In the wake of the Ashley Madison breach, there’s been a lot of talk about the notion of “justified” leaks. In recent memory, “The Fappening” iCloud photo leak in 2014 resulted in a number of celebrities’ private photos making their way on the Web. The Internet was largely outraged and supportive of Jennifer Lawrence—arguably one of the more famous victims—and echoed her sentiments that the photo leak was tantamount to a sex crime, but this time around we’re a lot less concerned about protecting the privacy of some 37 million people whose Ashley Madison account information was leaked by vigilante hackers who took it upon themselves to Hester Prynne all those alleged adulterers.

Now I’m no Josh Duggar fan, and I’m not too keen on Sam Rader, the YouTube dad who siphoned his wife’s urine for a pregnancy test, either, but I do believe that every person deserves the modicum privacy they’re supposed to be entitled to online, regardless of where their behavior may fall on my personal moral compass. I generally embrace the notion that if you don’t want something to go viral, you shouldn’t do/type/sign up for it, but do we really want to live our Internet lives as though hackers might always be watching?

If that were the case, we’d never make another online purchase we were too embarrassed to make at a brick and mortar store. We’d never find the answer to another health question we were too nervous to ask our doctor. We’d never discover new communities. There’s a lot of shady and downright awful stuff available on the Web (e.g. ignorant diatribes on Facebook and zit popping videos), but Internet privacy is something we should all be entitled to (unless you’re up to something illegal, of course), whether we’re ordering a blow-up doll or signing up for a recipe newsletter.

So in the spirit of disclosure—because we’re apparently becoming a society that thinks it’s totally fine to leak each other’s business if we’re doing something icky, embarrassing, or sexual—here’s my own list of blackmail-worthy things I’ve done on the Internet.

1. My Many Neopets Accounts

If you grew up in the 1990s/2000s, you probably had Neopets accounts, and you spent entire Saturday afternoons at the Neopian pound looking for rare Neopets. You probably played endless games of Cheat schooling that smug penguin Brucey B and trying to have enough neopoints to buy a faerie paintbrush for your beloved Lupe, who’s appetite is currently sated thanks to a visit to the soup kitchen. Even though it was against the rules, I had multiple Neopets accounts, and… I even disowned a Neopet or two in my day, despite this emotionally conflicting scene at the pound:

Do you want to bring this unicorn joy, or leave your neopet in the care of the gecko equivalent of Dr. Mengele.Image via SunnyNeo
Do you want to bring this unicorn joy, or leave your neopet in the care of the gecko equivalent of Dr. Mengele?
Image via SunnyNeo

Please let this remain a secret; I’m still living with the shame.

2. The Google Searches That Will Result In My Immediate Arrest If I’m Ever Suspected Of A Crime

Do you ever watch those true crime television shows and some technology expert reports, “When we looked at his hard drive, we noticed he had a lot of disturbing search engine queries. Making bombs out of pineapples. Lot of stuff about Columbine. More celebrity plastic surgery before and afters that I even knew existed on the Internet. Once we saw that, we knew we had our man,” and you realize how much trouble you’d be in if anyone ever checked your Google history? Because I have. Almost daily.

If anyone looked at my Google history, they would probably think I’m a soon-to-be serial killer who really likes knowing the correct lyrics to songs and is obsessed with Thesaurus.com and words that start with specific letters and knows nothing about obscure grammar rules despite having an English degree. Google is where I go to really be myself and find the answers to all my questions about life, death, and Kylie Jenner. If anyone leaks my meta data, I’m going to have some ‘splaining to do to an authority with a lot more power than Ricky Ricardo.

 

3. Mortifying Weblogs From High School

When you publish your thoughts online, it stands to reason that anywhere from 30 to 60% of it will come back to haunt you. This very article could be an embarrassment in a year’s time. This might be hard to believe, but there was a time in my life when I not only shopped at Aeropostale, but I thought that my friends and the entire Internet community wanted to read the humdrum details of my entire school day, from the weird look Melissa gave me in homeroom to the search for my missing milk card that took place just before lunch. I was still ROFLing and TTYLing, and I would’ve probably shot any capital letters or punctuation on sight. Hackers, please don’t go looking for my weblogs about playing volleyball in gym class.

4. My Secret Pinterest Boards

I have a few public Pinterest boards that I curate for general consumption, but I also have a collection of secret boards whose existence I would deny under oath. My secret Pinterest boards are my digital Dorian Gray painting: They reflect the shocking truth of how vapid and materialistic I am on the inside. If anyone were to release the details of my secret Pinterest boards, I would face considerable ridicule from everyone who knows how outwardly dismissive I am of clever crafts and ornate weddings.

5. The Ratio Of What’s In My Online Shopping Cart To What I Actually Purchase

If I was a rich girl (nanananananananananananananana), I would buy every last thing that goes into my shopping cart: the $70 sweater, the new eyeshadow palette I’d use once a month, even the boring-yet-beautiful duvet from Anthropologie (my Manic Pixie Dream Store). I relish having the privacy to virtually fill a shopping bag with pretty things I cannot (and often, do not want to be able to) afford, just to keep them all together, safe and sound. As if one day I’ll come into exorbitant wealth and finally be able to click “Continue to Checkout,” opt for the obscenely-priced next business day shipping, and watch all my consumerist dreams come true. But until that day comes, I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that my activity doesn’t offend any computer-savvy troublemakers willing to make my public my private online proclivities just because they can.

