A foolish expectation of privacy?

May 1, 2009

imagesMsmeta here, poking her head above ground to see if it’s spring yet — oh, wait. That already happened. Way back in February. Which is about how long since I’ve posted regularly. Okay (she said, rubbing the grit out of her eyes), here goes:

I have a plethora of lame excuses for not spilling my guts not posting regularly, most having to do with work, Facebook, work, record snowfalls, work, family issues, blah blah blah. But if you tied me down and put bamboo shoots under my fingernails (or even offered me a Coke with crushed ice, I’m SO easy) I would have to confess that I’ve developed a strange little niggling feeling between my shoulder blades, an uneasiness, a reluctance that I can best express by saying that I’ve been feeling, well, overexposed, vulnerable, too “out there.”

I’ve talked about my penchant for anonoblogging in a previous post, and recently had an interesting, almost uncomfortable response. The reader said it took him only 10 minutes to discover my real identity by following the various breadcrumbs I’ve left throughout cyberspace. So much for hiding in plain sight. (Don’t bother trying to find me. I’m not that interesting. Really.) I think I somehow knew I was discoverable, but it tweaked me a bit nonetheless.

Which is probably why Nell Boeschenstein’s encounter with the limits (or lack thereof) of Internet privacy was so interesting to me. In today’s issue of The Rumpus, an unusual little literary way station on the Web, she tracks how her very personal contribution to a Web site found its way into a very public art exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, which crossed some definite boundaries for her. Like her, the people who posted to that site:

…were looking for something, and their words and their faces and their desires and their loneliness were being put on display on the wall of a major museum without their permission or knowledge. On the one hand, this was found art; on the other hand, was it? On the one hand, these people had put this information onto the Internet themselves and had no legal expectation to privacy; on the other hand, the piece seemed to take advantage of naïve people who didn’t understand what little ownership they have over the information about themselves available on the Internet. On the one hand, information is taken from the Internet all the time and reprinted in different contexts; on the other hand, faces and emotions and private lives on a museum wall take appropriation to a whole new level. The [original] project seemed kind to the idea of loneliness, yet it seemed to disregard the actual people to whom that loneliness belonged.

Ouch. And she only found out about it because she happened to walk into MOMA and trip over the exhibit. (Her account is a bit long but worth reading.)

Do we have any expectation of privacy out here? Did I sign my rights away when I logged onto WordPress that first time? My posts are never particularly salacious or scatalogical, but could I provoke some unwanted interest just by being here?

I know I’m going to think twice before I contribute to anyone else’s site from now on.

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6 Responses to “A foolish expectation of privacy?”

  1. byjane Says:

    I think we all need to rethink the privacy thing. It just doesn’t exist anymore–nohow, noway. Transparency is much easier to maintain, and makes for less angst.

  2. Charlene Winters Says:

    If you read Orwell’s “1984,” you would see we are far beyond that alleged fantasy.

  3. Duchess Says:

    Oh, Ms Meta, I know how you feel. I tried to be anonymous, but my wretched mother took up blogging and was perfectly happy to put every name she had ever gone by on the internet (in fact, she even posted about it: something about a rose by any other name.) I briefly made her remove me from her blogroll, and then I gave up.

    Ironically, given how paranoid I am about being googled, and how secret I keep my personal details, I am a current victim of identify theft. That is, someone is using my credit rating to obtain goods. Mostly the goods come and I send them back. But in about 30% of the cases, it seems, the baddies intercept the goods.

    There is not a lot of privacy left in the information age. My identity theft issues have nothing to do with blogging. But if you blog you have to assume that people will find out who you are (even if they don’t steal from you.)

    • msmeta Says:

      Oh, Duchess, I am SO SORRY about your identity theft. It’s everyone’s nightmare. I hope it gets solved soon!

      I’ll keep blogging. Don’t worry.

      Thanks for responding, all.

  4. Duchess Says:

    But I shall be sorry if you give up blogging — and I have missed you.

  5. Susan Levine Says:

    If you censor yourself, it’s our loss.


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