Over and over again there are stories about people whose supposedly anonymous online identity is made public, or (as with this recent story about Facebook) people who thought their privacy was preserved by using a walled-garden like Facebook. It is time to face the fact that there is no such thing as online privacy. The best practice is to behave as if anything and everything you do online — including private e-mail — is public. If you use your real name, if you use a public Twitter account instead of a private Facebook account, if you don’t post private or incriminating photos, or insult your boss, you will not be bothered when supposedly private information becomes public. Of course, identity theft is a problem no matter what, but all the more reason not to e-mail your credit card number to someone. When that person’s computer gets infected by a virus that private e-mail is no longer private.
Now some people I know don’t want total privacy, they just don’t want to be found too easily. They figure that way their next employer will be less likely to google their status updates. But I think this is foolish. I think it lures people into a false sense of security that they don’t have. Make everything public and you act like everything you do or say online is a public act. Sure, we all say things we regret afterwards. Making everything public won’t save you from that. But I believe that having everything public will place even the mistakes in a context of your larger Internet persona. Much better than having just that one embarrassing faux pas re-posted and not all the insightful things you might have said over the years. Just as we learn how to speak in public, we need to learn how to live in public on the Internet. Walled gardens like Facebook trick people into thinking they don’t need to develop these important skills.