Saturday, January 30, 2010
DO NOT POST THIS ONLINE
Once upon a time people thought the Internet was anonymous. There was a famous New Yorker Cartoon (during the early days of the Internet) in which two dogs are talking next to a computer and one of them, looking very happy, says something like, "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog."
Once upon a time (and even now) there are statements about how the Internet guarantees that people can express themselves freely without authorities having the ability to prevent it.
Well, that's true, but only up to a point: Nobody may know you are a dog now, but they can find out.
Authorities may not be able to crack down on opponents who post hostile material online immediately, but they can be traced. And, if they wish, the authorities can control the Internet, because there are limited pathways, and limited routers, so communication could be shut down by choking it off. Authorities can create "laws" to punish creating "hostile" posts or passing them on.
But an even greater threat to privacy is the fact that almost all electronic communication is essentially eternal. Everything you entered onto your hard drive is still on your hard drive after you trashed or sold it. All those photographs you stored on some networked hard drive picture storage site are still there. All that financial information you sent to the bank may be available to people who have some legitimate reason for looking at the system -- system analysts for example. And the backups are around as well.
Sooner or later some of that might become fodder for a lawsuit, for example (as Microsoft discovered in its anti-trust trial). Or it might pop into the hands of some ex (or possible future) lover. Or a crook or blackmailer.
As mores change, material which was acceptable (or seemed acceptable) when it was written may become a serious problem later. The simplest example is college follies becoming job search hazards. More complex examples include sexual and political statements or actions.
Here is an excellent article on some of the ways that you can avoid some of the currently popular ways of having fun now and getting into trouble later: