Sunday, November 10, 2002


Technology and privacy

Many people these days are really concerned with privacy issues and networked technologies. Rightly so, in my opinion. I really would like to keep my personal information from being readily available to marketing folks without my knowledge. It also pisses me off that people sell my personal information without my knowledge/consent. Money's not a terribly big issue, because if I had the choice of allowing someone to sell (and thereby profit commercially from) my personal information or opting out, I'd opt out. Additionally, for personal reasons, I like to keep a really, really low online profile. Hence the habit of searching for myself online on a semi-frequent basis. How convenient is it that I married a guy with the last name of Johnson? Try it - search Google for Laurie Johnson. On the ninety-third and final page of the search (with duplicate/similar pages omitted) Google reports: "Results 921 - 928 of about 308,000. Search took 1.22 seconds." Let me know if you find me. It's possible - I have found myself out there, but it's not easy: not only are there a lot of other Laurie Johnsons out there in the world, but a lot of them have done cooler things than I have (like composed the score for Dr. Strangelove and the theme for The Avengers) and hence turn up higher in the Google rankings. But I'm getting off track, here, as I so often do. (There are some people out there groaning and leaining their foreheads on their hands and saying, "oh no! Here comes a Laurie Story . . .").

My point was that, for as much as a lot of people are concerned with privacy online, what about privacy IRL? I have been listening to my neighbors make noises all day long. Next door neighbor has been watching TV - he was laughing hysterically at something not too long ago. There's a little kid downstairs, and everyone in that downstairs apartment is home because it's Sunday - need I say more? If I sit at the table in my kitchen, I can hear my upstairs neighbors talking on the phone. My downstaris neighbor actually told me that she liked us better than the people who lived in our apartment before we did, because all the previous tenants did was talk on the phone loudly, and it bothered her. Where's the privacy in any of that???? I haven't lived in a place where I couldn't hear what was going on in an adjascent residence since, well, I guess since I moved out of my mom and stepdad's house when I was in ninth grade. My dad has a, well, it's not really a duplex, but something like that. He built it in the 80's. It's a pretty nice place, but even there, we could always hear what was going on in the rented part of the house and the tenants, I'm sure, could hear what went on on our side (mostly me being an obnoxious teenager).

I was 14 when I moved from mom and stepdad's abode to my father's house. I'm 26 now. That's twelve years of other people, many of whom I didn't know well, or at all, overhearing details of my life. I'm not paranoid, and I know that my existence is pretty tame (I'm a graduate student now, and I have always been a boookwormy geek, so I'm sure if anyone set out to eavesdrop on me they'd fall asleep from sheer boredom), but still - everyone gets all up in arms about what someone can find out online - and then people log off and have screaming matches with parents/children/spouses, engage in high-volume intimate activities, tell their darkest secrets to their friends on the phone while close to a heating vent, or whatever. Stangers online shouldn't know the mundane details of my life - my shopping habits and so on - but I don't really think that strangers or neighbors who don't fit into the "good and trusted friend" category should necessarily know the more personal details of my life (or anyone else's - I really don't want to hear other people's arguments or phone conversations, you know?).

Yeah, yeah, it's not exactly the same thing, and unless a person is doing something really sketchy or really cool, it's unlikely his/her neighbor is going to turn around and sell info to anyone, but still. Privacy and networked technologies is a hot topic - privacy and building technologies? Not so much, unless you're a contractor, maybe, or a consultant specializing in privacy and built structures.

I lied. It was totally a Laurie Story. Sorry, can't help it.

- posted by laurie @ 11/10/2002 03:29:00 PM
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