Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Exposing Yourself On The Net

Privacy is an important and imposing topic with an overwhelming scope.

The sub-topic of volunteering too much information is touched upon in Sarah's recent Word To The Wise post that originates from a post by Dan at Cerulean Sanctum which considers the ramifications of comments placed on the net.

Of course, we are pretty open here and fearless of negative repercussions. I think Mr. C, Mr. Boy, Mrs. Kangaroo, and Mr. Pinhead can back me up on that. :)

Apparently, we've given this some thought and, despite the dangers, it seems we've found value in keeping our discussions public, both in the respectful dialectic and in the associated friends we could not have otherwise made.

Nevertheless, there is an unknown risk. I think using pseudonyms and anonymizing personal details is a good first step. I often consider becoming more anonymous myself. By the same token, I want to be proud of what I write, so I try to be careful and respectful.

Humor can be disastrous. Woe to he who judges me by my failed attempts at humor! :) Of course, if it's funny or good, I want the credit. My bad comments do not define me, only my good ones do.

When considering privacy in general, some make the argument, "if you aren't doing anything wrong, then you have nothing to hide." I think Dan exhibits the flaws in that argument and highlights the value of pseudo- and ano- nymity. The comments in reply to Dan's post are also fascinating as they contend for the proper balance.

What do you guys think? Any additional thoughts on the risks of blogging? on the balance between privacy and publicity or secrecy and honesty? on the business aspect? on the emerging culture of totally open lives?



Dave Brave said...

Nice touch on the backward 'Kevin'! lol!

I like the pseudo-anonymity concept myself. I think you can be proud of what you write, and at the same time credit may be over-rated. :^)

Kevin said...


Welcome and thanks for your comment. D'oh! You cracked my pseudonym encryption algorithm. :)

You made a good point. I think a consistent pseudonym can serve a virtually identical purpose to one's real identity by allowing one to build a reputation and readership while maintaining boundaries. I imagine this would be ideal for most bloggers, and I don't really see the downside.

Yet, as a reputation grows (or as one hopes it might grow), pseudonyms seem less prevalent, perhaps as a greater representation of trust. I wonder if this emerging open culture will affect that.


MamasBoy said...

I used to post under my real name, but then my wife posted something on craig's list and got a wacko calling everyday for a couple weeks. I realized that I post too much info about where I live to comfortably give out my full name to every tom, dick and harry on the web. Occasionally, though, it is useful to selectively pass out one's e-mail, though, I typically ask the blog host to delete the post after a day or so. Perhaps, I'm overly paranoid now, after the bad experience, but I would rather be overly paranoid than have a stalker trying to figure out where I live and harassing my wife. I don't think it is dishonest, because I am consistent (unless making a prank post where a pseudonym is part of the joke).

I do think that anonymity is one of the reasons that people tend to be much ruder on the internet in general and on blogs in particular. It is one of the many reasons why I personally prefer real, live friendships and face-to-face discussions. It also seems to be easier to disagree with somebody face-to-face and not come off like an asshole. Much is communicated through body language and tone of voice, and since these things are not communicated via the written word, the attitude/spirit behind written communication can be more easily misconstrued. Regarding the rudeness aspect of blogging, it also seems to me that people don't make as much of an effort at reconciliation as in real life. If there is a misunderstanding, they never have to visit the site again. It is harder to ignore a problem if you see the person face-to-face on a regular basis.


Kevin said...


Thanks for the tip and for sharing your experience. That's the kind of thing that concerns me.

You also captured the struggles of interaction through writing compared to physical presence very well. In the extreme case, it reminds me of the strange sub-cultures on the internet in which emotional whimsy thrives due to their veil of pseudonymity. It astounds me that anyone trusts love online.


Sarah said...

Great post, and good discussion. I agree the comments about blog rudeness (or misperceived rudeness). I relate to your frustration on this problem, Mama's Boy. This is the most difficult aspect of blogging, especially when there is disagreement.

Sorry if I ever came off like an a**hole in any of our heated debates! And sorry if I ever mistook any of you for an a**hole. I like you guys. I don't think you're a**holes. We have radically different perspectives on some topics, but that won't stop me from coming to your blog! Besides, I need other perspectives to help me learn and keep me sharp. :)

Keep on truckin' as they say...

Sarah said...

Actually, this topic brings up another question. I wonder if our culture will become more adept at text-based communication as a result of adapting to these technologies... I'm fascinated by the intermingled shaping of technology and culture (how culture shapes what technologies we develop, and how technology shapes our cultural development).

