A Secret Is No Longer A Secret Once You Tell The Internet

Sure the headline of this post is just common sense, but I feel like we all need a reminder this holiday season, especially as all the salacious photo evidence from the past couple of nights is just hitting Facebook.

For those of you that have been busy drunkenly accumulating that evidence and not reading tech news over the holidays, a couple of things happened this past week that make this reminder especially pressing. In an amazing confluence of events over the break, Mark Zuckerberg’s sister Randi posted a photo of her famous family trying out the Poke app to her “Friends” on Facebook. Then she tagged her sister Arielle in it.

Not knowing or perhaps forgetting that every time you tag a friend in a photo on Facebook, that person’s friends can also see said photo, Randi was shocked, on Twitter, to find out that one of Arielle’s friends had subsequently screencapped the pic and tweeted it out to her over 40k followers.

IMG_7576The irony of this privacy “breach” obviously wasn’t lost on news-starved tech reporters, who jumped at the once in a lifetime chance to write a bunch of “Even Zuckerberg’s Sister Doesn’t Understand Facebook Privacy” headlines.

While clickbait headlines are clickbait headlines, the more subtle irony in the narrative lay in the fact that the photo in question showed the Zuckerbergs reacting to Facebook Poke, a new Facebook App specifically created for Messages with expiration dates on their content. An app designed to do the opposite of what happened to Randi.

If you take a long and somewhat anthropological view, Facebook Poke, and Snapchat, the app it’s modeled after, have arisen out of a necessity for data impermanence in a world where one slip of the thumb (not putting the “d” when direct messaging on Twitter, for example) can ruin entire political careers. What happens on Facebook can hit Twitter and stay on Google, and this rule especially holds for public and even marginally public figures like Zuckerberg.

Like Zuckerberg, both Snapchat and Poke suffered their own mini privacy scandals last week, as Buzzfeed discovered that videos sent to users via Snapchat or Poke could be recovered by using an iOS file browser.

The idea of this being a privacy “scandal” strikes me as somewhat ridiculous. Users sent someone a video, and then were surprised/shocked that the service actually stored that data somewhere accessible?

“When the ‘app’ says that they ‘won’t have it’ after a ‘user-defined time limit’ then ‘yeah I’m surprised'” Gizmodo writer Sam Biddle responded to my ribbing.

Trolling aside, the thing about walls closed by arbitrary controls like “Privacy Settings” and “Self-Destructing Messages” is that they lull you into a false sense of security.


“I understood exactly how the privacy settings work,” Randi Zuckerberg posted on her Facebook wall, in response to a comment by Michael Arrington about the brouhaha. “I just (foolishly) trusted that anyone who was FB friends with my family would have the decency not to screenshot an image and post it to Twitter.”

The success of more and more consumer Internet startups will hinge on this: for all intents and purposes, we have a false sense of privacy moving forward, and it might be wise to revise the old dictum, “Two people can keep a secret if one on them is dead.”

Even Path, which prides itself on keeping its network under Dunbar’s Number, has its share of trust “breaches.” I can’t tell you how often I hear real life gossip about something posted on Path, even though I am not Path friends with any of the people being gossiped about.

“There is a part of me that just assumes everything will go public regardless,” Randi told Arrington in the same apparently private/”Friends-only” Facebook conversation, which, to even further my point, was screenshotted and sent to me, who wouldn’t have access to it otherwise.

A secret is no longer a secret once you tell the Internet.

“When you find a way to let someone view content and not make copies, sell it to the MPAA for big money,” notorious Internet persona Andrew Auernheimer quipped about the SnapChat/Facebook Poke video leak.

Auernheimer is right, it’s logically impossible to grant someone access to data and prevent them from copying and transforming it. Perhaps we should focus on creating a giant delete/unsend button for the entire Internet instead? Now that the Internet is old, maybe it should start suffering from Alzheimer’s?

For a society reacting to the “terrifying permanence” of technology by increasingly using products that hinge on impermanence, Auernheimer’s words are haunting. In this day and age we are all just one screenshot away from embarrassment.

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Images via Val.pearl and Buzzfeed