The Illusion of Privacy

I have a Betta who lives in a crystal-clear bowl. His name is Betta-Not-Die. He comes from a long line of Betta-Not-Dies…. because they always do. The poor thing has zero privacy.  His every move is visible. There are no doors or walls, no clothes between him and anyone who chooses to look his way.

He’s the perfect metaphor for the transparency of our online lives, and we need one because a total lack of privacy is a foreign concept to we who have lived with walls and doors and whispers since human existence. Transparency has been one of the hardest aspects of the cyber world to understand…to recall as we chat, play, spend, view, post, search and share on the internet.  It just does not feel like we’re in a fish bowl.  It feels so very private. We cannot see the eyes gazing at our every cyber move.

I went to see Oceans 8 the other day. Within this good heist story were two scenes that helped me understand cyber transparency. They both involved the techy character, (played by the lovely Rihanna). In the first, she instantly hacked all the secrets and security of one of her fellow Oceans.  In the second, she quickly determined the soft spot of the man in charge of security in the building they were going to rob, (which was his dog, of course), created a false webpage on the breed, and added an adorable offer he had only to click on to receive, which he did.  This simple click by the unsuspecting man, (basically like most of us on the internet), gave her full access to his computer so she could turn on its camera and see what was going on in his office.  She owned not only his information, but his real life.

I about had a panic attack as I sat eating my Red Vines, (never Twizzlers!).  It was supposed to be a cleaver scene, but the truth in it unnerved me. It begged the question… how do we flesh-and-blood mortals live in safety and have privacy in this highly cyber-influenced life. The answer is simple…. we don’t… not in that world. No matter how much security we purchase and install, hackers will continue to figure out ways around it. We must admit that we’re all Bettas when we are using technology.

But let’s remember that windows are not oppressive because we know they are transparent. We like windows. (I think it is interesting that the name of the most popular operating system is Windows.) They let in light and views. We just don’t stand in front of the living room window naked.

We must acknowledge the transparency rules in the cyber world and start playing by them. How we teach this to kids is the zillion dollar question.


  1.  Start talking about privacy.  Why might you like privacy?  Is privacy a value to you?  (It is interesting to note that the word privacy is not mentioned in the Constitution.) If you aren’t doing anything wrong, why do you have to care about privacy?  How do you feel when you don’t have privacy in the real world?
  2. Use the Betta metaphor….  or the perfectly clear house, (even the toilettes?) … to help the whole family begin understanding the lack of privacy in the internet.
  3. Make a list of things you don’t want strangers knowing about you. Then talk about how to not share that information online.
Elizabeth Clark

About the Author

Elizabeth Clark has been a mental health therapist for teens and families for thirty years.  She is a presenter for CyberStrong, a collaborative community effort, funded by the Western Colorado Community Foundation, to raise awareness and give skills to parents and educators about the influence of technology on our children, families and community.