Kevin said...


Your concern is very kind, but I haven't taken any offense and, like you, I hope I haven't given any. So, no worries. :) I was actually more surprised by our threads disappearing without warning than by the content of anything we've discussed.

Even in our disagreement, you seemed earnest and genuine, and towards the end I especially appreciated the specific examples and links that you provided. e.g. the Bolivia-Bechtel issue is a fascinating case that I might post on once I learn more. It appears to be an example of a bizarrely restrictive state-mandated monopoly rather than a reasonable representation of capitalism.

Regarding culture and communication, it's interesting how multimedia is growing on the net. Not only are people sharing intimate details, but they are doing it with video! It's just amazing and I wonder if the massive quantity and mundaneness of most of it doesn't create some sort of strangely protective haze.

Text communication is so light and effective that I think it'll be around for a long time. I also think smilies were a good innovation in that regard, to provide a basic hint of mood. Meanwhile, the abbreviations used in SMS texting appears to be an entirely other language.


Sarah said...

Yes, sorry about the abruptness. In hindsight, I probably made the decision too quickly... Just after reading Dan's post and being a little wigged out by it! :^).

I also didn't want that blog to become a political blog. There had been other political themes I had wanted to post on, but always restrained from doing so since it didn't seem to fit with the overall flavor of the blog.

And...For some reason, I haven't felt as comfortable discussing ideas freely in the current climate of my home country. It may have something to do with the pervasive attitude that if you don't support current foreign policy, then you support terrorists. (I don't think you feel this way, but my blog is mostly read by Americans - and many of them do). Some people (a lot of them Christians) think that if you aren't gung-ho about the direction the current administration is taking us, then you don't love your country or your intentions are not honorable. So I wanted to remove the potential for that kind of offense and misunderstanding. Because in reality, I AM concerned about our security, and that's WHY I don't like current foreign policy. But we've beaten that one to death already. ;)

You're right about the Bechtel arrangement being state-sponsored. This was not of the Bolivian government's own accord. This was part of the IMF's requirements. In the context of that post, I was discussing global capitalism in general, not limited to the American brand of capitalism.

There are lots of things the IMF (whose financial backing comes from the Western nations - ensuring their interests are met) requires foreign governments to privatize, which they would never dream of doing in their own home countries.

I also mentioned Canadian and US courts deciding to allow the patenting of life forms (except humans). I'm not sure if the EU has taken a similar stance or not. I guess what I wonder about is where to draw the 'regulatory line' so as to ensure ethical outcomes within our capitalist systems.

For instance, human trafficking is against the law (both int'l law and most nations have such a law). This is regulation, government intervention that tells us what can be commercially traded and what cannot. And rightly so! (That's the most extreme example I could think of.) But my question remains: how far to one side or the other do we draw that regulatory line? A human cannot be private property. Can rain water be private property, owned by a foreign company? Is it ethical? Can the genome of thoroughbreds be patented? Can biological life be patented and become private property?

An interesting but only partly related, factoid: AOL-Time-Warner owns the rights to the song "Happy Birthday to you" and you must pay $10K if you want to use that song in a product (toy, movie, whatever). This is a song that is part of our shared cultural heritage - Can it be 'owned' as private property by one company who decided to claim it and make an easy $10K anytime someone wanted to use it? There has to be limits, that's all I'm saying.

And I think most would agree with that. Where to draw these lines? I'm not always sure, but as they come up on a case by case process, I think we need to think it through quite carefully.(Sorry for the length of this comment).

Kevin said...


Cultural persecution is another good reason for privacy and anonymity. I'm sorry to hear about your persecution merely for not being gung-ho about Bush. I've been blessed in not encountering that crowd. I wouldn't consider myself gung-ho for Bush either and, based upon the polls I've seen, only a very small fraction of the populace might be gung-ho. Of course, I also do not consider him to be an evil dictator. I more consider his policies on a case by case basis.

I think the recommendations of the World Bank are broadly reasonable, but my first reaction is that governments should strive for autonomy (and of course the eradication of corruption which may be a greater stumbling block). It's a shame that Bolivia apparently needs international loans. It seems like their contract and law 2029 was, at least in part, a poor and corrupt deal by the Bolivian government. Alas, I wonder if Cochabamba is better off now than it was with Aguas de Tunari.

At some point, the corruption and the actual value of water must be taken into account. In that vein, I'm not sure what a better solution or system would be than the competition and freedom of association inherent in capitalism. In answer to your question, yes, I think rain water can be owned and sold, ideally by those who collect it.

