Dirk Riehle's Industry and Research Publications

My Position on Privacy (Seven Things About Me)

Stormy Peters recently tagged me to post seven items about my life. This is a “viral” pyramid scheme; you are supposed to write these seven items and then tag seven other people to do the same. It is not the first time I got such a request; I also got tagged on Facebook to post 25 items about my life, and in general it is quite tempting to let your personal thoughts hang out on a blog like this.

I usually ignore such requests for reasons of privacy. Everything you do or say on the Internet can be used at some future point in time. The saying “on the Internet, nobody knows you are a dog” is completely wrong; on the Internet anyone with enough resources cannot only know you are a dog but can also know everything about you down to hereditary diseases—even things you may not know yourself. Or, as Scott McNealy is famous for saying: “You have no privacy. Get over it.”

Here then seven things about my take at privacy in the Internet age:

  1. The only way to have some privacy is to decouple your private from your professional Internet life; this is not a soft border, it is a hard border;
  2. Still, it is impossible to not to be on the Internet; the opportunity cost of being a luddite is much higher than the safety of withdrawal;
  3. I find it hard not to mix the professional and the personal on services like Twitter; thus, I need to learn to act in context and with clear goals;
  4. You need to pick your fights to not spread yourself too thin; this means, for example, that you won’t find me commenting on politics on this blog;
  5. It also means that I respect other people’s privacy; I don’t give out email addresses or tag people on Facebook or Flickr without permission;
  6. Mistakes will happen as we are learning each new social software service; paranoia and humor will help us survive, public policy must follow;
  7. I also think that this take on privacy is context-dependent; if I were a politician, I would have to revise some of this for public interest.

I believe that is is flattering to be tagged by Stormy but I also believe that pyramid schemes like this should come to an end so I won’t tag someone else.



  1. Michael Bartholomew Avatar

    Apologies I see your name is Dirk

  2. Michael Bartholomew Avatar

    Hi there,
    Did not catch your name. Interesting reading your comments on data that is stored on everyone.
    As you say : we have no privacy so get over it.
    I just think that I am able to express myself much as how I want to on the internet – having been a user for over 10 years now. I do not say (or write) things that I would not want “used in evidence ” against me. So I do not say or write what I do not believe, or would not be prepared to stand by at any future date.
    See you.

  3. Dirk Riehle Avatar

    Hi Stormy, and thanks for your thoughts. It is tricky, and my blog post reads harder to me than intended.
    I think there is a difference between personality and personal details. There is no successful blogger, I guess, who doesn’t have a personality that doesn’t shine through on the blog. I’m probably speaking more against mixing my private life with this professional blog.
    I think I get a good idea of your personality (who you are) without really needing to know anything about your private life. I hope the same can be said about me through this blog.
    Oh, and in the blog post above I meant to say “tag photos of people on Facebook” without their permission. The privacy link above goes to a great post about how to protect yourself on Facebook 🙂 I didn’t mind getting tagged by you, after all, it was still my choice to react to it.
    Hope to see you at Open Source World then!

  4. Stormy Avatar

    And I only tagged people I really wanted to know more about. 🙂

  5. Stormy Avatar

    I struggle with privacy and rights. I don’t think I am a “work person” and a “personal person”. It all makes me who I am. Perhaps I share a bit more than I would want some people knowing, but it’s necessary to allow lots of people I’d like to know to know me.
    Now what people are allowed to do with that info, that should be controlled.

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