Digital Life: Privacy Online

I know big technology companies are keeping track of our every move online. But what about privacy among family members and friends online?

As with most things, it depends. Privacy is when we put up boundaries, and when someone without permission crosses them, it’s a problem.

Most of us get this. If there’s a fence, we don’t climb over it. If the light turns red, we stop. We know when we cross state or provincial lines. Boundaries online, though, are not literal, and we don’t always know or agree on the rules.

For example, let’s say you follow your nephews and nieces—the ones who allow themselves to be followed, that is—on Snapchat. The current version of Snapchat has a somewhat hidden feature where you can see the somewhat precise physical location of the people you follow. Let’s say one day you notice your niece go first to an out-of-town hospital and later to a nearby drugstore. What do you do? If you were driving by the hospital and saw her walk into the emergency entrance, you know what you’d do: you would immediately stop and ask if she needed help. But online, with more than 150 miles between you, if you were to call her, I’m guessing she’d think it was a little creepy. You’d be breaking a rule of some kind.

What you might do in person doesn’t play the same way online.

Here’s a more extreme example: Most of you, even if given the chance, would never walk up to a podium in front of 5,000 people to announce that you had enjoyed a delicious bowl of oatmeal for breakfast. So why do we think we need to do this online? Yet we do it day after day—and, well, we should stop. We’re wasting our time and other’s attention.

Until we learn and agree on the rules, I’d suggest we err on the side of revealing less about ourselves online—to a smaller and more trustworthy group—and behave online like we do in person.

About the Author

Dean Heetderks is co-director of Ministry Support Services of the CRC and art director of The Banner. Wondering about any part of the digital side of your life? Tell him about it at dean.heetderks@gmail.com

X