Is the internet private?

The one fact everyone knows about lockpicking, gleaned from years of action movies and police-procedural tv shows, is that any lock can be picked; it's just a matter of time. I just finished listening to a podcast from South by Southwest, one of the major social media conferences, that reminded me the same is true of internet privacy.

Recently Facebook has been in the news again for privacy issues; some of you may even have observed Quit Facebook Day, a coordinated effort to get users to leave Facebook in protest of its new privacy policies. At the root of the issue is that most users don't even know they can change their privacy settings, let alone that they need or might want to. There is an assumption of privacy that is just plain wrong; the default settings share almost everything with the entire internet.

Michael and I presented a course on ethics for the San Diego CSI chapter last week, and group discussion focused strongly on the ethics of social media and internet technologies in the construction industry. Privacy issues will be a major part of this over the next few years, as we deal with issues of who is responsible for protecting specific information, who is allowed to release it, and who is liable when privacy is breached. Whether your company is fully immersed in social media or still using your original webpage design, these are issues you need to address now to stay ahead of the curve.

The issue of internet privacy keeps coming back to one simple concept: if you put it on the internet, it's not private. Think of it as a conversation on a crowded subway train; there's so much noise it will be hard for someone to eavesdrop, and if no one on the train knows you it's unlikely they will even care enough to try. Regardless, you just had a conversation in front of dozens of people, anyone of whom could have listened or recorded what you said. This is the privacy of the internet.