Living a public life as a privacy advocate ⚓14 Aug 2014
If you’ve known me for a while, you might know me as a privacy conscious individual or perhaps as someone who leads a very public life. The truth is that I lead both these lives; and while that may sound oxymoronic to some, its perfectly clear to me.
I’m a huge privacy advocate. I still remember the day I woke up and read about PRISM first thing in the morning. My reaction was a mix of disbelief, anger, and frustration. In the aftermath of the PRISM reveal, I made a few choices: I would retain ownership of my data, and I’ll do whatever I can to promote tools that help you do this.
I’m still working on both fronts, but the reality of the situation is that we are surrounded by walled gardens. I decided to make the best I could of these gardens. I remember reading a weird suggestion: only post public stuff on facebook; and I was somehow convinced to try it out.
But I took the experiment a step further. If the service is something I can’t control myself (say self-hosted), everything I do with it should be for public-viewing. Since then, I’ve rarely posted anything private on facebook.
Other services where I follow the same advice include:
- Goodreads - Whatever I read is public information, along with real-time updates of my reading habits.
- Last.FM - All my music tastes, along with real-time upates on what I’m listening to.
- Facebook - All of my posts on facebook are public. I do have some private messaging interactions on facebook (I never initiate them) and usually move them to email if they grow important.
- Twitter - Tiny byte-sized thoughts and observations are again, public. My account is set to public, which doesn’t mean that I trust twitter with my data. It just means that I expect my data to be public.
- GitHub - One of the few companies I trust to keep my data safe. Barring a few exceptions, everything I do on github is public, ready for anyone to analyze and use as public data. In fact, github makes all of its timeline data available to public as a dataset on bigquery.
- Bookmarks - Most of my bookmarks are public via xmarks. I haven’t synced it in a while since XMarks and Chrome Sync don’t work well together, but plan to do something about this as well.
Along with all this, most of the writing I do these days is for public consumption, either via my Blog, or some platform like Quora, StackExchange, or Medium.
My reasoning behind keeping all of my online life public is twofold:
- This creates a public archive of my life, accessible to everyone.
- It doesn’t give me an illusion of privacy when there is none.
In reference to (1) above, I recently setup Google Inactive Accounts, and have to commend Google on the execution of the concept. Be sure to check it out at https://www.google.com/settings/account/inactive.
This lifestyle choice is not without its comebacks. Stalking me, for example, is very easy. So is probably impersonating me as well. However, these are risks I’m willing to take in order to lead a public life.
By now you might be thinking of me as a pro-facebook share-everything kind of guy. But that’s not completely true. I do have clear limits on what counts as public and what does not. I value my privacy (and that of those close to me) very dearly.
For instance, I count my photographs as something very private. I almost never post public updates anywhere with my picture in it. Perhaps its because I never had any phone with decent camera. Whatever the reason, I try really hard to keep my pictures off the internet.
Another related issue is when the update would involve someone beside me. For example, my sister was recently engaged and I didn’t go on a social update spree telling the whole world about it, because I value her privacy.
My simple rule of thumb is to ask for permission, rather than beg for forgiveness as a person’s privacy is far more important.
Published on August 14, 2014