What Should You Do in a Post-Privacy Internet?

Welcome to the Internet, a magical land where you can communicate with people at great distances, share ideas with the world, and quickly learn anything you want. This frontier has created conditions for us that have helped us advance our knowledge and entertain ourselves through the same medium. Never in history have both elements existed in the same place at such a vast volume. However, we also live in an era where employers are checking out our Facebook profiles, government agencies are peeking through emails, and people are exposing themselves insanely to potential ridicule. It’s time to address this and show you how you can ride the waves of the post-privacy internet.

When people find themselves in a pinch for posting something online in public, they often question whether being followed was even legal in the first place. It is, and even if it wasn’t, there’s no realistic way of preventing it. If you’re posting things in public, you’re exposing yourself to the entire world.

But even if your Facebook profile is private, there’s the danger of being forced to give your password to someone. For example, a number of reports have shown that employees in the U.S. have been forced to give employers their Facebook passwords so that they can do a sort of “background check” on the prospective candidate for a job. Your Facebook profile can have many things, including what kind of music you like, your political (among others) orientation, and your religion. Posts about these things will show what you’re passionate about. What if your employer disagrees with how you live your personal life?

There are still some things you can do to help keep things in order.

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That innocent picture of you with a Guinness beer next to you? There are a million ways to misinterpret that. Either make it private or don’t post it. Use your judgement. The Internet makes it so easy to make mistakes because posting an “incriminating” photo takes only one click. By all means, if you don’t think you’re taking a risk, go ahead and post whatever you want, but be discreet about it.

This all depends on the culture of your country, of course. Some countries are more conservative and less understanding of pictures others would find totally acceptable. In general, you should think twice about posting public images or text in these cases:

  • If the text you are posting contains politically-loaded content or has any sort of opinion that can be considered controversial, don’t set it as public.
  • Any pictures containing memes, however innocent, should be private.
  • Anything exposing your religious or political affiliation should not be seen by the public.
  • You should think a bit before posting pictures with you that also contain:
    • alcoholic drinks,
    • any provocative way (such as poses) of presenting yourself,
    • shirts with loaded messages, or
    • anything that exposes an illness you may have.
  • If your country looks down upon any activity not mentioned here, you should refrain from making any picture of you doing it public.

I know I didn’t cover absolutely everything, but that’s why I’m telling you to use your best judgment.

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If you’ve got the heebie jeebies about Internet spying, you’re best off not being completely in their radar. Register a private domain name (you can do that with sites like Dreamhost, Namecheap, or GoDaddy) and use it only for email hosting. All three sites I mentioned offer IMAP and SMTP hosting, which allow you to use Outlook or any other email client to read and send messages. The price of registering a domain is between $10-15 per year, and email hosting doesn’t cost much more on top of that (Namecheap hosted my email for $9.95 per year when I was using it). This doesn’t prevent spying, but it keeps you safe as long as you exercise prudence with who receives your emails.

If you want to make it difficult to connect the dots between your accounts, you can register accounts with an email address that you’ll be using for a couple of minutes. Disposable emails provide a monumental service that you will soon be able to take for granted. I recommend Guerrilla Mail, Mailinator, or AirMail. They’re all free. Once you register an account, the provider sends you a confirmation email to the temporary address. When you confirm your account, you no longer need that email address.

If you liked this advice, but feel like there’s something to add to this, please leave a comment! We all benefit from a nice discussion about the subject.