienating people and losing business. Politics and business don't mix at all! I have to walk on political eggshells around some folks [extreme right-wingers].

    One problem with the internet is that the false sense of privacy motivates people to disclose much more information that they might in any other public setting.

    If one wishes to compare life today to the middle-ages, then perhaps privacy issues may seem overblown, but then so might the need for toilet paper. The right to privacy has been a key Constitutional concern for over two-hundred years. This is not a result of the internet or a new idea.
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2010
  11. Mar 4, 2010 #10


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    One of the reasons I use my real name online is I believe privacy online is at best an illusion and at worst a potential shield to hide behind. I'm a firm believer in personal responsibility, accountability and self-awareness and as a result have very little to hide.
  12. Mar 4, 2010 #11


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    That's because you are honest and have nothing to hide. :biggrin:

    I have two children that I don't want hunted down because someone has a grievance against me here. I feel for that reason alone I need to keep my real identity hidden except to trusted friends.
  13. Mar 4, 2010 #12


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    I have no reason to fear retribution. I have posted links to peer-reviewed research with my my real name. I have also posted images that have allowed a perceptive European member to send me a Christmas card with a VERY vague address that got here with no problem. I don't care about that stuff much. Anybody that takes personal offense to my viewpoints has probably already noted my fondness for my Glock M20 and has moved on to softer targets. I have an Ithaca double-barrel 16-gauge, too, but that's pretty standard for this neighborhood (partridge and rabbits, you know). It's not a good idea for druggies and low-lifes to charge doors in rural Maine.
  14. Mar 5, 2010 #13
    Im not very concerned with online identities. If a person is determined to track somebody down ,starting the work from internet traces , it can be done. It may take time and resources, but it's doable in most of the cases.

    I usually use my first name on most on line places. I like my name :devil: I use my full name on places where I feel is important for other members to know my identity on spot, with no ambiguity whatsoever. I only have email boxes on my real name.

    My concern with online world is that human tend to spend more and more time online. The online community tends to replace direct social interaction. Humans hide under avatars online and socialize with great number of other avatars, but in the real world the number of interactions decreases. They keep private and isolate. Many lose social skills and start to feel uncomfortable in real interactions.

    I believe that natural social interaction with other humans which include physical contact cannot be replaced by virtual social interaction.

    Im pretty fond of weapons too.
  15. Mar 5, 2010 #14
    I think this is very wise. Yes, you can lose customers pretty fast getting engaged in political chatter with your clients. You basically signal yourself as a member of a certain group. Naturally some of your clients will become prejudiced. Some will think is better to take their business to your competitors, because they relate better with them. And they'll do this even if you present some small business advantage, such a slightly lower price.

    I also agree that extreme right wingers are hardest to deal with. They see the world strictly
    as "you are either with us or with "them". (whatever "them" means, only they know. The flavor of the day seems to be the terrorist).

    The human behavior is modulated by a lot of social factors. One of them is especially important in online communities IMO: authority (understood both as law enforcement and
    as other form of authorities like boss at work, social peer pressure ).

    - perception of authority is weakened in large numbers such as online communities
    - perception of authority is weakened when you are hiding under a "handle"
    - there is no visibility of authority on internet (police is not "here", your annoying boss is not here, you got the idea)
    - your own relations with authority is weakened

    This prompts humans to do things which they wouldn't do in normal situations. They can be more open with their ideas, they will say things which they wouldn't do normally of the fear
    of social repercussions, and they will even break the laws without caring too much. As an example here with law breaking, Ill give you the example of P2P music exchange communities. Most of the members of those communities are humans which would not steal
    from a shop , or from their neighbor. Yet they'll freely engage in criminal activities such as P2P exchanges. A important part of the processes leading to this are linked to social forces
    linked to authority.

    I believe that privacy is important, and the constitution should protect this right of the individual. Legal protection should focus in the first place to serve the individual against the government.

    But it is one to have a right protected, it is another thing to seclude yourself into a online life which take precedence over real life. The issue is not so much privacy IMO, but self imposed seclusion off large groups to a virtual world.
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2010
  16. Mar 5, 2010 #15


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    In ye olden days, you knew who knew you. Today, you have no idea who knows you.

