The Internet an asset that can devour

ALBANY HERALD EDITORIAL: Don't leave a window open for Internet thieves

The idea of privacy is becoming more novel by the day.

Technology has changed life over the past few years. We no longer go visit friends and relatives or even talk on the phone. We text.

We no longer have “brag books” and photo albums of our kids and grandkids, or that last vacation. We “post” them on social media.

And God forbid that someone doesn’t know when we’re out of town. That must be posted as well.

We don’t buy things with cash. We swipe a debit or credit card, or electronically transfer funds online. While in the past many decried paper money that wasn’t backed by gold, there are electronic currencies now, such as Bitcoin, that aren’t even on paper.

And there’s no place to hide. If you’re not in sight of a surveillance camera on the sidewalk or in a store, chances are nearly everyone you run into has a cell phone with a still and video camera that can be whipped out and recording in the space of a heartbeat.

The changes have been so swift, in fact, that email has gotten a quaint feel to it in these days of instant messaging.

And instant seems to be as far as it goes. Nearly a half-century ago when color TV was still relatively young, pop artist Andy Warhol observed, “In the future everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes.” he overestimated the duration, which TV condensed into 30-second sound bites. Social media has compressed it further, with about six seconds the new standard.

But while we throw our personal information out to the Internet with reckless abandon, there are those intent on tracking it down and, if possible, making a buck off of it. Flesh and blood people have been metamorphosed into data.

And data is the new gold.

The unfortunate byproduct is that not everyone out to capture your data is trustworthy. A number of celebrities — nearly all women, form what we understand — discovered that when their online storage clouds were hacked. What the hackers found, downloaded and promptly started turning into money were pictures of those celebrities in various states of undress and compromising situations.

In a society that is obsessed with celebrities, that was a gold mine. And while authorities work to find the culprits, the photos are on the Internet, where nothing truly dies. At least one of the women whose account was hacked learned that difficult lesson. She had thought that the photos she and her husband had taken had been deleted.

And while this happened to well-known people, it can happen to anyone. There’s a constant unseen battle under way on the Internet between those who try to protect your information and those who want to steal it and profit from it.

But at the risk of sounding old school, there is a way to protect yourself. Be selective in what you put online, whether it’s a comment, a photo, a status update or even a “like.” While there should be a presumption of privacy, the record has shown that very often that’s a false confidence.

And when it comes to nude photos, are we, as a society, really so narcissistic that we feel compelled to take “selfies” in which we’re naked or having intimate relations? Is that something we really should be texting, emailing or messaging to a spouse or significant other? The fact, once it’s out there, you’re exposed — literally. There is no “unsend” button.

Rather than expressing outrage at a personal violation once it happens, take precautions with a known risk. Much like with a home or business, no security system is completely theft-proof. The Internet may seem friendly and docile, but it can be a wild beast at a moment’s notice. At the very minimum, be careful what you feed it.

The Albany Herald Editorial Board