The Opinion Slab: Living Life Online

Ready for another slab of opinion? Need your weekly dose of opinionated ramblings? Don’t we all! This week another interesting question to bend those neurons of yours and raise that blood pressure a little…

We are all increasingly living our life online. With our weblogs telling our daily stories, Flickr showing our holiday snaps, showing our appalling taste in music and twitter showing that we are sat on the bog, it seems the grandiose plan is that any random on the Internet can know what we are doing all the time. With many of us in the free software community sensitive to privacy, and actively engaged in debates over ID cards, governmental use of information, personal information use by third-parties and more, should we be concerned? Are we increasingly moving into an age where it is normal to live your life online and share your personal details and life with others? Could the governments of the world suggest that mandatory measures to provide information to others are acceptable due to a culture of blogging, flickring and twittering?

My take: our personal information is our own. We choose how much information we unleash on the Internet. Some people share much more than others. It is wrong for a government to translate an open and inclusive culture with regards to information sharing and force it on others. Openness is an individual trait with hugely different lines drawn in the sand, and as such we cannot judge an entire culture by the small demographic of fully open individuals. The vast majority of the world are not living their lives online.

As ever, leave your opinions in the comments on this article. I am sure we will get some interesting opinion on this subject. :)

  • bobo

    “We choose how much information we unleash on the Internet.” ?

    It’s not that simple. Sometimes you will not be told what will happen with the information you share in the internets. This your blog comment form for instance says “will not be published” next to the Mail field. Not all of them say that, and it’s pretty much the norm that it will not be published, and when you put in your email address – DOH. That sort of stuff happens a lot. You mean not to get published like that and you get, and can never be sure.

    Opt-out services can be generally considered as unethical and irritating. One of the worst ones I’ve ever seen is the case where you get pointed to a mailing list for discussing about some open source project. You will never be said that your emails will be archived until the rest of time and that they will be visible to all the search engines as well. Often you just get this email address and that’s it. Doh.

    IMHO one of the largest arseholes on this planet is and the associated projects. The #2 would be They are playing a big part of screwed-up-ness of that “you can choose yourself what is seen to the others”.

    I have grown wiser now and change my email address practically monthly and break the connections to my other a few dozen “me”s.

  • David Nielsen

    My information, my decision what do with it – the government can mind it’s own damn business.

    Consider it free speech, if the government tell us what we can publish about of ourselves they are in effect limiting your freedom of speech which would be as terrible as their current attempts to legislate “decency” and “standards”.

    That is not to say we shouldn’t encourage information to be present about the trade offs in privacy and anonymity. I also think we should encourage development and deployments of technologies to ensure that you can be as private and as anonymous as you like (within the confines of the technology naturally).

  • technofreak

    “We choose how much information we unleash on the Internet.” ?

    There are two kinds of information that fits in the above, the one we consciously put up in the internet in the way of blogs, flickr, social networking sites, our web pages, etc. and second the information that is available without our full knowledge.

    The second kind of information is mostly about what we do in the internet, like what we browse, what we search for, what kind of information are we interested, where we are etc.

    While we ourselves hold the responsibility for the first kind of information, the second kind of information is something which is not in many of our knowledge at all. Non-internet savvy people, the non-techie humans have no clue of what kind of information about their life in the internet is available to some one they have no clue of.

    Also, even it is our responsibility on the information we consciously publish, there should be some form of guidelines at least to determine that we do not actually mis-use this freedom or rather poke and explore other’s privacy in the name of “i-know-what-am-doing” attitude.

    So, depending upon many factors like internet habbits, cultural back grounds, etc. government can indeed give some guidelines which will help its citizens to have a more safer internet life. But, at the same time I do not stand for an iron hand approach such as blocking of blogs just because some foobar had something anti-national sentiments in his/her blog.

    As we move towards a more internet-centric life, we indeed to look and take care more of information security and legally define and safe guard privacy and private information.

  • First Weekly Blog Roundup | Veritas/tic

    […] Jono Bacon argues the case that informational freedom is a personal choice, not one to be forced upon us by government or outside agency. And I would tend to agree, wouldn’t you? […]

  • DJ

    People should of course have the choice to choose how much personal information they publish. I choose to publish very little personal information online – sure you can find out my taste in music and various other essentially useless pieces of information, but nothing I would consider really personal. You won’t find photos of me doing compromising things (hopefully!), nor will you find out where I work or get a copy of my calendar.

    It’s important that the ‘privacy nudists’ have the ability to publish their entire lives online and likewise that the more conservative can choose what information is available online. However I think governments need to start giving advice (this should probably be part of a ‘citizenship’ class or similar at schools) on what people should and should not choose to publish online. There are more and more cases being picked up by the press of people being turned down for jobs because of something they’d forgotten they’d published on the Internet years ago coming back to haunt them.

    Remember: the world’s got a memory (LR s3e2) 😀

    It is however quite difficult to know what will happen to personal information when you give it online – who has to time to read the privacy policy of all the sites they visit? What I think would be useful is a simple privacy-tracking site where I can enter a URL and be given a simple traffic-light-style indication of whether it’s advisable to submit information to the site based on somebody else’s review of it’s privacy policy. Red light = a dodgy privacy policy which is likely to result in personal information being sold, published or otherwise distributed to third-parties. Green = a very good privacy policy, any information submitted will be safe. If anybody is interested in helping set up such a site, drop me a mail.

  • yipyip

    What’s with this ridiculous obsession with “government”? AFAIK you’re not even American!

    I’m a hell of a lot more worried about what private supranational corporations will do with their data warehouses on behalf of their own selfish interests or in collusion with government agents, precisely because private corporations don’t even have the paltry oversight and accountability that modern “Western” “democratic” governments do.

    That is, I’m far more worried about Facebook and Google and Yahoo and CNN and Choicepoint and VISA and whoever than I am about my local national government.

    Just about everything important in modern Western society is already privatized or outsourced to the private sector (sometimes intentionally to avoid government accountability).

    Technology just gets better, data mining will just get better, and all those massive private data warehouses WILL be cross-referenced sooner or later, whether we know about it or not.

    I’m not scared of David Brin’s Transparent Society, but I’m scared shitless of the one-way-mirror society we’re all building today. Maybe it’s because my folks fled to the West from behind the Iron Curtain, so I have a better appreciation than many about what totalitarianism means in daily life.

  • yipyip

    Speaking of privacy policies, they’re not really legally binding — every single one of them can be changed at the discretion of the site owner.

    Does nobody remember the dotcom crash, when the personal information gathered by every startup that went under was sold off by bankruptcy trustees (as it was generally the only asset worth any money at the end of the day)?

  • tim

    My take is this: what’s with the radioformat-isation of the blogosphere? Do we really need these regular 5-minute ‘give us a call and tell us YOUR opinion now’ interludes?

  • Karl Lattimer

    Cat photos + mundane drivel of blogs can hardly be compared to ID cards and the tracking and tracing they represent.

    I agree that supplying information, willingly is different to having someone accumulate it regardless of your wishes. However with ID cards and the rise of the police state it isn’t as obvious as putting together someone’s life from online data. It is more like being asked to prove who you are whenever A person in A uniform asks.

    A more appropriate comparison would be, “you’re fine giving out your credit card details and your personal gunf to multiple online shops, but you would care about the government being able to have access to this and more?” where you’re close to comparing like for like, online publications are not exactly comparable to either.