My examples (which are far from exhaustive, by the way, have to save some goodies for those hackers) are flippant and silly compared with the prospect of personal information getting out there that could end a marriage, result in suicide, or ruin a career, but I think it’s important to recognize that all of us have probably liked, shared, watched, emailed, registered for, bought, or searched for something online that we’re earnestly thankful no one knows about. In a perfect world, no one would use the Internet to facilitate dishonest behavior, but falling short of that utopia in any context (except criminal, duh) doesn’t endow us with the right to publicly shame those whose activities inspire our disapproval.

It’s easy to profess, “Well, that’s the Internet for ya, what d’ya expect?” when we can watch the fallout of these scandals from within the safety of our glass houses, with the same grotesque intrigue as when we slow down to see if anyone survived that nasty car accident on the other side of the highway, but what if something were to involve us? Our spouse? Our friend? Anyone who isn’t so far removed from us that we only consider them “data”? It’s a complex issue, determining the parameters of if and when we “deserve” to know private information that was made public through a leak, but tarring and feathering strangers contained in some data dump is a slippery slope that feels a lot less steep when you happen to be on the moral high ground.

26 thoughts on “Some Things I Did On The Internet I Don’t Want Anyone To Know About: On Neopets and the Ashley Madison Leak

  1. The bottom line is: we don’t have to agree with someone’s behavior to respect their choices. I don’t personally think that sites like Ashley Madison promote healthy relationship values, but its users knew what they were signing up for and they were ok with it. So what the hackers did was incredibly wrong because they put their own values and beliefs on a pedestal above those millions of people whom they robbed of privacy and that’s just not ok.

  2. It continues to surprise me, how in this age of modern technology, people continue to think someone, somewhere is not watching or monitoring their every move. I have no problem with what people do with their lives, but they shouldn’t be surprised when their lives are then made public. It’s not right for someone to expose another, it’s just inevitable considering the climate we live in today.

    1. I agree, but I think there has to be some middle ground between acknowledging that technology is never 100% secure and openly ridiculing people for not only engaging in behavior we don’t approve of, but also being naive enough to believe that activity could be kept private as they were assured it would. We all rely on companies to keep our personal information safe–whether it’s our sexual preferences or credit card number–and people rarely blame people whose credit card information gets stolen as a result of a leak the same way they’ve placed blame on Ashley Madison users.

  3. You make a lot of great points. If someone looks at my Amazon wish list, they’ll probably draw quite a few weird (though perhaps not entirely off the mark) conclusions about me. When, maybe I should say if–because there aren’t too many viewers-they read my blogs, who knows what they will think.

    1. Thanks! And me too. My Amazon recommendations are pretty troubling, too. Look up one video game for my boyfriend, and the whole logarithm gets thrown off.

      1. I had to go back and read what I wrote before responding. I think, I was trying for self-deprecating humour more than anything. If I was terminally mortified by what people would think, I probably wouldn’t write a blog and invite comment–then again, people can be hateful and until one comes up against some powerfully written hate speech, you don’t know how it would affect them.

  4. I agree with you in general, but if we were talking about someone who, say, leads a very public crusade for prohibition of Neopets, while spending every private moment playing it, this information probably doesn’t deserve the same amount of privacy protection.

    1. Hahaha! Yeah, I see what you’re saying, but I’ve come to find with those types a data leak generally isn’t necessary to confirm they’re up to no good.

  5. If anyone had time to actually check every single person’s entire google search histories, there would end up being more suspected serial killers than there are actual living people. And zit popping videos? Whoa! You Tube here I come!

  6. So I feel old and like freshman year in high school was SO LONG AGO because I definitely played Neopets a LOT but I remember hardly anything about it! I was on it every study hall, though. D:

    Also, I’m glad I was paranoid about people reading what I wrote back then, because any online blogs I started had private settings for anything vaguely needing to be private, and most of it I went back and retroactively made private, as well. Now I just have better discretion on what I want to write publicly, but at least security settings were a thing on LiveJournal. 😛

    1. So apparently at some point Xanga ceased to exist the way it did before, and I think you had some amount of time to claim your account before it disappeared into the ether, so I think my most embarrassing entries are stricken from the record. Thank goodness.

      1. Oh, I completely forgot about Xanga. Yeah, mine are gone too. Thank goodness. I don’t think those were protected from the public eye. Ugh. 🙂

  7. Technology; no matter how efficient, still has a flaw. Leaks of private stuff can break you emotionally, so good for you if can just easily let it go. Cloud technology is happening and will be more huge in the future, shall we expect more leaks? Haha.

  8. P.s The study shows that your Facebook likes are more accurate telling about you, then your parents can describe. Parents could match or recognise you in 20 likes, friends from 15-17, Facebook could do it in 3 likes! so “”GOOD LIKES” to all of us!

  9. Sure, it’s easy to get behind cheaters getting exposed, especially holier-than-thou types, but I can’t help to think of the blameless casualties that are caused by these security leaks. What about Josh Duggar’s wife? I mean ouch!

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