social media

Is Privacy Worth Worrying About?

This morning I had to add my debit card number into Facebook Messenger in order to receive some money someone sent me.

And just for a minute I thought, “Do I really want to give my debit card number to Facebook? I mean they just had yet another data breach of nearly 267,000,000 American users personal data?”

No, I don’t want to do that. Facebook has proven over and over again that they can’t be trusted with personal information.

Christian Living

If Your Phone Could Talk

We used to say you could tell a person’s priorities by looking at his checkbook. I’d submit to you that today you can tell a person’s priorities by how he uses his phone.

If your phone could talk… what would it say about you?

  • Who is he talking to?
  • Who is he texting?
  • How is he talking about people?
  • How does he talk about people via text?
  • What is he looking at when no one else is looking?
  • When is he using his phone?
  • Does his phone fill his hand more than the hand of the one he loves?

Here’s what I know about technology. One day your phone will tell on you. One day everything you’ve posted on Facebook may become public. One day everything you’ve ever Googled may be public. E-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

One day… it will all tell the whole story of you. Every key stroke on that device could one day be exposed. Every text message, direct message, email, and Facebook message could one day become public.

I believe your smart phone is amoral. It’s can be used for noble or ignoble purposes. My hope is that as I use my phone,  (and technology like it) I use them as instruments of Good News in how I conduct my personal, family, and business affairs.

The story your phone tells is up to you.

news item

TSA Resistance

Do you really want to be seen like this?

Sometimes I embarrass my wife. And on our July trip to Haiti I offered her one very embarrassing moment when I refused to go through the new backscatter TSA screening machines while opting for a manual pat down instead.

The TSA made the process of opting-out a hassle. While there were plenty of officers on duty they managed to make me wait for about 10 minutes while they played their keystone cop routine.

Call me a jerk all you want. But I don’t like that the government wants to take pictures of its people naked for the sake of “security.” The media has shown over and over again that all of this extra screening doesn’t stop people from smuggling weapons aboard a plane. It’s really just for passengers to feel safe while traveling and little else.

Back at the Ft. Lauderdale airport. I had completely dug in on my decision.

Kristen quickly went through the line, got her nudey pic taken, put her shoes back on, and glared at me in the way only a wife could.

Finally, an older TSA agent had me go through the metal detector and directed me to the screening area. He explained that he was going to pat me down and that he intended to touch my private parts with the back of his hands.

Obviously, I’m not dangerous and they didn’t find anything.

As the officer took his gloves off he looked in my eyes and asked asked me why I had opted out. My reply, “When it comes to governmental invasions of privacy, I prefer personal over digital.

That moment revealed the heart of the matter. If the TSA agents had to look hundreds of thousands of passengers in the eyes and manually search them– we’d actually be safer.

Dehumanizing the screening procedure is not how you make airline flight safer. Humanizing it is.

I’m not alone in this desire to resist the new scanners

The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg shares his desire to resist as well as documents the new procedure to feel up your thigh until they feel “resistance.” (Obviously, women lack resistance.)

“But what about people who hide weapons in their cavities? I asked. I actually said “vagina” again, just to see him blush. “We’re just not going there,” he reiterated.

I asked him if he was looking forward to conducting the full-on pat-downs. “Nobody’s going to do it,” he said, “once they find out that we’re going to do.”

In other words, people, when faced with a choice, will inevitably choose the $%*#-Measuring Device over molestation? “That’s what we’re hoping for. We’re trying to get everyone into the machine.” He called over a colleague. “Tell him what you call the back-scatter,” he said. “The $%*#-Measuring Device,” I said. “That’s the truth,” the other officer responded.

The pat-down at BWI was fairly vigorous, by the usual tame standards of the TSA, but it was nothing like the one I received the next day at T.F. Green in Providence. Apparently, I was the very first passenger to ask to opt-out of back-scatter imaging. Several TSA officers heard me choose the pat-down, and they reacted in a way meant to make the ordinary passenger feel very badly about his decision. One officer said to a colleague who was obviously going to be assigned to me, “Get new gloves, man, you’re going to need them where you’re going.”

