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How Do Notions of Privacy Affect your #Writing and Life ?

Information for sale and PrivacyLike many others of my time, I spend a fair chunk of my real life online. I’ve been mulling about Privacy, abut our private and public selves. About who we are, who we project ourselves as, about how much of our privacy we cede away to the notions of convenience, entertainment, and security. Our governments spy on us, as do our smartphones, and corporate entities. Here are links to what Facebook and Google do to us and our information.

I’ve been aware of it for a while, because years ago, I spoke of divorcing Google. Haven’t done it, of course, merely deleted a few apps, and turned off access to my phone’s microphone, camera, and photo gallery. But besides the issues of these companies selling us and our data without our permission, there’ also another, more insidious issue, that this article discusses:

One of the great fights of the 21st century will be the fight for privacy and self-ownership, which is also, to my mind, the struggle for literature as distinct from the dark babble of social media. Writers thrive on privacy, not on Twitter, and so do readers when the lights are low. Giving your sentences thoughtlessly away, and for nothing, seems a small death to contemplation, and does harm to the profession of writing, where you’re paid because you’re good at it.

I try not to share too much of how I feel on social media, because writing fiction needs an inner momentum, and I sense that dissipating as I share. I need to be able to speak through my fiction, not just my social media platforms.

On this blog, I share sparingly about my private life, but this blog has been up for ten years now, and that can be mined for a fair amount of information and emotion. When we visit a blog over time, we tend to gain a sense of the blogger’s persona, and in some cases, their characters, lives. I blog as myself, but many bloggers and authors use pseudonyms, for a slew of reasons– and they are successfully able to fictionalize themselves.

We can be whoever we want to be, and share as much as we want with as many as we fancy, but that is not without its perils. From time to time, we addicts might just need a social media detox.

How has the internet affected your notions of privacy? Your reading and writing habits? Your idea of who you are? How do you interact on social media? Are you concerned that your information might be used without your permission? Has being on the internet affected your creativity?

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Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her literary crime thriller series, the Blue Mumbai, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency. Both The Blue Bar and The Blue Monsoon were published in 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • I agree, it is scary sometimes how a particularly internet-savvy person can dig up information about almost anyone nowadays, without even spending very much effort at it! Sharing is a double-edged sword.

  • psiberite says:

    Yes, in one sense we are sacrificing our privacy. But many writers remain anonymous. Some times one is ashamed of one writing. I deleted two blogs and I started all over again. Your article is so thought provocative.
    Anand Bose from Kerala

  • rezinate says:

    “End user agreements” tell the tale, the convoluted manner in which they are written seems to be designed to encourage people to forgo reading the particulars and just accept.
    I personally wouldn’t fb, tweet, or any of that – wordpress is the extent of my “social networking”.
    It’s been my belief that if entities like FB, Google, etc have assumed the role of pimps then there should be some sort of contractual agreement that allows the individual to opt in or out when it comes to the marketing of their personal information without access hanging in the balance.
    If an individual for all intents and purposes is sold then at a minimum they should receive a share of the profit – this of course amounting to heresy in a culture of unfettered corporate greed.
    Secondly I believe the internet should be a free public utility, that corporations and businesses who make a profit should be required to pay for the maintenance and operation.
    Internet service in this country is far from being among the fastest and most reliable, not even in the top ten globally for speed or privacy protections and yet among the costly.
    Another heretical thought is if your service is interrupted due to failures then the down time should be pro rated in your monthly bill.

  • kasturi says:

    I agree with you. We do need time to introspect and being logged into social media hardly gives us time to do that. Sometimes, I’ve been tempted to leave Facebook for good but I keep reading articles about how authors need to network in order to let their work travel far. It’s such a dilemma and I haven’t been able to chalk out an optimal solution, yet. 🙁

  • I think we have shown as a culture privacy isn’t a big deal, except as a talking point. We’re happy to post our entire lives to the internet but angry when someone else does. Maybe it’s about ‘permission’.

    Google’s ‘Right to be forgotten’ is interesting. One one hand, it sounds good; on the other, it sounds like changing history.

    Good question, Damyanti

  • Hailey Reede says:

    Thank you for this wonderful post. I love your inclusion of the Mark Zuckerberg quote, “Give everyone the power to share everything with everyone.” The ability to share is a great power indeed – and remains so as long as we neither feel compelled by outside forces to share, nor feel self-compelled to share.

  • jlennidorner says:

    This topic is a really big deal for me.
    I didn’t grow up like other people. So I’m constantly trying to be someone I’m not, yet trying to be myself, and it’s really strange. But I’m also from an area with a religious belief that photography can damage a soul. So there aren’t pictures of me. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to function in this society and not be photographed? The lengths I go to in order to protect myself… and no, I can’t prove it’s true. But the most photographed people in the world… I’m not seeing a lot of evidence that it isn’t true. And since science is still having issues proving there are souls, it has no chance yet of proving or disproving potential damage.
    Leave me alone in a forest, I’m fine.
    But I force myself to use all these social sites, because that’s what successful authors do now. It’s part of the job. The job I want. The job I make sacrifices and take risks to do the best I can at, because that’s what I want.

  • ccyager says:

    Excellent post. I recently started a new job, and I’ve been thinking a lot about my personal private life vs. my work life at the job. It is totally different from my work life as a writer. As a result, I’m thinking of deleting my LinkedIn account. I had taken steps several years ago to preserve my privacy on Facebook from employers. But I also promote my blogs and books on Facebook — part of my writing work life. I’ve also recently found that I have much less time for social media, especially if I want to get any really good fiction writing done. I periodically do searches on my name to see what’s out there about me, and if my blogs are getting the visibility I want them to have. It’s been an education, especially in how to get one’s personal info off a website that’s selling it. The internet has made it incredibly difficult to be a private person. Even if an individual chooses not to be online, that doesn’t mean his or her information doesn’t go up online.

  • Thought-provoking. I suspect I rather fall into the camp of not really giving a sh**, but I know I should, although sometimes the power of the internet seems too overwhelming to worry about. As authors, EVERYONE is a potential reader, so it is hard to hide and be an author. Perhaps that is why some use pen names. It is the way of life sadly, nowadays, that Big Brother is always watching and scheming of ways to part us from our hard earned dosh.

  • Brad says:

    Thanks for the great post! This is an issue for me too. I blog a lot about life and I struggle occasionally with how much is enough to make my point vs. oversharing. What you get from the individual post isnt much but I’ve blogged since 07 so there is a lot of meat on that bone!

  • I am a bit of an overcautious person on social media. I interact wiht people only after I am convinced of their network and avoid sharing personal pics too

  • macjam47 says:

    Thanks for giving me some food for thought here. I try to keep my social media limited to friends and their friends, but sometimes I post to the public. My son and daughter-in-law limit their viewers to friends only, but they don’t blog. I am careful of the permissions I give Google. I wish I could “divorce” them, but Google is the best browser I’ve used. If anyone knows of a better one, please let me know.

  • Shilpa Garg says:

    The day I called an electrician from my phone and next day I saw his name as a suggested friend on Facebook, my antenna were raised. It’s truly shocking that anything and everything you do with Google and Facebook is up for all to see and probably misuse. A very thought provoking post!

  • abhibishnu says:

    Thanks for a meaningful article. Like many, I was runed into Facebook 24X 7 four years back . just following the social trends I guess. It seemed like the ‘ in’ thing I guess.
    Cut to 2017. I have decreased my usage of my smartphone , and concomitantly usage of Facebook and what sapp, and feel none the deprived for it. In fact, I like to use Indiblogger more.
    I guess social media has its own uses, but a break does help.

  • I have a lot of friends and former colleagues who live spread around the globe. The Internet and social media have given us teh chance to stay in touch with each other. I think it has taken some people out of isolation, although it also drives some into it. Mixed blessings, but mostly positive

  • Adan Ramie says:

    I think that Zuckerberg quote is particularly appropriate for this post, Damyanti. Our global society is now so obsessed with sharing everything that it’s hard to find meaning in any of it, and relationships become diluted. I think it’s important to turn it off sometimes.

    That’s why I stopped getting endless app notifications on my phone, which was one of the best things I ever did for myself. Without the constant DING of social media, updates, Come Try This!, Join Us!, ONE OF US! ONE OF US!, I feel so free. I’m happier, my kids are happier, and my wife is happier. Overall, a pretty small change that sent shock-waves of goodness through my life. It’s also why I never let a website send me notifications when they ask for permission. No way do I need that.

    Thanks for the reminder this morning!

  • Sulekha says:

    Damyanti, it is a thought-provoking piece, thanks for the same. Just like we moderate comments on blogs, we need to moderate our postings on social media. I have been blogging for 7 years now and haven’t faced any problems to date. Almost all the apps ask for permission to your call records, location, etc before opening on the smartphones so if we can do without them we delete them and the ones we absolutely need, we keep. One has to be careful about how much to share online and not give too much away by informing all when they are travelling and where they are checking in. I have found a lot of book suggestions, writing prompts online which have helped me grow as a writer and reader.

  • Rajlakshmi says:

    It’s too late now but I really really wish I had fictionalized my whole online profile. I am really envious of those who have them. Now I am more focusing on sharing about my interests than my life. 🙂 I don’t install a lot of apps just because of their questionable privacy settings.

  • simonfalk28 says:

    Damyanti, this topic and experience is often a challenge for me, particularly as a public minister in a Christian Church (Catholic Priest). I am always a public person, whether out among people or online. Being an introvert, this can be really draining at times. At a conference earlier this year, a speaker told a group of us that we are always public persons because of our role, just that we have a personal life. We still have personal interests and hobbies (the literary world!), family and friends, but our level of privacy is minimal. Add that to what social media, email and smartphones’ remaining apps do, there is a lot of me out in the public domain! So, I can empathise with you. A few years a go I temporarily left Facebook as it was swapping me with posts and alerts that just did not give life. It is now on a tight lease. I also like to speak from behind the author or character of creative writing. I have great respect for others, such as yourself, who do similar. Thanks for keeping the conversation going 🙂

  • datmama4 says:

    I have a Blogger blog for my editing and a WP blog for my personal blog posts, and I have pretty much resigned myself to the fact that my stuff is out there and if someone wants to misuse it, I can only do so much to stop it. There’s probably as much a likelihood of my real information getting stolen from the doctor’s office as anywhere else. Our bank information (and everyone else’s) was “compromised” once when someone hacked into everything at that particular institution a few years ago—thank goodness nothing came of it—so I try to not stress about what my blog presence can do, even though I’m not crazy about the potential for it.

  • chr1 says:

    Actually I know a girl at work who writes and does all kinds of weird but necessary research (diseases, national security, sex practices etc.) for her writing.

    We watch the algorithms try and select relevant categories based on her search history.

    Fun times!

  • chr1 says:

    Well, I currently work for a vendor company which works for a large tech firm (way downstream), and I try and assume that I’m the product. They’ve monetized my data in order to keep investing capital into new research/hardware/information/technology to stay competitive.

    What kind of contract have I signed?

    In other words, don’t assume you have too much privacy online. Your cameras can be pretty easily hacked, your data is visible to knowledgeable people on insecure networks etc.

    I could easily see your stored web browser history being admitted into evidence in a court of law once American legal/politics catches up to somebody of this stuff.

    I don’t mean to sound negative. Just realistic from what I’ve learned ?

  • Glynis Jolly says:

    Most of the privacy the internet has invaded has been due to my own lack of paying attention. Several years ago I thought about going back to school via the internet but soon dismissed the idea. Since then I have received phone calls urging me to take classes at a variety of campuses. Other than that, my world online has been kept rather small, even with me stopping by Twitter and Google+ once in a while. Yes, the internet has affected my privacy and, while in a while, I think about chucking it.

  • G.B. Miller says:

    I’m kind of ambivalent towards the privacy issue. I don’t use Google much beyond having to access my Tumbler blog (it doesn’t play nice with IE), so I have no worries there. My privacy issues has more to do with Microsoft attempting to turn my Win 7 computer into a piece of garbage Win 10 computer.

