So I’m listening to online radio, and one of the commercials i keep hearing is for this service called Privacy Defender. They tell you how all of this information that you thought might be private is floating around the internet. The continue to scare the crap out of you by stating that prospective employers, significant others, and others might go find this information online, and it could affect their opinion of you.

First I’d like to say that this is nothing more than a company preying on your fear and dis-information to try to make a buck. The idea that you could hire someone to go about erasing your identity from the internet is ridiculous. You may or may not be aware of how “The Internet” works. So I’ll give you a basic run down. There is no thing called “The Internet” which is operated or controlled by some group. The network that we perceive as this mysical thing which you can go play games on, chat with your friends, or (imagine this) research things you’d like to know more about, is a conglomeration of many computers, all containing data, which is then shared out to all the rest of the members on the network. If you’re reading this blog, on your computer, sitting in your living room, you’re an equal member of this network as any other machine that’s connected. You could be a web server, you could be a mail server, providing that your ISP allows you to.

You control your information. If you don’t want others to have it…. Dont share it! Keep in mind, that a lot of your information is considered public knowledge, and can be obtained through the court house, or even your local library. If you’ve already jumped in both feet, and your information is everywhere, well, go try to get it back. A lot of web site administrators will cooperate with you if you go to them in a professional manner. I don’t know if they’re legally obligated (or, even if they should be) to remove your data, but ask them, if theyre reasonable, they’ll help you out. If they won’t, don’t sue them. It’s different if they’ve obtained private data about you and published it without your knowledge. If you’ve posted some embarrassing pictures of you and your college room mate making out at some frat house party in college, you put it there, you should have thought better of it before you posted it. If someone else posted it because they were at the frat house party, and took a picture of you, and you let it happen, then maybe you should have thought of that and tackled them and deleted the picture from their phone. Contacting the site operator is essentially what services like Privacy Defender would do. Of course, i don’t know what goes on under the sheets of Privacy Defender, but knowing what i know about running a web server, what else could they do? They can’t go and remove things from my server, they have to go to Me, the operator of the server, and ask nicely. The only power they have that you might not, is a knowledge of the law and perhaps sleazy lawyers that know how to exploit it.

I recently watched an interesting video, where Eben Moglen spoke in front of a group about “Freedom in the cloud”. I’ll embed the video in a moment, if you’d like to watch it. He made some very good points regarding privacy, a user’s role in the internet, and how we’ve all blindly given our information away. If you use Facebook, i’d highly recommend you watch this video. It’s a little dry, and some of it’s a bit technical, but it brings out some very important details about what the guys at facebook (and other social networking sites for that matter) can do with your data!

So, why am I posting this? Well, watching that video really made me think about our society, and how intertwined our lives are with our online lives. Slowly they’re becoming one and the same. This is a cool trend, but also a scary one! When companies like facebook can, via a nicely worded EULA, claim ownership of all of the data you decide to post, where does your privacy go?

When i started getting involved with computers, BBS’s, web communities, and things of the like. I always used an alias, an avatar, to identify myself. This is how it was done, this is how everyone did it. If someone signed up with their full name as their username, you knew they were naive, and not privacy minded. At that time, if you chose to sign up with some online community, the only person who had access to your data (other than the data you chose to make public) was the operator. Was there still a chance of that operator doing nasty things with your data? Yes, but that was your responsibility. You tried to keep track of who you were giving your data to, and what you gave them.

Today, we share some of our most private data without a through on sites like MySpace, and Facebook. Sexual preference, the town you live in, how many kid’s you’ve got, what their names are, what your favorite hobbies are, where you work, your political affiliation. I could build a profile on you based on the information you post daily on Facebook. On top of that, i can find out what you looked like from your picture gallery, or if i were a predator, what you’re 14 year old daughter looked like… Combine all of that data, and someone could literally show up at your door, or stalk you at work, or god forbid, your children at school.

Am i saying we should all leave social networking en-mass? No, just be careful what you make public. Keep in mind that ANYONE on the internet can find that data. Dont set the password to your bank account online to some data that i could phish out of your facebook profile.