Here is another story of a pilot who refused the pat down and was suspended from his job. Ridiculous.

So– it’s come to this. If you want to fly you are left with an awful choice. Do you want someone looking at you naked or someone touching your genitals? We aren’t talking about a doctor here… we’re talking about a TSA agent. A person hired by the Department of Homeland Security for just above minimum wage with no qualifications. Seriously, TSA screeners either have to have a high school diploma or GED or one years experience working security.

Call me crazy. But I think if enough people opt-out we can force the issue and make the government remove these devices.

Call me a conspiracy theorist: But I would like to know how much American Science & Engineering, Inc gave to their members of congress and senators to lobby for selling these machines. (They are $170,000 each!)


The internet & privacy

Photo by Will Lion via Flickr (creative commons)

Lately there has been a lot of angst about internet privacy. This came to a head when Facebook changed some privacy settings which angered some users who believed that they had a right to privacy with stuff they shared on the site. Some folks ever started a movement called over it.

As a person who does internet development, a long time blogger, and someone who “gets the internet,” I just wanted to give you a reality check.

You don’t have privacy, anywhere. If you think you do– you have never read those little contracts you sign, user agreements that you click “yes” to in order to use sites or software, nor read a single privacy policy on nearly every commercial website on the planet.

I don’t want to scare you, but here is a snapshot of the data “we the internet people” collect from you every single day. We don’t do much with this… but we collect this information:

  • Every time you Google something, Google logs that. They know what you search, what you clicked on– Google is, by far, the largest repository of user data anywhere.
  • Every time you make a phone call, your cell phone company knows who you called, where you called from, and how long you talked.
  • If you have a GPS enabled smart phone, your cell phone company knows your exact location any time its turned on whether you are actively using it or not.
  • Your IP and MAC addresses are logged by every website you’ve ever visited. The sites servers know how many times you’ve been there, how long you stayed, and what you looked at. Even free Google Analytics tools can show any website owner this information.
  • Everything you post on Twitter or Facebook (or WordPress or Blogger) belongs to them, not you. Since it is their property they can do whatever they want with it. Every message, every picture, everything you like, everything you direct message.
  • Any time you purchase something from an online retailer, they collect even more information. They know that other stuff about your browsing history, plus they know what you buy, how often you buy, your shipping and billing address, what category of stuff you like to look at, on and on. The only part of the transaction that they can’t really do anything with is your credit card number.
  • If you store documents online, an administrator could access that information, if they wanted or needed to.

If you don’t see https: (the “s” means that the area of the site is certified as secure by someone like VeriSign. Of course, certified and verified as such are two different things.) in the address bar, you shouldn’t have any perception of privacy.

Whatever you do online is somehow public

What is interesting to me about the privacy concerns is that the stuff that people are worried about– is typically happening in real life! Don’t want future employers to see you dancing on a table while intoxicated? Sheesh, don’t blame Facebook for that, blame your drunk self! Don’t want one group of people to know something about you? Don’t talk about it on Twitter!

The irony of the privacy concerns is that people have willingly agreed to the terms of service and have willingly posted content to websites that they now don’t want put in the public.

It makes me gigle. No one ever told you this was private, you just thought it was.

There is no such thing as “internet privacy.

It’s about ethics

As a web developer, you need to know how much value that 99% of website owners put on this data. If a sites privacy policy says they won’t share that information– 99% of organizations won’t. Their reputation is on the line. And there are plenty of watchdogs and lawyers all to happy to create legal grief for those who violate their privacy policies.

Companies may (and most do) use it for their own purposes as outlined in the privacy policy. The funny part is that collecting and learning from this information makes you love most sites instead of loathe them. Most people like it that iTunes or “gets to know their preferences” and make recommendations to you. Statistics show you are much more likely to click on, and buy from, advertisers who target their ads to your preferences. If you are called to appear in court, you’d be happy to know that your cell phone can provide an alibi.

The opposite of compartmentalism

When I was a high school student, youth pastors preached about the ills of compartmentalism all the time. The irony is that todays privacy-free society has those same people crying for just a little compartmentalization!

