Is Privacy…History?

Research for The Digital Self Online Identity Analysis project brings concreteness to the warning, “everything you post online lasts forever.”  Having the ability to trace back multiple years worth of Tweets to see who said what, when, and to whom with a single click is fascinating, yet terrifying.

Tools such as All My Tweets and Twitter Archiving Google Spreadsheet, aka TAGS has allowed me to locate and analyze the Twitter activity of two professionals in the rhetoric and writing field for the last three years. These programs have given me information on each person’s top Tweeters and virtually link me to everyone in each of the two professional’s Twitter networks. The programs have expedited my data mining process, yet, it is disconcerting that everyone has such easy access to this information. Moreover, it is a bit disturbing that the people whose activities we track and examine have no idea of what is going on.

This leads to the question, whose privacy is more important: the person publishing the information, often for a private audience, or those who are seeking out and surveying other people’s online activities? Is there a mutual understanding between the two parties that those posting things online accept that everything they post can fall into the hands of an unintended audience and those who mine agree not to use the information maliciously? Then, what happens when there is a breach in trust?

I do not think there is much harm in people having access to online information that is posted on the web. Simultaneously, the reality that our privacy and the absence of separation between our private and professional lives are at stake is unsettling. Are people entitled to knowing what and how much other people know about them or is ignorance bliss in this situation?