Are you making an effort to address online privacy concerns?

“Big Brother is watching you.”— George Orwell, ‘1984’

For those of us of a certain vintage, the notion of someone surreptitiously watching our day-to-day activities was once the stuff of literary lore. Now, it’s almost a given, whether we like it or not.

I once worked with a crusty old conspiracy theorist who insisted a ‘secret government’ was watching our every move from eye-in-the-sky satellites. I could never get him to admit he was wary of microwave ovens because they featured secret mind-reading technology (“it knew I was hungry!!”) but I saw the wide berth he gave the one in the lunchroom.

There are security cameras everywhere. Most everyone seems to have a phone that can take pictures and shoot video. The world is watching.

Lately, we’ve been hearing a lot about data breaches. Here a breach, there a breach, every where a data breach… There seems to be regular admissions from various companies that people’s personal information has been compromised.

Most famously lately, the firm Cambridge Analytica has been accused of improperly using information from more than 50 million Facebook accounts. The company denied wrongdoing. Hidden cameras also captured company execs discussing how they helped influence the most recent U.S. presidential election.

“If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.”— George Orwell, ‘1984’

Now, the kids have moved on to Instagram, Snapchat and other forms of social media, leaving Facebook to us fossils. Have you ever been online, perhaps shopping for a particular item, and then have said item miraculously appear on your personal Facebook page? Is this something you worry about? Or do you just see it as the way of the world in 2018?

If you want to check out your own Facebook information file, it’s downloadable. Go in settings and you’ll find a link that says ‘Download a copy of your Facebook data.’ Follow those instructions and they’ll send it to you.

I’m not that interesting, so I didn’t find any shocking revelations, although it does seem to know an awful lot about me. There’s your routine personal info, plus ads you’ve clicked on, your photos, your messages, timeline history, when you ‘friended’ people and much more.

Privacy concerns aren’t new for the social media network.

From the Associated Press: Back in November of 2007, Facebook launched Beacon, which shared what users were doing on other websites with their Facebook friends. Many users found it intrusive and difficult to disable. Massachusetts resident Sean Lane bought his wife a diamond ring for Christmas on, but Facebook ruined the surprise, an incident leading to a class-action lawsuit.

In 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union warned people that Facebook’s default settings mean that when a friend used an app or took a quiz, the quiz- or app-maker could peer into your profile, even if you made it private. In 2010, The Wall Street Journal reported that many popular apps were transmitting personalized Facebook data to dozens of advertising and internet companies, among them, Zynga’s breakout game FarmVille. Each time, privacy upgrades were implemented/promised.

So what are your choices? Avoid the computer, have no phone and pay cash for everything? I’d love to know what you do, or if you even give it a second thought, to protect your online privacy.

Maybe via a personally delivered, handwritten letter, with no return address.

And keep an eye out for Big Brother.

» VIFD managing editor Philip Wolf can be reached at or on Twitter @philipwolf13.

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