Monday 16 January 2012


I had an Orwellian moment the other day. My partner and I were discussing Facebook, as you do, and it suddenly struck me what an instrument of divine information gathering FB was. Okay, fine, I do share my flat with a conspiracy theorist, so this line of thinking was bound to happen. But if you actually take a moment and think about the power Facebook - or any other site like it - holds, it might make you put your coffee cup down and go deactivate your account. Or at least stop giving a blow by blow of your daily activities.

Now, I’m not going as far to say that it is being used by our government to monitor the masses, I shall leave that to the hardcore conspiracy theorists (that might be on to something), but it is astonishing how much information people are willing to give up to an online organization without much provocation. In fact, it is 100% voluntary and evidently, people have no problems discussing their relationships, politics, whereabouts – in fine detail – daily routine, nutritional habits, likes, dislikes, age, hobbies, fetishes, charitable donations, and, well, anything else from hygiene habits to random thoughts and musings. In short, if you want to see what the average individual gets up to during a week, log in and let the postings bore you senseless.

The alarming part is what most people don’t realize is that within the clearly stated terms of service that users of Facebook agree to upon signing, it states that FB owns any material you put on there (yes, it’s true, look it up). For those of you that have not drunk your morning coffee, this means and I quote, “anything you upload to Facebook can be used by Facebook in any way they deem fit, forever, no matter what you do later.” Admit it, that freaked you out a bit.

So those provocative photos of you at last years Christmas party with your tongue wrapped around your colleague's neck that you would never want your boss (mother, child, husband) to see? Well, FB owns those. And if you appear on the next Dateline for robbing the Bank of America one Saturday night, bet your bottom dollar so will the rest of the world. How many cases have you seen in the news when someone has committed a crime, or was the victim of one and voila, suddenly the reporter is talking about their Facebook page; what was posted, the type of photos that were on there, their habits, whereabouts and general disposition. All because, you guessed it, the person happily volunteered it.

I suppose the big question in today’s digital age, is who exactly owns are digital identity? It’s not something most people think about. In fact, unless you truly spell it out, I’m sure most people don’t even know what you’re talking about – ‘uh, what do you mean it’s on the web a flipping fingerprint?’ Let’s put it this way, to the many sites you go on or sign up to, information is data. Data is money. Your life's worth of information that is happily volunteered up to these data collectors is money to some corporation out there wanting to…well, make more money. It’s crude, it’s sobering, and it’s a truth we should all consider the next time we have a yearning to sign up to a site and give out every detail of our lives. 

I'm thinking George Orwell wouldn't think I was so paranoid after all. 

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