On the Internet, Everyone Knows You’re a Dog

computer dogIn 1993, the New Yorker famously published a cartoon captioned “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” The internet was where you lived your anonymous second life. How times have changed.

The excellent Doc Searls mocked the way sites treat your privacy by imagining it in the real world:

“The [privacy] policy tells you that, if you fill out this guy’s form, he will plant on your person a tracking device that will report your movements back to him. Collected data might include the type of car you drive, the routes you take, the names and addresses of the places you visit, and the times and dates for all this activity …At the bottom of the form, under a heading titled “Your Consent”, it says “In dealing with me, you consent to the terms of my Privacy Policy, my Terms and Conditions, and my processing of Personal Information for the purposes given above. If you do not agree to this Privacy Policy, please stop talking to me. If you continue talking to me, I reserve the right, at my discretion, to change, modify, add, or remove portions from this Privacy Policy at any time. Your continued conversation with me, after I put a new form like this in my back pocket, means means you accept these changes”.

“This is your ‘Privacy Policy’”? you say.


“And your ‘Terms and Conditions’ are something else? ” …

— from Where Markets are Not Conversations, Doc Searls

And then Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that they were changing their privacy policies since privacy was “no longer a social norm.”

Naturally, there’s a lot of discomfort here. I keep flashing back to blockbuster movies with Will Smith and Shia Labeouf where the big bad military types get control of all of our information and use it to tyrannize the innocent. I understand the fear. But ultimately I think Zuckerberg’s point is very relevant and mostly good.

I’m reminded of the scene in Dharma & Greg where Larry is horrified that Dharma got a Social Security card. “Now you’re on the grid!” he says ominously.

I think this is progress. A generation ago people chose untraceable usernames and lived a second life online. Today we use our real names as Twitter handles and Facebook Connect into social applications. Our online presence is part of our total presence. Online man is born anonymous but surrenders his anonymity to society so that we can interact responsibly and with accountability as our true selves. We shed some of the lies and barriers and interact with greater openness than in the past.

This isn’t just an online thing. My parents and grandparents had many family secrets. Intimacies, squabbles, diseases, and struggles were covered up lest family members be shunned from future work or social relationships. People changed their names to hide their religious and ethnic identities.

People today are generally far more open and less prejudiced than they were years ago. As a result there are far fewer people living in their various closets. Billy Joel’s The Stranger keeps declining in relevance. We come closer to interacting publicly as our true selves.

This is not to argue the important details of privacy policies. But the general social shift that Zuckerberg notes is IMO a generally wonderful thing. May we continue to increase society’s openness online & off, and may it be a reflection of increased appreciation and respect for authenticity, individuality, and responsibility.

What do you think?

Image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/cogdog/ / CC BY 2.0