I don’t think there are very many people my age who’ve ever expected much in the way of privacy online.
Oh, maybe in the very early days some might’ve naively figured that if they didn’t actually interact with a site, like if they just went to the New York Times to read an article or something, they were pretty private, but they soon learned about tracking cookies and hackers with keystroke logging tools and right away understood that everything done online might possibly be being observed.
My generation also understood from the get-go that if it was possible we might be being observed, we might as well figure that we are being observed.
This is something we learned decades earlier from the telephone.
Back in olden times when I was growing up, in the days before cell phones, when a vacuum tubed Univac computer with enough RAM to hold a thousand words filled an industrial sized room, when telephones were absolutely always land lines and were nearly always connected to the Bell System, you had two major choices when you ordered phone service. You could either get a private line, which is what everybody pretty much has today, or a party line, which means you shared your phone service with who knows how many of your neighbors.
For the first five or six years of my life, all I knew was the party line because that’s all that was available on the street where I lived. On my street, Ma Bell hadn’t yet run enough wires for people to have private lines.
A party line meant that whenever the phone rang you had to listen for the ring style, or cadence, to determine if the call was for your family or another family sharing the line. It also meant you never got too personal in your telephone conversations because you never knew what busybody might be listening-in on the connection. That busybodies did listen-in you were certain, because you often secretly listened to the calls of others yourself. Sometimes you and your siblings listened-in together, suppressing giggles.
Having a party line meant you didn’t expect too much privacy on the phone.
By the late 1960s, the party line had pretty much gone the way of the passenger pigeon. It still existed in some remote reaches of the country, still does I understand, but pretty much by then everybody had private lines. While a private line meant your neighbors couldn’t easily eavesdrop on your conversation, it didn’t necessarily mean your conversation was private, as every politically active hippie knew.
During my days hanging out in the unincorporated part of Los Angeles county called Sunset Strip and, later, being a part of the scene around St. Marks Place and 2nd Avenue in the East Village, my friends and I all knew that any serious phone conversation, unless it was payphone to payphone, had to be spoken in code. We talked a lot about “albums” back then and we never, ever, gave a sensitive address away. We knew to treat every phone call as if we were on a party line.
Which brings us to the second decade of the 21st century. Hardly anyone has a land line anymore and the obsolete feature phone you buy with “double minutes for life” at the Dollar General store has thousands of times more memory than the 1,000 words that defined Univac. Most of us now use smart phones that are measurably more powerful than the computing power NASA used to put humans on the moon.
And we run our lives on the Internet, foolishly believing we have some sort of expectation of privacy. We are like ostriches sticking our heads in the sand, exposing our great gaping sphincters, pretending we’ve forgotten or never heard Orwell’s warning that while we’re watching our telescreens, the telescreens are looking back at us, as that’s what webcams are for.
Let me pose a question. If all the governments in the world and all the world’s corporations promise to never, ever again use the Internet to spy on people and we never, ever see any future evidence that spying is still being done, will that make it so? I would think it intelligent to assume not.
“Web” means interconnected, for better or for worse. Interconnected as in a global village. Or as in “resistance is futile, you will be assimilated.”
For your own protection, I advise you to see the Web as the World Wide Party Line and assume that everything you write in an email is being read by someone other than the recipient, that every conversation you have using VoIP is being recorded and analysed by persons in positions of authority over you and that every time you visit a “subversive” site someone with the government is taking note.
Now, go and have a wonderful day!