I must confess: I think I’m borderline obsessed with social media and the online world. I’m one of those annoying people who checks their phones many, many times a day for no reason and I really think I can’t -nor I want to- stop myself from doing it. I have had a mobile phone since I was 13 years old (yes, it was just a huge block that did nothing but to make or receive calls) and we had internet in my house since I was 12.

Me holding dearly my phone even thought I'm busy taking pictures. Photo credit: Kurt Budiarto (www.kaybeephotography.com)
Me holding dearly my phone even thought I‘m busy taking pictures. Photo credit: Kurt Budiarto (www.kaybeephotography.com)

I grew up with the online world and it has become almost a second language to me and even now as a Social Media post graduate student it has become my career. I have, without underestimating this number, been in online for the past 15 years with little to no interruption. And that’s why I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t ever read the terms of privacy and policies that I have been agreeing for all these years.

According to a survey created by the web analytics company SDL taken by 1,800 people between the ages of 18 to 36 years old, we, Millennials, check our phones an average of 43 times a day. There is no question about it: we are connected and most of us have never gone ‘offline’ since we hit the start button.

Today out of mere curiosity, I ‘googled’ my brother. Funny story about my brother, he is nothing like me. He is one of the less active social media users that I know, even my parents are more active on social media than him! Although he introduced me to Facebook, my very first serious social media network, and he was somewhat active on it after a while he simply lost interest and stopped using. He doesn’t care very much for Twitter either, so the only true way to reach him is through text or phone calls.

We have had plenty of conversations regarding privacy and he is a lot more conscious and careful about it than me. He ‘shares’ close to nothing online. I even think that his LinkedIn profile doesn’t have a picture. I remember conversations about how much he hates people writing and putting everything online and that’s why I ‘googled’ him I was more than surprised with what I found. It certainly wasn’t  something that he had put out there.

His full name, I.D number, date of birth, city and town where he was registered was all listed on this page called dateas.com. This page claims that it only shares information about that is from public records and you can request that the information be immediately taken down off your ‘profile’ but, how come all of this data about him is out there just a few clicks away without him even knowing about it?

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Screenshot of the dateas.com displaying my parent’s information.

I have searched for myself many times in the past and since I’m much more active in social media, nothing like this has ever come up in my searches. But interesting enough, I was listed in the same website under his name and all my records were right there next to him. Of course, this search for my brother came after watching the “Terms and Conditions May Apply” documentary. I wanted to see what the web had to ‘say’ about someone who is not active on it. And after deleting my profile on that page and warning my brother to take down his I started thinking: how much personal information about me and my family is online? How much do they know about us? And most importantly, how will people use this information?

I have always thought that I have been ‘very good’ in terms of configuring my privacy settings online, especially on my Facebook account, which is my only ‘private and personal’ social media network. Since the rest of my social media platforms -Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.- are public for my profession I’m extremely careful on what I post. As many of us digital marketers out there, I want to be able to show my personality without being inappropriate and/or drifting away from my personal brand.

Being constantly online has provided me a ‘free’ tool to be able to keep up to date in various subjects that I’m interested in, develop a career as a photographer and as a social media marketing professional and it has also allowed me to keep in touch with my friends from all over the world. This way of life comes so naturally to me, that it wasn’t until very recently that I started to think about what were the ramifications of my life being online.

We were never educated about what is the value of our data. So every time we see a Sign Up form many of us just filled it with up even questioning what are we giving or agreeing to. We lost our privacy and many of us didn’t even have an idea of what we were losing. This week when I watched Hoback’s documentary “Terms and Conditions May Apply” I was shocked to see that what have seen for many years in movies and read as something very extreme and unlikely in the news was now the norm. We are all being watched.

Knowledge is power

In an 2012 Forbes magazine article, Douglas Merrill states that knowledge is no longer power and that sharing knowledge was where the power lies nowadays. And although I completely understand the bases of his statement, I’m going to politely disagree. In this era, knowledge is still power. The knowledge that companies like Google, Facebook, Tinder and many others have been collecting about us is very very powerful. The data that we have so willingly gave and that they have been gathering has helped them to build empires. And like I said before there is no doubt in my mind  that our behaviour online is being watched.

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Image source: imgflip.com

So what now?

After giving a lot of consideration to this privacy issue and trying to come up with an answer, I can honestly say I do not have a real solution that satisfies me. I’m not closing all my social media accounts, I obviously enjoy using them and I still very much believe in their power, especially as effective marketing tools. I will not stop using Google either, is impossible. I need it in my life (yes, you read it correctly NEED IT.). But I certainly believe that we need regulations that protect us, the consumers, from the usage of our information. And more importantly, we need to teach future generations that none of these services and social media platforms are truly free.

We are giving up important information, patters of behaviour, and the biggest problem is that we don’t know what will these companies do with this information. So my advice? Be extremely cautious with your online behaviour. Teach your kids about privacy and the ramifications of their actions online. Inform yourself as much as you can and be mindful that everything you post can be taken out of context. Because remember you have nothing to hide, until you suddenly do.