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Those of you who read my last post know that I’ve been having some odd experiences with Facebook as of late.  Wave after wave of my real-world friends have been ‘friending’ me at Facebook, despite the fact that I do not now have, nor have I ever had, a Facebook page.  At first this was interesting, then it moved to comical, eventually graduating into the surreal.

Last night, though, it took a turn into the disturbing.

Like most people, I have multiple email accounts. Of the accounts I have, I use two extensively.  I separate these two into my ‘personal’ account and my ‘professional’ account, although there is a certain amount of overlap.  My first Facebook invite came to my ‘personal’ email – years ago – from my friend Jackie.  I declined and never thought much about it.  Later, I received another Facebook invite, also from a friend and also through my ‘personal’ email.  Because I had once received an invitation from Jackie, this new invite reminded me of the fact that Jackie had done so.  And this has been the way of it.  Each successive Facebook invitation I receive includes mention of all Facebook invitations gone before.  This makes perfect sense to me.

Last night, though, I received a new Facebook invitation.  This one was different than the others – for one thing, it arrived in my ‘professional’ email, a first for Facebook invitations.  Another oddity is that this was from someone I’ve never heard of.  The invitation mentioned five other Facebookites, suggesting that I might also like to peruse their pages.  One of these five was yet another person of whom I have never heard.  The other four are all people I know.

And this is where it gets disturbing.  While I know all four of those people, they do not know each other.  In fact, they only have two things in common:  they all have a Facebook page, and they’re all listed in my contacts. This means that someone is comparing my contact list to Facebook membership.  To make matters worse, this email account is my Gmail account.

Before you start making suggestions, allow me to answer some concerns.  There is no virus or trojan or worm or malware of any kind involved here.  I run a very tight ship, and I know that my system is clean.  Also, I don’t use any sort of Gmail-pimping browser extensions, simply because I feel that they entail unacceptable security risks.

So the logical conclusion is that someone is giving Facebook access to my contacts, as well as the freedom to peruse them at will.  And since this is my Gmail account, I think we all know where to point our fingers.

Shall we talk about privacy yet again?

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Okay.  Let’s try this again.  There are still a bunch of people pissing and moaning about Google Buzz.  What this circumstance tells me is that there are far too many people out there using the internet who don’t know squat about the internet.  So let’s give it another shot.

First, go read this web page.

Got it so far?  Good.  The important things to remember here is that the internet is NOT a large building somewhere in the midwest that can be seized and controlled by the government (although some governments have tried), and that the internet itself is kind of stupid.  However, the stupidity of the internet should not lead us to believe that web sites and/or servers are stupid.  They are not.  Some of them are quite smart, actually.  And your computer doesn’t see any need to keep secrets from them.

Let me repeat that:  Your computer does not see any reason to keep secrets from any other computer. As stated in a previous post, every time your computer connects to another computer (which includes every time you visit a web site), they communicate with each other.  This means they tell each other about themselves.  And the first thing they tell each other is their respective IP (Internet Protocol) addresses.  IP addresses are uniquely identifiable and traceable.  That’s how some websites know where you are.  IP addresses are so individual and identifiable that it has been argued in court whether they are ‘Personally Identifiable Information’ (like your street address).  The communication between computers is also how some websites know what operating system you’re using and what browser you’re viewing their pages through.

This is why there is a general lack of anonymity on the internet (it can be achieved, but you have to really know what you’re doing).  Computers are intensely open and honest.  And please don’t confuse anonymity with privacy.  I’m sure you’ve heard of a ‘Right To Privacy’, but no one’s ever heard of a ‘Right To Anonymity’.  Think about that.

I have often compared the internet to America’s old west.  Like the old west, the internet is largely a lawless place.  There is some level of security, but it is easily broken.  There are gunslingers (of a sort) wandering about – some are good guys, some are bad guys – and you should choose whom you trust with extreme care.  The only real regulation in place is a form of social contract, but it is still in its infancy and is therefore quite fragile.

In other words:  There is no authority on the internet.

I cannot stress this point enough.  We are all used to living in a society that has some form of governing body with machinery in place to enforce their authority.  The internet has no government, nor does it have any police.  This means that it is up to us – individually – to protect ourselves.

Citizens of the United States of America have a certain amount of rights.  One of them is a right to privacy (at least, I think we do.  It may have been one of the rights erased by Bush/Cheney while most of America looked on and cheered).  This means that our privacy is protected within the bounds of the United States of America. Logically, this protection extends to anywhere the United States of America has jurisdiction, or at least enough political clout to throw some weight around.  And I’m here to tell you, boys and girls, that the internet is not such a place.  Your government (be it the U.S.A. or otherwise) has no enforceable authority here.  They cannot protect you – especially not from yourself.

I’ll put this as simply as I can:  Your rights – to privacy or otherwise – stop at your modem.

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