Fair Warning

My recommendation is not to flee. It’s to live an honest and transparent life. If you live in a way where you have nothing to hide than your level of privacy is rather innocuous.

But the opposite is also true, as well. If you are going places you ought not go or doing things you know are naughty… you are just building up the evidence against yourself. Somewhere someone already knows. And everything you are doing leaves a breadcrumb to your future embarrassment.

Church Leadership Weblogs

How to respond to critics of your ministry?

So you’re minding your own business and doing your thing. Then the phone rings and a friend calls saying something like this, “Did you know that someone in the church wrote about you on their blog? They didn’t say nice things! What are you going to do about it?

I can understand. For one thing, I’ve been contacted by my fair share of people who aren’t happy about something I posted here on my blog. I’ve even been contacted by the concerned party who was just worried that I might blog about something. On the other hand I’ve seen my fair share of criticism. I’ve been blasted many times on blogs, facebook, myspace, forums, and of course the old fashioned way… church gossip.

So… what’s Adam’s strategy for dealing with public criticism? I’ll let you in on my secrets. But just keep these secrets between us, OK? I wouldn’t want any f my critics to know how I will respond.

Secret #1 I see everything. Thanks to the wonder of the internet I am typically alerted automatically within an hour of something posted about me, my family, or things I care about. That means I am almost never surprised by a phone call like I mentioned above. Almost always I’ve already read the critique and decided what I’m going to do! There are both paid and free options for doing this… unless you’re Joel Olsteen the free options should do the trick.

Secret #2 I ignore almost everything. That’s right. Even the worst criticisms are worth ignoring. Let’s say someone didn’t like what I said in church and they blog about it. Is that swipe really hurting me? Not really. I don’t perpetrate myself as perfect. And I’m big enough to take a couple of shots. I’m also not concerned about “online reputations” too much. If I ran around with a chip on my shoulder about every negative thing being said about me, my people, or my work… I’d end up looking pretty stupid wouldn’t I? Here’s the dirty secret of criticism online: A link is a link. Google could care less if it’s a positive link or a negative link to your blog. All links help your online reputation.

Secret #3 When a lie resonates, invite a discussion. In my life, about 1:100 criticisms do get responded to because that same lie or critique is starting to pop up on other blogs, discussions, articles, or other places. In other words… if I ignore a criticism 99% of the time it will go away quickly. That’s really the beauty of the internet! There are so many blogs out there that 99% of posts really aren’t remarkable. People read blog entries so fast that chances are no one even noticed the critique. But that 1% of bad things said will get picked up by other bloggers. When that happens I need to think about a response strategy. When I do respond my first step is always to invite a person saying something publicly to contact me privately. I give them my name, the link to the critique, my phone number, and personal email address. If that blog has an email I send them a message there. If not, I leave a comment inviting them to discuss the criticism privately. Some disagree with that, but I prefer to discuss a criticism privately.

Secret #4 I vent about it, privately. I don’t care how important you are… getting slammed hurts. Even the trivial “who, said what? hahahaha!” ones hurt a little. As a pastor you put everything you’ve got into your ministry so any critique seems intensely personal. I fight my self-righteous attitude to say something here on my blog or to call and demand a person take it back. Further, most pastors don’t realize that they are in the public eye… you may be the most famous person most people in your church know! Here’s the trick. You need some outlets for that anger… and the people around me know full well what this is like. I will read something, make a “huh” little laugh and then talk to one of the people close to me about it. Try it, it helps. that way if I end up responding it is never out of anger.

Secret #5 Truth always wins. The fact of the matter is that you will do some dumb things. I know I’ve said, written, and done some incredibly idiotic things. If you only ever do safe things you will never be criticized. But the good news is that if you’re a good guy, you’ll always be a good guy. You can’t please everyone and it’s not worth trying.

Secret #6 There is an ounce of truth in every criticism. That’s why I read them all. WIth an understanding that all criticisms have something to teach me, I think I’m getting a little bit smarter!