In business settings and family gatherings it’s often considered bad etiquette to be seen discussing politics or religion, let alone sex, death, or popular belief systems.
This begs the question: how can we have candid discussions about important issues using this wonderful tool called “the internet”? How can we feel free to speak our minds – or admit uncertainty or lose face – when our employers, business clients or relatives may be watching?
This is one reason privacy (sometimes called “confidentiality” or “anonymity”) is valued by some people.1 Some people have told me they would never use a site like Facebook because of just this sort of thing, so for their benefit I want to explain a few things.
- I won’t publish your email address.2
- I don’t need to know your legal name.3 And you’re welcome to post comments under a first-name, nickname, or pseudonym.
- There are almost no third-party cookies on this website.4 5
- I don’t send your data to third-parties.6
- I don’t tell anyone who my subscribers or commenters are.
Privacy protects us from abuses by those in power, even if we’re doing nothing wrong at the time of surveillance.7
– Bruce Schneier (famous cryptographer, computer security specialist, author of 12 books, and fellow at Harvard Law School)
For me it’s not about trying to achieve some sort of “perfection” but it is about conscious decisions, beneficial trade-offs, and then forgetting about this stuff while we focus on more important things. It’s like installing curtains when you move into a new home – it would feel odd to have no window coverings, but after the initial hassle of deciding which ones to install, you don’t need to think about it as much after that.
You can also review my comment policy.
Thanks for visiting.
- Of course there are circumstances when we are happy to relinquish privacy – when we let down our guard meeting a new person, when we take off our clothes to have sex with our lover, or when we speak with a mentor or counselor – but these are voluntary and (hopefully!) conscious decisions. A zoo animal or someone living in a prison doesn’t have as much of a choice. ↩
- The issue is more complex if you have a gravatar account and use that email address here when you post a comment. (If you DON’T use a gravatar-connected email address, we use a default image from our own server that is the same for everyone and has no unique MD5 hash – in other words, you’re fine.) For people who do have gravatar accounts, we cache the image on our local server so that we do not continue to send data to gravatar.com every time someone requests a page with your avatar on it. In both cases, an MD5 hash is sent to gravatar.com from our SERVER (not a browser) one time. If you want to become a “registered user” on this site, contact me and you can have an avatar without all these complexities. ↩
- … let alone your phone number, your whereabouts, details of what other websites you visit, or the precise identity of all your closest friends and relatives and how you feel about them… cf. Facebook, Google, Microsoft. ↩
- I got rid of the Google, Facebook, Quantserve and WordPress.com cookies. For geeks: I use open-source, locally-hosted Piwik. ↩
- The only exception I know of is embedded youtube videos. Youtube may employ “flash cookies” or other things whenever you utilize their services or view a website that has embedded videos. I’ve decided this is a worthwhile trade-off. I think there’s a firefox plugin to help remove the flash cookies. ↩
- See notes above about gravatars and youtube. Also, this site is hosted on a shared physical server using unencrypted channels. Perhaps “three letter agencies” can snoop on all internet traffic, encrypted or not. However these considerations start to go beyond the realm of what I choose to care about. ↩
- From an online essay The Value of Privacy. ↩