Maintaining Privacy in an Always Online World

I was heading to bed the other night and pulled out my iPhone for a bit of application spelunking. I hit Facebook and updated my status, opened Twitterific and posted my 140 characters of content, flipped over to Yelp to see if anyone had rated my latest restaurant review, checked AroundMe to see if any new places showed up, checked my elevation and long/lat in GPS Tracker, then finally played a word game or two and went to bed.

In less than 5 minutes I had provided personal information into not even 1% of the potential applications out there that consume something “Heath”. Whether it was incidental detail about what I’d had for dinner, or GPS positioning centered on my bedroom, or a record of restaurants that I frequent, there was a bunch of stuff out there that could be used for mischevious purposes.

Now, I don’t have any problem telling people that Hana Tsubaki is my favourite sushi place, or that I ate a bowl of low fat Wheat Thins last night while watching American Idol – these are rather inconsequential things about me. But what if I had posted that I was going away to Bodega Bay for the weekend, or that I had accidentally left my credit card and sunglasses at El Fiesta Mexicana at lunch? That information could be used by someone to show up at my house knowing I’m not there, or to go impersonate me at the restaurant and grab my credit card.

Granted, we hope to live in a world where private information isn’t misused, but let’s get real – how many weeks go by before we hear about another stolen laptop with millions of people’s SSN’s or other personal information on it? That’s a blatant security situation, but what about the billions of bytes of data that people share on their blogs, websites, twitters, Facebook or myspace accounts, and pretty much anywhere else they interact online?

It seems like people are sharing a lot more information these days than they used to. And I mean things that you wouldn’t even hear in a verbal conversation. Do I really need to know that you have athletes foot going on between two of your toes? Probably not – but guess what, I blogged about that very topic not long ago. What are the “new” personal boundaries with all this social media and “living online” stuff? I'm not sure there are any!

I don’t need to know if my coworkers are circumcised or not, but in a recent discussion on our internal diversity forums that topic came up in the Parents Network. Perfectly appropriate conversation in the context of that employee group, but some pretty personal information being shared.

Where do you draw the line? At what point do you say "I don’t think anyone needs to know where I am and what I’m doing every moment of the day"? Do you really want someone following your GPS map online, or do you want them to just call you up and say “Hey where are you?” Is it ok for us to not know every move you make?

So I’m on a charge to reclaim some of that personal privacy for myself, right after I open this pack of Orbit raspberry mint gum and enjoy this delicious diet Pepsi while sitting in my office in Folsom and awaiting 6:30pm when I’ll be at Hana Tsubaki drinking sake and enjoying some fresh unagi after which I’ll head back to my house and update Facebook, myspace and Twitter about what I’ve just done.

* I use a lot of company and product names, and they are all trademarks and/or copyrights of their respective companies. All credit goes to them.