I Live in Public, Online – Privacy Beware!

An open letter to online privacy advocates and politicians who want to take charge of the open internet.

Dear Privacy Advocate,

I Live in Public, Online. You can find my life, for the past few years at least, sprawled across the internet – mainly thanks to the advent of Social Media. I’ll list just a few of the accounts later.

My reason for this open letter is to explain why I believe living in public is not something to fear, but rather to be embraced. I do not fear people knowing I may or may not have health issues, I do not fear that due to tracking I can see highly personalised news feed and search results, I do not fear living in public.

One of the people I admire is Jeff Jarvis (@jeffjarvis), he lives his life on the internet and is like me an avid promoter of doing just that. He agrees with me, living life in public is nothing to be scared of. Indeed when he found out he had prostate cancer his reflex was to talk about it online, it meant he could find out lots of great information and through the world audience learn about what could happen, how to deal with things and most of all he received support. You can read his first post about prostate cancer here, do take not of all the comments and support he received. The reason for admiration is both what he does in life, but also his publicness (yes it is a word, not it probably isn’t in a dictionary). In his book public parts, Jeff share a hell of a lot of information and detail about his life and living in public and why it is nothing to fear. This letter was in part spawned by the book and in part by needing to air why I am happy to be so open and honest online, the book turned this from a thought-train to a letter (thank you Jeff ).

Jeff’s story is not uncommon. There are many cases where individuals or groups have placed their private parts on the internet, in a blog, in a video or maybe just on social networks. The reason is simple: humans crave interaction. Interaction with one another, as friends and also as we see on twitter and facebook with those we befriend, even though we may not know them like we know our family or those we’ve known for a long time. There is a theory which says you can only ever really have 150 relationships properly at one time, but I believe this is an old theory which in todays modern world is wrong. For instance on facebook I’ve nearly 1300 friends, facebook.com/search.andy, I know a hell of a lot of them in real life (more than 150!) but I also know a lot of those friends online, they help support my website design and graphic design business, they help when I feel down, they celebrate whenever possible and they interact with me and my posts (just as I do them). Taking this example further, if humans did not crave to be listened to and interacted with Twitter would not be the huge success it is today. Facebook connects friends and family, simple. Twitter connects a user with the world, they take an interest in your doings by following you and as you do with them also – you share your thoughts, wants, dreams and more! @andykinsey (me) has almost 2500 followers at this time, I follow over 2700 of interest, I make lists (organised for once) of specific people and types of people I may want to hear from, there are local lists, news lists, technology lists and more. If i just want to see the world at large I just view the timeline, hundreds of messages a minute passing by as users interact with each other. It’s funny how they probably don’t notice they are talking to the world, and those privacy junkies who want lock themselves off and close their feeds to public consumption. This is their prerogative, each to their own, but I want to live my life in public – I have no fear of being in public.

But why do I want to live in public?

I want to live in public, not because like everyone else I crave interaction, but rather because I have nothing to hide and everything to gain. Sure privacy is great and deserves protecting, I don’t talk about my family or anything I think may attach to others and harm them, I keep that private. It is our right to live in public or in private, they are not exclusive you can do both, as I’ve just attested too. The internet allows the public to speak, be heard, act, connect, collaborate and live in a more open society. And it is this final part I believe in living in public.

An Open Society is not about everyone knowing what your DNA structure maybe, it’s not about what you say alone, it is about the collective public connecting and collaborating to make the world a better place. Remember a few months ago in Egypt? A revolution for democracy made possible by the internet and social networks. When an injustice is done in the world, someone is imprisoned for the wrong reasons etc, the internet can be a tool for the masses of good public to be heard and listened to. Open Society does not end here though. It applies to everything! One of my favourite examples is with Pharmaceutical Companies, imagine if they shared all the pre-trial data with each other, imagine if they found a drug which failed tests and this data was shared, nothing commercially sensitive here but if they shared it and collaborated medicines would be better and they would improve faster. It is like lots of universities now foster the idea of collaboration, working with other universities and charities to find out new things and make things better. This is why I am living life in public, in the hope that with an Open Society the world will be a better place. I believe in privacy as much as living life in public, they as i’ve said are not exclusive they can work together.

So my privacy advocate friends, don’t you think it’s time for a rethink of your position to support an Open and Collaborative Society.

If you agree with me I would appreciate you leaving a comment and more so sharing this post in which ever way you see fit, just as I would if you disagree I am open to discussing my views too.

– Andy

> @andykinsey
> facebook.com/search.andy & facebook.com/AK.Designs
> +Andy Kinsey
> Also find me on flickr, linked in and many many other networks.

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  1. Robyn Tippins 2 December, 2011 at 7:32 PM

    Andy, I do agree with much of what you share, but I also add that while you choose to live in public, many people do not.  They should not be denied the internet or phones because they do not want everyone to know if they have cancer or herpes…

    However, I think I do get where you are coming from and I tend to live my own life as publicly as possible.  For instance, I have shared my heart issues, parenting failures, my giving up cigarettes, my faith and my own cancer scare with no problems.  I’m not sure I’d have wanted to share embarrassing items though, and I want that granularity that comes with real life (tell my husband most everything, my mom a little less, and my friends only happy stuff).  For others, I know, that sharing ratio is different, but that granularity has to come on the web.  

    I know we are still growing here, but the web has been mature at least since 2000…  We should be further along than this.

    1. Anonymous 4 December, 2011 at 3:50 PM

      Robyn, thanks for the comment.

      I agree many do not, and would never want to, it is there choice. Just as it is our to live in public. I agree they should not be denied anything, it is there choice how much they share and why.

      The web today offers no end of granularity, Facebook has lists you can share with, Twitter you just lock an account or censor what you say etc. It is up to the person who and how they share. Even further growth is needed and it will come, but whether further granularity is needed I am not 100% sure. I think if someone doesn’t want to share something they shouldn’t.

      The basic premise by which I live my life online is “not to be a fool”, basically don’t say anything you may regret, or that may make someone upset or angry because you’ve said something in public they did not want to reveal. (hope that makes sense).

  2. Alex Von Nollen 26 February, 2012 at 12:58 PM

    I’ve been studying the theme of privacy in the past while and I have to say, your is an opinion I quite enjoy reading about. Mostly one hears just the extreme for and against arguments, for example, one person does absolutely not want to live their life publicly and another loves attention and exposure. But your reasons are different again. A whole different side to the argument.

    There are privacy groups who champion privacy but a lot of the time, many people forget that others simply do not want so much privacy. I am more for privacy but rather than fighting for one or the other, I believe we should have the chance to decide for ourselves how much privacy we have or not. Options should be open to us so that if we want to be more public then we can be but can change at any time. Therefore if something happens which makes a person change their mind about the way they present their lives in public, they can resort to more privacy.

    It should also be noted that there are varying levels of privacy and not just one extreme or the other.

    Well written though, it is an interesting read and highly insightful.

    1. andykinsey 27 February, 2012 at 11:19 AM

      Hi Alex,

      Thanks for your comment, I’m glad you found it insightful and it hopefully ads something to your study of privacy.

      As you can see suggested above I highly recommend the read of “public parts” by jeff jarvis – its a great view point and another opinion to take on board. He blogs at BuzzMachine.com – its not all privacy stuff but its pretty interesting.

      What are your thoughts on the Google Privacy updates coming March 1st?


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