Left it on the printer…
and other stories of confidentiality and life in the public eye


I used to work with a friend that had to print everything. The best summary… she would do whatever she could to avoid reading something on a computer screen.

She claimed it was because she didn’t always have time to read everything while she was on a computer during work hours, and by printing it she could read things during dinner or even in the odd fifteen seconds of down time that might surprisingly arrive. I think there was more to it than that -- she didn’t like or trust computers to begin with as one thought to consider -- but… whatever… not the important part.

Instead -- if you sent her a message with your phone number asking her to call when she got a chance… printed.

If you sent her a note that suggested an agenda for an upcoming meeting and asked for her to review it and provide feedback… printed.

If you sent her information about a disciplinary matter… printed.

And so on. Until we get to the funny part of her story, which involves how she would often generate a stack of papers and then forget to pick them up from the printer.

See where this is going? In part, when you put something in writing you lose control over it.

The reality though is that we aren’t just talking about putting things in writing any longer. Quite honestly… more to today and the electronic age… is “Big Brother” watching you?


But in fact, to take one more step away, the real question isn’t whether or not you’re being watched. That’s one of those hiding in the back, secondary issues. Simply because the answer is, you are.

The real question -- or even more precisely, questions -- involve how often you’re being watched… what you’re doing while being watched… and whether or not you recognize that you’re being watched

My friend from the opening? I know she never considered the content of what she was printing and whether or not another person would collect the paperwork from the printer. Her intentions were pure. And yes, on more than one occasion, the wrong set of eyes landed on material they should not have seen.

For us to continue along our efforts here though, let’s take something as wonderful as a cell phone. Consider…

Number one – Do you have your cell phone on? Then chances are very good that somewhere there is a record being made of where that phone is… and, by default, also likely is where you are with it.

Now… no… not what numbers you call, how long you talked, or such trivial matters. (Though sure, all of that is there to be tracked.) What I’m talking about is physically where you are.

Put your phone into a plastic bag, wrap it in a hunk of meat, and somehow get an alligator to swallow the thing, and there’s a good chance you could track that alligator until your battery died. (Not that I am in any way advocating feeding alligators or testing the range and limits of your cell phone.)

Number two – You of course have heard about phones being hacked and materials being stolen, right? No need to fill you in on celebrities caught with their knickers in compromising locations, correct? (Simple enough with that one.)

And there are just two basic ideas. They know where you are… and they can access what you do… and you may never know who “they” are. Lovely.

Want more?


Max Schrems wanted to know how much information Facebook had about him. So about a year ago he requested information from a time frame of roughly three years. Turned out they had more than 1,200 pages on him. (If you wrote your autobiography, how many pages would it be? Ok… now… again… just the Facebook part of Max’s life consisted of well over one thousand pages, including some material he recalled deleting.)

I’ve seen this statistic provided… with roughly the same numbers… for a few different countries, and it turns out that the description of people being caught on closed-circuit cameras hundreds of times a day not only seems unrealistic, it likely is unrealistic and just urban-legend being told again and again. Still, get this one: “the real figure for the number of times the average person is likely to be ‘caught’ on CCTV in a day is less than 70.”

One more time… the real figure for the number of times the average person is likely to be ‘caught’ on CCTV in a day is less than 70.”

If you sleep for eight hours… and spend another six hours in your home… that means you are outside of your house for 10-hours each day. Yes? Good. According to that estimate of “less than 70” times, you will end up on camera about 7 times per hour.

If you would like to dispute those numbers, then check out the parking lot of the movie theater… the area around the ATM… the ceiling in your grocery store… and get back to me. The cameras are everywhere.

Information is being collected by your cell phone, the internet, cameras, and much more. And that’s just the surface of some very deep waters.

When e-mail first began taking off in the workplace, I recall very quickly realizing that once I clicked “send” on a message, there was little I could to do to stop it from being forwarded, or sent someplace else, or in any of many ways prevent it from being used with my control.

Click send… say goodbye.

And as Max Schrems will likely tell you… there’s more to it.

Recently articles began appearing about the brilliance of the Nigerian Prince e-mail scam. You remember that one… right? Ok…

The thrust of the essay was to point out that all those chest-thumping geniuses that saw through the con didn’t matter. At all. Because chances are they weren’t going to send money in the first place. (Duh.)

See… the was a real brilliance to the effort, and it was found in its stupidity.

If you were smart enough to see it, then you wouldn’t send anything. And, by not participating, you also likely wouldn’t raise any attention, ask any questions, or cause any problems later on.

For those not spotting it as a hoax, well they might just be dumb enough to send actual money. And then later, also be embarrassed enough to not want to admit it.

In other words… the stupidity of the approach weeds out people, leaving behind those we later see referred to as victims.

Now I’m not telling you any of this as some sort of amazing warning or earth-shattering revelation. Most of this you either knew already or could easily have figured out.

Instead… I brought you through that to bring you to this… a bit of advice.

Years ago… quite literally decades ago… I was reading an article about writing. And in between some very good, slightly off-center tips was this nugget. (I’m quoting from memory, so forgive me if it isn’t exact, and also forgive that I don’t recall the source.)

“Never put anything in writing that you wouldn’t put in a love letter.”

In this world of people leaving your words for anyone to see… of visual evidence of your every move… of histories of your every location… of people trying to take advantage of you… take a moment, and consider that again…

“Never put anything in writing that you wouldn’t put in a love letter.”

And I mean really think about that.

Hey… I’m a big supporter of the idea that writing a letter in anger that you never send is a great way of recovering from an emotional moment. Get it out and work it out.

I also worry about whether or not -- as I take my place in the window to observe the world -- is someone looking back through the window at me? (Take that as literally and figuratively as you need to.)

Do with that thought what you will.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com