I heart privacy advocates. I love consumerism. But for the sake of all you hold holy, please understand that everything about you is visible online in some way, shape or form. You don’t have to like that fact, but you better understand it. A couple of quick examples:
I found a 120 year old family scandal. If Bill, Ted and George Carlin ever arrive with their time machine, I’m going to go visit my great-grandfather and laugh with him when he tells me about how he “rescued” his first wife (name still unknown). Someone recently wrote me about Internet-enabled kiosks. There was an ancient press release. A dear college friend recently passed away. As part of an online tribute, I posted a photo of a group of us on Facebook. I’m not one for automatically tagging folks in photos, but I could have easily done so there, just as I could have posted a photo of a friend 30 years ago wearing a tank top and gym shorts. He is now a priest.
None of these things are bad. I chose the most innocuous examples I could think of to share a lesson. It’s all out there. But now some doctors who look at this information the same way you may idly search for someone before returning their call are worried that patient-physician mores are being offended. An article in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry actually creates a term for this behavior: “Patient-Targeted Googling”.
The trio who wrote the piece then go so far as to assign the acronym PTG to a perfectly ordinary behavior. The article urges psychiatrists to be mindful of their motivations for using a search to research a patient because I guess curiosity isn’t considered ethical. This is where privacy expectations go too far. If it’s online, expect that your doctor, lover, mother, brother and bartender have all at least looked at the information. If you dial a telephone number, don’t believe that the ringing phone doesn’t mean the recording hasn’t already begun. And don’t you dare think that anything, including cell calls, VOIP calls, Skype, GPS data television viewing habits aren’t easily tracked straight to you.
Psychiatrists may have ethical issues with specifically searching out an individual’s information, but you should know the information is there and readily available to the world. That should chill your bones at some level. If you want to read more about online privacy, one of the best places to start is the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Today, they’re talking about text message privacy, which is to be expected, but how about tracking electric and gas utility usage at home? That’s a privacy risk, says the EFF. Don’t tell the psychiatrists. They’ll have to invent another behavior to go with PTG.