Now I’m no Josh Duggar fan, and I’m not too keen on Sam Rader, the YouTube dad who siphoned his wife’s urine for a pregnancy test, either, but I do believe that every person deserves the modicum privacy they’re supposed to be entitled to online, regardless of where their behavior may fall on my personal moral compass. I generally embrace the notion that if you don’t want something to go viral, you shouldn’t do/type/sign up for it, but do we really want to live our Internet lives as though hackers might always be watching?
If that were the case, we’d never make another online purchase we were too embarrassed to make at a brick and mortar store. We’d never find the answer to another health question we were too nervous to ask our doctor. We’d never discover new communities. There’s a lot of shady and downright awful stuff available on the Web (e.g. ignorant diatribes on Facebook and zit popping videos), but Internet privacy is something we should all be entitled to (unless you’re up to something illegal, of course), whether we’re ordering a blow-up doll or signing up for a recipe newsletter.
So in the spirit of disclosure—because we’re apparently becoming a society that thinks it’s totally fine to leak each other’s business if we’re doing something icky, embarrassing, or sexual—here’s my own list of blackmail-worthy things I’ve done on the Internet.
1. My Many Neopets Accounts
If you grew up in the 1990s/2000s, you probably had Neopets accounts, and you spent entire Saturday afternoons at the Neopian pound looking for rare Neopets. You probably played endless games of Cheat schooling that smug penguin Brucey B and trying to have enough neopoints to buy a faerie paintbrush for your beloved Lupe, who’s appetite is currently sated thanks to a visit to the soup kitchen. Even though it was against the rules, I had multiple Neopets accounts, and… I even disowned a Neopet or two in my day, despite this emotionally conflicting scene at the pound:
Please let this remain a secret; I’m still living with the shame.
2. The Google Searches That Will Result In My Immediate Arrest If I’m Ever Suspected Of A Crime
Do you ever watch those true crime television shows and some technology expert reports, “When we looked at his hard drive, we noticed he had a lot of disturbing search engine queries. Making bombs out of pineapples. Lot of stuff about Columbine. More celebrity plastic surgery before and afters that I even knew existed on the Internet. Once we saw that, we knew we had our man,” and you realize how much trouble you’d be in if anyone ever checked your Google history? Because I have. Almost daily.
If anyone looked at my Google history, they would probably think I’m a soon-to-be serial killer who really likes knowing the correct lyrics to songs and is obsessed with Thesaurus.com and words that start with specific letters and knows nothing about obscure grammar rules despite having an English degree. Google is where I go to really be myself and find the answers to all my questions about life, death, and Kylie Jenner. If anyone leaks my meta data, I’m going to have some ‘splaining to do to an authority with a lot more power than Ricky Ricardo.
3. Mortifying Weblogs From High School
When you publish your thoughts online, it stands to reason that anywhere from 30 to 60% of it will come back to haunt you. This very article could be an embarrassment in a year’s time. This might be hard to believe, but there was a time in my life when I not only shopped at Aeropostale, but I thought that my friends and the entire Internet community wanted to read the humdrum details of my entire school day, from the weird look Melissa gave me in homeroom to the search for my missing milk card that took place just before lunch. I was still ROFLing and TTYLing, and I would’ve probably shot any capital letters or punctuation on sight. Hackers, please don’t go looking for my weblogs about playing volleyball in gym class.
4. My Secret Pinterest Boards
I have a few public Pinterest boards that I curate for general consumption, but I also have a collection of secret boards whose existence I would deny under oath. My secret Pinterest boards are my digital Dorian Gray painting: They reflect the shocking truth of how vapid and materialistic I am on the inside. If anyone were to release the details of my secret Pinterest boards, I would face considerable ridicule from everyone who knows how outwardly dismissive I am of clever crafts and ornate weddings.
5. The Ratio Of What’s In My Online Shopping Cart To What I Actually Purchase
If I was a rich girl (nanananananananananananananana), I would buy every last thing that goes into my shopping cart: the $70 sweater, the new eyeshadow palette I’d use once a month, even the boring-yet-beautiful duvet from Anthropologie (my Manic Pixie Dream Store). I relish having the privacy to virtually fill a shopping bag with pretty things I cannot (and often, do not want to be able to) afford, just to keep them all together, safe and sound. As if one day I’ll come into exorbitant wealth and finally be able to click “Continue to Checkout,” opt for the obscenely-priced next business day shipping, and watch all my consumerist dreams come true. But until that day comes, I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that my activity doesn’t offend any computer-savvy troublemakers willing to make my public my private online proclivities just because they can.
My examples (which are far from exhaustive, by the way, have to save some goodies for those hackers) are flippant and silly compared with the prospect of personal information getting out there that could end a marriage, result in suicide, or ruin a career, but I think it’s important to recognize that all of us have probably liked, shared, watched, emailed, registered for, bought, or searched for something online that we’re earnestly thankful no one knows about. In a perfect world, no one would use the Internet to facilitate dishonest behavior, but falling short of that utopia in any context (except criminal, duh) doesn’t endow us with the right to publicly shame those whose activities inspire our disapproval.
It’s easy to profess, “Well, that’s the Internet for ya, what d’ya expect?” when we can watch the fallout of these scandals from within the safety of our glass houses, with the same grotesque intrigue as when we slow down to see if anyone survived that nasty car accident on the other side of the highway, but what if something were to involve us? Our spouse? Our friend? Anyone who isn’t so far removed from us that we only consider them “data”? It’s a complex issue, determining the parameters of if and when we “deserve” to know private information that was made public through a leak, but tarring and feathering strangers contained in some data dump is a slippery slope that feels a lot less steep when you happen to be on the moral high ground.
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