Your Internet Presence – Part 9: Big Brother


Unlike in George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984, Big Brother of 2012 tends to incorporate itself into the fabric of our everyday lives, making us comfortable with wearing it and, like a well-worn pair of shoes that fit us so well, we take its presence for granted and often aren’t consciously aware of it.  But, like the omnicient overseer of the science-fiction narrative, our modern-day Big Brother is enigmatic and constantly present in our lives through our presence on the Internet.

By now, most people are aware that they must be on the alert for scams, viruses and bugs that can steal their identities, compromise their financial security and crash their hard drives; but, too many play fast and loose with their private conversations and remarks that can cost them their reputations, which can be an even greater loss.

Facebook Folly

Most people are also aware that some interviewers have been requesting Facebook passwords, and know the importance of using common sense and caution in what you post online.  Despite this, the headline in a recent article regarding a Consumer Reports investigation reports, “13 Million U.S. Facebook Users Don’t Use Privacy Controls, Risk Sharing Updates Beyond Their “Friends.”    In addition,28 percent of those surveyed said they shared all, or almost all, of their wall posts with an audience beyond their friends!

Ah, you say, but I’ve applied all my privacy settings.  That’s great; but according to the report even your Facebook friends can pass on your information to others without your permission or knowledge.

Even more disturbing, apparently every time you visit a site with a Facebook “like” button, whether or not you click the button or are even a subscriber, Facebook will receive a report of your visit.

The bottom line is that it is alarming that not only can employers, colleges and universities as well as corporations and retail stores get hold of your personal information, but also that large technology companies such as Facebook, Google, Yahoo and others have huge stores of information on more than a billion subscribers worldwide.

To read the follow-up Consumer Reports article published in June on this topic, click here.

This is one of kind of Big Brother of which you need to be aware.

Email Errors

With email, every time you send one you are taking the risk that someone who should not see your words will see them.  And, that goes triple when you send emails from your workplace computer.  Keep in mind that your employer has the right to monitor and review all emails that are sent through the company’s email system to ensure that employees are not misusing company hardware and software, performing illegal acts or conducting themselves in a manner that would misrepresent the company or cause it reputational loss.

Therefore, guarantee that your work-related emails are professional in grammar and tone and are politically savvy.

Conversely, you should have your lunch hour or break time to address personal business.  Some companies, however, restrict personal email accounts from employee access; in that case you should use your own smartphone, iPad or laptop to conduct personal business during this approved timeframe.  And, if you are allowed to use your own email account on your company desktop or laptop, remember that your transactions will be sent to a company server and/or be stored on the hard drive of the company equipment, and are viewable by company administrators.

There may be a legal question with regard to your Constitutional right to privacy; however, that is decided on a legal case by case situation.  In any event, court cases can be costly, time consuming and result in a decision for the employer; and, regardless of the outcome your reputation could suffer.  You should stand up for your rights, but you should also always weigh the cost-benefit factors.

It’s always best to avoid problems in the first place.  Check your company’s policy on personal email and take a cooperative, not combative, stance with your employer.  Because this Big Brother pays your salary.

Website Woes

The same is true with visiting websites during office hours; it’s wise to avoid questionable sites or too many visits to any particular site on company equipment and time.  Employees have been disciplined and even let go for visiting sites that have nothing to do with conducting company business, especially sites that specialize in pornography or illegal activities.  During your personal time (lunch, breaks, after work hours), if it’s allowed by your employer, you may visit sites on which you need to complete some business, such as apply for a license, purchase merchandise, check out some information, update your movie subscription queue, etc., but don’t dwell too long.

Device Don’ts

Your precious smartphone has the power to trip you up more than any other Internet access tool – if you let it.

It can disrupt meetings, friendships, family gatherings, dates, movies, the theatre, conversations and generally make it’s owner appear like a dolt.  It  can cause you to crash your car, or get hit by one crossing the street.  It can get you into a whole swimming pool of hot water.  It can ruin your reputation and cause you a world of hurt.  And, it’s all unnecessary and avoidable because you control the little sucker and keep it out of Big Brother’s sights.

So, here’s what you don’t do with your personal devices – that smartphone, iPad or laptop:

  • Use them for purposes that are not relevant to your current situation, including visiting with family, friends and others; in theatres; at meetings or the dining table; talking on public conveyences.  Focus on people, not your device, and don’t disturb others around you by talking or clicking loudly on your device.  Connect with humanity, not machines, and find a balance.
  • Take inappropriate photos or videos and send them into cyber space.  Whether they are of you or someone else, they could cause great damage to your reputation and those of others.  Such as act could open one to criminal prosecution and/or civil actions; but at the very least it is a thoughtless act that, even if unintended, can be cruel, destructive and unethical act.  And, as we have seen from many news reports, what might seem to be a funny joke can result in tragedy.
  • Store private or incriminating data and photos.  Devices are lost, stolen and misplaced everyday.  You don’t want them falling into the wrong hands and revealing or exploiting your personal data.
  • Fail to password protect your device, for the reasons cited above.  At the very least, you don’t want all your contacts’s names and numbers to be made public or misused.
  • Lend it to anyone.  Your smartphone is an expensive and very personal item.  Except to hand it to someone to make a quick call, keep it to yourself and keep it – and your data – safe.


Until next time,


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