    I also have no problems disconnecting from the ‘net from time to time, since I’ve been dealing with the ‘net in some form or another since 1996, and the bulk of that has been work related.

    I will always be leery about FB, ever since I was put into FB jail back in 2013 when my first book came out. But since I closed my Blogger blogs (thus partially eliminating my freedom to be uncensored), I have no choice but to put up with social justice warrior website.

  • I must admit that I have thought about these issues recently, but on the whole I am not concerned. I share what I want to share, and usually I do it as a means to alleviate my frustrations, my loneliness, or simply to show others that we all share the same challenges in certain areas (for me that is motherhood). I like the sense of community, and yet I still feel that most people don’t know the real me, unless they read my books.

  • bexybexybexy says:

    I’ve noticed you.
    You’ve made an effort to kindly click [Like] many times.
    I’ve noticed you, in these words you’ve shared today that resonate.
    I’ve noticed you and see something in this post about how I felt when I gave up Farceblock a while ago and acknowledge that if someone really wanted to find out who I am from my blog, they could. At first I didn’t use my real name, but now I use what people call me “Bexy” and I am now at the point of what~the~hell. I feel the need to blog and put thoughts onto paper (so to speak).
    I’ve noticed you and for a while, yet do not really know you at all (That is the Internet).
    Blessings of a joyous, peaceful, what you make of it day,

  • What you said is so true. Digital online presence is getting high risk now. And digital detox, I love to do soon.

  • arlene says:

    Love this topic Damyanti. Though WordPress is public too, I feel safer here than at FB.

  • I’m really amazed at what people share on social media. The advertising agencies must have a field day when they buy that information from the media hosts. 🙂

  • Dan Antion says:

    I share a lot, but a lot of of the “personal stuff” on my blog is fiction, so I’m not sure I want the job of figuring that out. The privacy that we willingly give up is much larger than social media. Shopping, shopping and not buying, buying from warehouse clubs, from the Internet, from a store where we use a discount card; it’s all gathered, sliced and diced and organized in ways most people don’t begin to understand. Some of it can’t be avoided. We have to eat, we have to buy clothes. We have to visit doctors, go to school, earn and report income – it’s all, ultimately available to someone. Understanding what we give up and what it’s used for can help us. It is scary, and it will remain scary until governments catch up with technology (a long time from now).

  • Denise says:

    I refuse to Tweet (lot of nonsense information that has no bearing on my life), I barely FB, and I don’t have Pinterest or any of those accounts; I even closed my old website down. Mostly I’m overwhelmed by social media; I post regularly then stop for a while…and I am concerned about the security of it all and how we are slowly eroding the concept of privacy for each individual. Good article. One of these days I will pull away completely, and rely on face-to-face interactions. Though it does help me stay in touch with some friends in Europe.

  • hilarymb says:

    Hi Damyanti – I tread very warily … and have always done so – and am more aware as the years go by. I’m sure things can be found – but like Lee … my blog opens up very few doors … I hardly do FB and I don’t Tweet … but then I’m not trying to connect too much with ‘outsiders’ – i.e. people beyond the blog etc … What happens in the future I’ve no idea … interesting post for us to ponder and read other’s comments – cheers Hilary

  • It’s difficult not to reveal who you are if you’re being honest online, but I’m with you, I try to keep my personal life on my blog to a minimum. And I seldom mention anything about my family other than the most general things. We are all trading privacy for this goal of telling the world about our books.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      I don’t have a goal, yet, because I have no books I’d like to promote so far. I just like the idea of community and friendship blogging provides, and the fact that I get to meet fab folks like you. 🙂

      I don’t speak much of my day-to-day life here, but I guess anyone who bothers to read all of my blog would know a few facts about my life. That’s inevitable.

  • I don’t like the the fact that our information is sold, especially without our consent or our getting compensated for it. But what I really don’t like or trust are Cortana (Microsoft), Alexa, refrigerators that show what’s inside them, self-driving cars and drones. Artificial intelligence is taking over.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      We’re the product whenever we get a free service. If we’re on the internet, someone somewhere is selling us, for sure.

