Online Privacy: Be Afraid, Be Eternally Afraid!

St. Peter Checking in <a href=

St. Peter Checking in Steve Jobs at Gates of Heaven – Picture Courtesy of New Yorker Magazine

They say that Saint Peter keeps a record of every scrap of information about each of our lives in his Big Black Book.

They’re wrong; he dumped the book last year and replaced it with a tablet computer.

Because he has friends in high places, he has unrestricted access to every byte of information on the Internet and what he can’t find, he googles. (The heavenly Google has a helpful extra category called “badness,” searchable by degree, location and date.)

Heaven knows, electronic information is viral and spreads like a disease. Just like a disease, it causes damage, usually in proportion to how sensational it is.

A YouTube video of Britain’s queen planting a tree in Hyde Park might not spread very quickly. But, it would spread much faster, if she were shown climbing a tree in the park and like wildfire, if she were wearing a bikini.

The truth is we have little privacy online. Everything about us that ever existed – emails, photos, blog messages, tweets on Twitter, pages on Facebook and LinkedIn – exists in many forms and in many locations.

Deleting a Facebook account doesn’t erase our Facebook past if someone has copied some or all of what was there. This makes Saint Peter’s job a breeze and gives him more time for his true passion: the Country and Western songs of Garth Brooks.

When one of us eventually arrives at the Pearly Gates, the saint pours over his new toy with unconcealed glee, unconcerned that we’re perched unsteadily on a cloud awaiting our fate. (Speaking of clouds, he came up with the phrase “cloud computing.” It’s hardly inspired since he’s had little else to look at for thousands of years but clouds.)

As we wait, terrified of what he might discover, he swipes through the information on his touchscreen, searching for the slightest earthly infringement that might effect our eternal accommodation arrangements. Nobody’s exempt: if The Queen had climbed that tree provocatively clad, he’d find the video, royal prerogatives notwithstanding. He would not be happy and she would not be amused.

Some (mostly politicians and bankers) say he’s over zealous. He’s not sympathetic: “If you’re going to be bad,” he says, “don’t get caught, and certainly don’t post compromising photos of yourself online.” He even hinted recently that when computers are able to read thoughts, offenders who slipped through the gates in the past, could be recalled for a case review in the future. Ouch!

We find embarrassing information about others entertaining because we think we’ll never be targets. Yet, our vulnerability to the electronic equivalent of MRSA increases the older we become simply because the amount of online data related to us is growing every day.

Data never dies and somewhere Big Brothers are always watching. One of them is that old guy with the long white beard sitting on a cloud humming “I’ve got friends in low places” (he likes the irony), while he unfriends the latest batch of Facebook sinners on his golden tablet.

Be afraid, be eternally afraid!

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Omar Kattan is Chief Strategy Officer at Sandstorm Digital, the MENA region's first specialist content marketing agency headquartered in Dubai. His experience includes 10 years in traditional marketing and advertising in the Middle East and a further 10 years at two of the largest media agencies in the UK. Follow Omar on Twitter for updates on the latest in digital, branding, advertising and marketing.

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