Sarah wrote: "I guess what I wonder about is where to draw the 'regulatory line' so as to ensure ethical outcomes within our capitalist systems."

I agree. Alas, the ethical outcomes are often complicated and, in my view, government regulation should be a last resort. I think that the government is analogous to one big, powerful monopoly and we should be careful giving it too much power over our liberties. I think it is often deceptively convenient to prescribe larger and larger central legal fixes to problems and assume we are better off.

Copyright and patents may be one such example. They mandate a monopoly for a limited time in order to increase the net innovation and intangible value to society. I think these constructs have merit, but such an artificial monopoly can also detract from maximizing "progress of science and the useful arts". e.g. among the present flaws of this system is that "a limited time" may be too far extended relative to the field, and poor criteria may exist for allocating patents.

Genetics is an interesting topic that bears a watchful eye, as you note. It raises moral issues, but a lot of good could also come from it.

I think the fact that "Happy Birthday to you" became part of our shared cultural heritage bespeaks its value which is reasonable to encourage, but I agree with you that it should be in the public domain by now. It has an interesting history, and there appears to be some discrepancy, but it seems that the melody already is public domain.

I also came across another interesting argument for capitalism by the founder of Whole Foods: Conscious Capitalism (one person's summary is here).


Sarah said...

Hi again. :)
"Only a small fraction of the populace might be gung-ho." They all happen to live in my conservative dairy town. :P So my experience probably doesn't reflect the whole nation. I would be scared of the Bush-haters instead of the Bush-lovers if I lived in the nearest city, just two hours away. I share your appreciation for the complexity of things (even though I do tend to be interested in big-picture trends).

"It's a shame that Bolivia apparently needs int'l loans." Our national debt is quite a shame as well. We're not exactly in any position to wag our finger at anyone on that point! Besides, the historical developments of European colonialism in Latin America differ greatly from our historical economic development. So, it's not a fair comparison anyway.

I liked the article about Whole Foods a lot, but found the Wikipedia article on Bolivia to be pretty biased (on the neo-liberalist side of economic thought). All of it's sources were American, and reflect the neo-liberal ideology embraced by both parties here in the US (and it looks like perhaps only one of the sources might be peer-reviewed).

I would be interested in hearing the Bolivian's story. I'm sure they have plenty of educated people in their country who were there and could comment. It is their country, it did happen to them, after all. They might have some important input. (At least to have a more balanced view of the events).

The article mentioned the average income for Bolivians, but left out Bechtel's profits. I found that confusing. It said that law 2029 'led many to accuse the law of restricting residents from collecting rain water'. As if this were all some big misunderstanding. When in reality, Bechtel was only there to help these poor backward souls, and the World Bank kindly offered it's tutelage, but these silly natives just can't see that we are only trying to help them, with no self-interest of our own. I'm sorry, call me cynical, but I just don't buy that. It sounds too eerily like colonialist arguments.

The fact that water problems still persist doesn't vindicate the behavior of the IMF/World Bank and Bechtel. The IMF/World Bank promised solutions, these failed miserably. I'm hesitant to cross a line into Eurocentric (and colonial ist) mindsets which always blame the natives (the ones without power in this relationship) for failures that have more to do with our own western incompetence (the failure of the World Bank to assess local realities before prescribing solutions).

I think we are coming at this from different assumptions. I assume that national autonomy is pretty much impossible for the vast majority of nations at this stage in the development of globalization - especially because of the global market.

I assume that MNC (multi-national corporations) are not the best at looking out for the interests of citizens. They are not designed to.

You said (or made the assumption) that government is one big powerful monopoly. A monopoly of what product? What service? What is government's purpose? Which of your liberties do you fear being restricted? I'm not sure that our assumptions are the same on these questions.

On the other hand, I assume the role of democratically elected representatives is to represent and protect my interests as a citizen. I am thankful for laws that protect my safety. I wish that some government agencies (like the FDA) were more strict. I feel safer eating food and taking over-the-counter drugs in Canada than I do here, as the process of testing is more stringent. I think that's a good thing. I prefer the government to be looking out for my safety over and above looking out for the profit margin of chemical manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies.

I elect officials to represent these interests, I don't elect the power players within MNCs. MNCs are now considered among the big global power players by political scientists. Many of them wield more political power than most nations. They hold seats at the UN. They influence decision-making that shapes nations. (And wield considerable power within our own nation). I don't want to return to the Gilded Age in America of Robber Barons and Captains of Industry who are unaccountable. That's why I'm concerned about these issues.