  • JT Twissel says:

    I use a pseudonym when I write fiction and my real name for editing. I like to keep my two lives separate. I do think many bloggers overshare information with people they only know via the internet.

  • DJ Cockburn says:

    (Sorry, got overly verbose and it won’t let me post the whole comment at once.)

    We can’t curate our usage like we curate what we post, we can only choose whether to use or not to use. It makes it a much more complete picture of who we are. There are ways of hiding our activities by using services like TOR but like most people, I don’t use them. I could rationalise that the eclectic list of contacts and searches are likely to attract less attention than suddenly installing a load of privacy software, but the truth is that I simply can’t be bothered.

    A few years ago, Cory Doctorow described Facebook as ‘a Skinner box designed to teach you to undervalue your privacy’. If I actually used Facebook with any sort of regularity, I might say I prove his point!

    To answer the question in the title, privacy concerns don’t affect what I do, but I do occasionally worry about them in a rather impotent way.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Worrying about them in an impotent way is all that I do, too. The thing is if you spend any amount of time online, you’re bound to leave a digital footprint. And since a lot of my life is spent online reading etc, I’ve sort of given up. I use a private browser when I can, but I know that’s not very effective.

      I don’t shop much online, but I know people who do, and yeah, that’s always a risk.

      You make an excellent point about metadata and other thingammyjigs that I don’t know exist, let alone know how to pronounce or counter. I could download a ton of privacy software, as you say, but again, like most of us, I’ve given up. I console myself that I don’t have anything to hide. That’s an empty consolation too. There’s always info out there that someone can use to harm you, if only they put their mind to it.

      It’s a slippery slope, being on the internet, it all depends on how far we’re willing to slide.

  • DJ Cockburn says:

    I’ve given this a fair bit of thought, being a writer and an over-thinker, and I think it’s worth separating into two issues. On the one hand, there’s the information we post about ourselves on blogs, social media, etc. I don’t see that as a huge problem, as we can avoid making personal stuff public by simply not making it public. We simply have to remember that these platforms are public, and that we can’t control who might read them.

    The bigger problem is the metadata collected by service providers like Google, Facebook and – hello up there! – WordPress. Being badgered with poorly targeted advertisements may be a price worth paying to use the platforms for free, but we do need to remember that everything we look at do is available to government agencies – and not necessarily our own governments. The major providers share information between different national hubs and thanks to Edward Snowden, we know that the ‘Five Eyes’ countries (USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand) share information. There can’t be many service providers that aren’t routed through one of them.

  • It’s a fine line when it comes to privacy and yet wanting to build a public platform. I try to keep my personal separate from my writer life, and I think I’ve done so successfully so far. This mainly pertains to my family – I never use my family’s names, and if I ever share a pic, it will never include their face. This is especially important when it comes to my kids. However, as you pointed out, if someone wants to find something out about you, they’ll find a way. There are too many tools that make it far too easy. I’ll just keep trying not to make it easier. 🙂

  • DeanJean says:

    This post really resonated with me, because I’m trying to juggle having an online presence and the inner call to go offline when I write. Eventually I felt that good writing still ultimately gets the top bid, so now I don’t feel that guilty anymore when I go missing on social media for a couple of days.

  • Almost Iowa says:

    There is the matter of our privacy and then there is the privacy of others.

    Followers of my blog know I frequently write about my wife – but I have never used her name. Even though I write in the first person about my relationships there is a boundary there of unwilling participation that must never be crossed.

    I put this disclaimer on my About page:

    Note: Because my style is to write in the first person, occasionally my readers are fooled into believing that what I write is true. None of it is. We do not have turtles who run down deer. We do not live next to the Minnesota State Mosquito Refuge, though you wouldn’t know it during the summer.

    All of my stories are fiction. They have to be. The population of my little town is four (counting the chickens). Since everyone knows everything about everybody, I have to write in such a way that they can say, “Hey, that’s me!” and at the same time say, “No way, that’s me!”

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