    That pedophile currently on the lam in Toronto can know as much about me as my neighbour if I allow it.
  17. Mar 6, 2010 #16
    Adding to this

    Corporate work places tend to be far less personal. If you do anything wrong at all you could potentially be fired on the spot, no questions asked. I think it was far less likely in the "old days" that people who knew you would be so unkind as to cut ties with you for the slightest reasons. They were just as dependent upon you as you were them. I think that they would have to rationalize a damned good reason to say "Sorry I can't have you around anymore".

    The last time I interviewed with a company where they asked me questions related to how I would react to coworkers and subordinates breaking rules I told them that I would talk to the person about it and not necessarily report them. They were not very pleased with my answer. The interviewer, who was otherwise impressed with me, decided to tell me that the rules there were very strict and that if any such thing ever happened while I was working there I would be required to report it immediately.

    At the company I worked that was having financial issues and instituted a hiring freeze they stopped firing anyone that they did not absolutely have to. They could not afford to lose employees and have to find new ones. One of my coworkers several times got away with rather gross breeches of policy with nothing but a reprimand.

    Its not so much a liability for people to know things about you when they need you as it is when they could easily find any number of others ready and willing to replace you.
  18. Mar 6, 2010 #17


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    This is something I've been thinking a bit about recently, and I'll be saying some more about that soon in another thread.

    I use a pseudonym online. I don't imagine this gives total protection to my real life identity, but I prefer to have a distinction established between online and offline identities. A number of other folks here seem to be the same. I use the name sylas so consistently now that it feels very natural. It is not the same as anonymity, since I represent a consistent and (mostly :wink:) coherent individual online.

    If people care, my real name is available in my blog here, in my biography post. But it won't tell you much. I'm not famous. I am sure anyone who worked at it could get my real name easily enough, and so I have decided it is best to let it be given explicitly but not prominently. It's not a secret, and I am not trying to hide behind a false identity. But I just have a preference for privacy of my personal life and so don't use my real life identify in open public discussions.

    Online, people can get ... strange. And so it is as well to be a bit cautious.

    I have been interested -- and a bit concerned -- that physicsforums doesn't actually have a privacy policy. There is, of course, the promise not to release private information from the database, like emails. But there's nothing in the guidelines about how we handle posts that release another person's personal information.

    I think that would be a useful thing to consider, and develop a suitable policy. I think it is a reasonable courtesy, in the modern internet age, to refrain from hunting up someone's personal details and making them public. You can find out all kinds of information online if you look. That doesn't mean it is appropriate to pull it together and expose it widely. Many folks won't mind, but many others -- me included! -- would prefer that this choice is left up to me. My information is out there if people care and I have no legal basis for such a request; similarly there's no legal requirement for a bulletin board to insist on this. But it is part of the guidelines in many boards, and could perhaps be considered here as well? Just a thought.

    Cheers -- sylas
  19. Mar 6, 2010 #18
    Here ya go :smile:
    https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=131804 [Broken]
    Last edited: May 4, 2017
  20. Mar 6, 2010 #19


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    Thanks Greg. Yes, I saw that, and it is an important part of the guarantees any credible board will make about use of information that the board collects.

    This policy, however, doesn't have anything at all to say about the expectations we have for members in their own posting of private information. It's only a promise of what physicsforums staff will do.

    I should not have said you don't have a privacy policy; what I meant is that there isn't a privacy guideline. Bad wording on my part. That is, there is nothing I can see in the guidelines for members about how they should handle information about other people in their own posts.

    For example, a very common explicit guideline on boards is that posts may not contain another person's email address. It is up to other people whether or not they give out their email address on the board, and it shouldn't make any difference whether or not their email address can be found elsewhere online. (Actually, many boards insist you don't post even your own email, because of the situation with robot harvesters.) It is also common to say personal information should not be given out by third parties, such as an address, or names of children or spouse, or workplace, or such things. It would be sensible (IMO) for the guidelines for members to make clear that posts which give out another person's personal details in this way will be deleted.

    Cheers -- sylas
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  21. Mar 6, 2010 #20
    The discussions above about online identities and the workplace were particularly thought provoking. I, myself, am interested to see how society reacts to the amount of information that is now available because it was posted by people when they were kids or teens. You used to be able to count on records of things done while you were a minor/juvenile disappearing after you turned 18, but not anymore. Will our social norms and mores change to account for this? I hardly expect that an entire generation of people will become unemployable because of their Facebook and MySpace pages. If that happens, we'll have much bigger problems on our hands than we thought.

    (Full disclosure, I am the author of the original blog entry from virtualnavigator.wordpress.com)
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