CYBERSPACE—Daily Beast tech writer Tom Weber wrote an article the other day about surfing the internet with an expectation of privacy. It was a cautionary tale, of sorts, meant to drive home the point that only fools still have such an expectation. He titled the piece “The Porn Spies in Your Laptop,” and in it listed eight groups of people that have access to your surfing habits.
“Digital privacy is back in the spotlight, thanks partly to a flurry of reports revealing how marketers have stepped up efforts to track you online,” he wrote. “Yet there's one question that never quite seems to get answered—even though for some, it may be the most pressing privacy issue of all: Who knows when you're looking at porn online?”
Citing research that said 7 percent of all online searches are porn-related, he decided it would be fun to consult with security researchers “for a look at everyone who could conceivably get a glimpse into your—er, a hypothetical user's—private Web surfing. Our list follows the chain beginning with your own PC, out onto the Internet and all the way to the Web site at the other end.”
The list includes:
1. Your spouse (or roommate)
2. Your IT guy
3. Your neighbor
4. Your ISP
5. Ad networks
6. Content networks
8. The adult site itself
Weber ends his piece with the reminder/warning, “The myth of Internet anonymity is largely just that,” and in fact he makes some very valid points about who may be looking over your cyber shoulder.
But I am wondering why he focused on porn viewing and not, say, Nazi reenactment websites, or websites that help people with bedwetting issues. How about Tea Party websites; does anyone really want strangers snooping into one’s political opinions? How about visits to the Daily Beast? If you live in some parts of Utah, that might be a criminal offense, not to mention embarrassing. Or, conversely, a resident of Berkeley visiting Christine O’Donnell’s website; if that ain’t against the law, it should be.
I could go on and on, coming up with a thousand sites, besides porn sites, that I wouldn’t want it generally known I am visiting. So why the focus on porn?
I can make the usual inference: Porn is an awesome traffic generator for wannabe-hip websites like the Daily Beast and the Huffington Post—themselves in a deadly battle for bragging rights to the mantle of innovative new-media leader of the century (wink, wink)—which drives increasingly creative (i.e. painful) ways to insert the keyword ‘porn’ into a headline.
I admit that it’s somewhat of a cliché to tar and feather a media outlet with that reason for slumming with porn. But I just can’t come up with any other reason, even though I’m sure that porn was also the first sort of guilty pleasure that occurred to Weber when he was casting about for a hook on which to hang his cautionary tale. Which came first, the porn angle or the privacy angle? Only his editor knows for sure.
I just believe it should be noted that for increasing numbers of people, looking at porn is no longer the shameful act it once was, and that assuming so will only reflect poorly upon the person making that assumption. The fact is most people don’t give a shit, unless they happen to be administering the security protocols at the Pentagon, in which case forget everything I said. The porn alert should be raised to red.