I do not assume that all corporations are evil, nor all non-profit orgs (or NGOs) are beneficial. William Easterly, an American academic explains it well in his book: White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest have Done so Much Ill and so Little Good. I think you would enjoy it as it has much to say on the inefficiencies of bureaucracies.

At the same time, I think it equally naive to assume that all commercial enterprises are trustworthy. The legal record (both globally and in America) of criminal behavior among corporations speaks for itself.

I would be a lot more open to your arguments of unfettered capitalism if I could be more trusting. But alas, I am not.

I totally disagree that rain water that falls in our nation should belong to a foreign company who would charge me 20% of my income for it. I'm also shocked that you are alright with the patenting of life. Can't agree there. Commerce isn't the end-all-be-all. And the "survival of the fittest" social Darwinism that plagues a lot of arguments on the right vexes me greatly. Check out:http://www.robertreich.org/reich/20051201.asp
I don't agree with everything in the article, but there's some interesting food for thought there too.

It's sad to me that everything can be merchandised. We even merchandise the gospel, and I think it's an indication of a deep cultural sickness.

So, what do you think about terminator seeds?

MamasBoy said...

"Some people (a lot of them Christians) think that if you aren't gung-ho about the direction the current administration is taking us, then you don't love your country or your intentions are not honorable"

What do you mean? You aren't gung-ho about this administration.

You Osama-lover, you.


All that just to say that I too am glad for smiley faces as a weak way of communicating facial expression that I agree texting seems to be its own dialect sometimes. It will be very interesting to see how written communication evolves over the next 50 years. Is this just a transition to video blogs, with anonymized faces/voices that still communicate facial expressions and tone? Now there's a patent in the making: the promise of reasonably anonymous communication over the internet that still has the advantages of face-to-face communication.


Kevin said...

Thanks for the interlude, MB. :) Ya know, I always forget that semi-colon wink. I assume people know why I'd by smiling, which is probably a mistake.

Interesting idea about anonymous voice or video. Stranger things have happened, but that would be pretty strange. :)

Kevin said...


MB's post reminded me that we've gone off topic, so later today or tomorrow I plan on starting a new thread on the topic of Bolivia and Aguas de Tunari, and globalization and capitalism in general. If it's okay with you, we can move our conversation over there and hopefully even garner more perspectives.


Sarah said...

The quest for balanced perspective and the search for 'the truth' in media, academia and communications goes on! Luckily, I've got a secret weapon - my husband is a grad student and so I have online access to academic journal data bases online. Boo-ya! ;) But you may have to give me a couple of days at a time before responding. Because I only get 40min-1 hour of baby nap time a day (unless I stay up way too late working on my brilliant response).

Oh, just in case it wasn't clear, the colon with an upper case P is a silly face with tongue sticking out. But you probably already knew that.

MB, you're gonna be rich! I suggest that you design it with some various face choices, maybe some celebrity options, or at least comic character options... the possibilities are endless...


Kevin said...


Secret weapons! :) I'll look forward to those restricted academic journal databases. I'd be interested in your husband's opinion as well.

Sorry it took me a while to get the new thread together. Here it is. I'll respond to your previous post there. Take your time in responding, we're a patient bunch. :)


MamasBoy said...

Oooo, I am so incredibly jealous! I miss journal article access.


red collar said...

I have an opinion on this matter.

I have very little to defend on the internet.

My blog is worth very little. If it gets hacked and destroyed, it's quite absurd and pointless. The world would keep on turning.

My first name is mentioned on my blog, but even that can't give you my credit card number. I barely use my credit card online, and linking my name to it is practically impossible.

I have no political life to destroy, I'm just a regular guy with a day job and opinions.

Spammers and trolls? That's the biggest "risk" I see.

And months ago, I held the arguement that indeed, since I have nothing to hide, phone taps don't bother me and actually don't hinder my rights.

I still believe that. If you tap my phone, get ready to drink a lot of coffee because my life will bore you to sleep.

So where is the risk? Sticks and stones may break my bones but spammers will never hurt me.

red collar said...

Oh, did I mention that I agree with Mamasboy? Yeah, I give out my email to those I like and nothing else.

My personal info is on a need to know basis.

Kevin said...

red collar,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

It sounds like you are confident in your security, in part because you protect your identity reasonably well online. But you also say that you would permit anyone (or just agents of a government?) to tap your phones?

Presumably, you have nothing to hide from good people, but what about from evil people?