Are you surprised by your lack of privacy?


I don’t understand why so many people are stunned that they have limited amounts of privacy. Makes no sense.

I’m not talking about areas where we should have privacy. And, I don’t think I’m talking about overall and well-founded expectations of privacy… though that, I believe, is a tricky path to navigate (and one I’m likely going to find myself on).

No. That’s not what causes my disbelief.

I’m talking about when people seemed to be filled with a sense of entitlement over their privacy. Situations where I think a fair amount of suspicion and care should be in order instead of blindly moving ahead.

I’ve worked at a couple of places where company e-mail addresses and cellphones have been issued to staff members in specific positions. Now… I know you won’t believe this, but…

Several employees—not an isolated one or two, but fairly high numbers—have been stunned over the years to learn that each company had records of text messages, phone calls, e-mails and so on. And, many of these employees expressed shock that the company that paid the phone bill actually wanted the employee to limit use of the company cell phone to company business. As a bonus, they were enraged that they might face disciplinary action for things such as booking vacations and surfing web sites during working hours.

And that faulty reasoning some people have from their first steps into stupidity twists into amazing scenarios…

There are employees that have used company cell phones and e-mail for conducting job searches. And not even a borderline defensible or potentially even understandable job search. Re-locating… company closing… just isn’t working out and everyone knows the time to move on has arrived job search. Nope. Stabbing the current employer in the back, beyond the hazy area and fully into an act of betrayal job search. I’ll tell you, it takes a special kind of stupidity to be sticking your tongue out at a business while running for the door, and on your resume listing company-provided details as contact information.

I know of a woman that was shocked when she received a written disciplinary notice for using her desk phone for personal calls and her work computer for sending personal e-mails. She told me both had happened, repeatedly. She even went shopping on the internet. Still, she didn’t think of the incidents were fair for disciplinary action since, as she explained it. she only did things like this during what she declared was personal time (for instance, before her shift officially started or coming back early from her lunch break). Thing is…

She had a bit of a habit of speaking too loudly when on the phone, which means that about a dozen of us working near her knew these phone calls took place throughout the workday. And yet, even if we wanted to ignore that and allow her the outside the workday hours or while on a break argument, I’m missing where there is a privacy defense applies on company issued equipment and services.

The stories can spin off into the creatively absurd. And I’m guessing you know they do, without my having to produce more.

My issue though comes from the why. Why do these people expect privacy in all sorts of circumstances where none is guaranteed?

Have you ever ordered anything out of a catalog? Let me guess, before the box with your order arrived, your mailbox was flooded by a tidal wave of catalogs from that company as well as companies you had never heard of before. Yes?

We are, at the foundation of all of this, collectively idiots. Waving our firsts in the air for the protection of confidentiality (while barely reading the first four words of any terms of service before mumbling “yeah yeah yeah” and clicking “agree”).

As a whole we put phone numbers and e-mail addresses in unprotected posts/areas of Facebook, while clicking “I accept” for Google and Microsoft and others faster than we could say the words. And yet…

We’re still surprised when they know what we’re doing, say after we use our search engine of choice and then for weeks the subjects of our search seem to be the driving force in sidebar advertisements.

There’s a concept that says that as a whole, and even as individuals, we’re often willing to sacrifice some of our personal protection for the sake of convenience. I think there’s a lot of truth in that. But it’s more…

There are cameras at the ATMs… cameras in the convenience stores… cameras in every cell phone… cameras cameras cameras all over. We’ve reached a point where we both know microphones and videos are there virtually from the moment we exit our house, and yet they’re so common we’ve just become accustomed to it and don’t care. Nothing builds on complacency like a combination of apathy and dulled senses.

Still, we’re surprised. Amazed when stories emerge about companies using the information for crafting ways to pitch products or frame news presentations or any of a number of other things.

The best thing I can tell you is to always believe the camera is on… always believe you’re being watched. It may not help in general, and it may not be true, but it will at least raise your awareness level a bit (and stop you from ordering shoes on company time).


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