During the lowest point of the bank crisis, I asked my dad what I should do to protect my finances. He gave me two pieces of advice. First, pay off my house. Second, take out a few thousand bucks from the bank, every week, and keep the cash hidden somewhere in my bedroom.
Shortly thereafter, I repeated that advice to my shrink and wondered aloud whether my dad was being overly dramatic about the situation. My shrink interrupted me and said: “I always keep twenty-five grand and a handgun in a shoebox under my bed.”
If either my dad or my shrink had been regular readers of my blogs and other web writings, they likely would’ve advised me to empty my bank account, move off the grid and start my own uranium enrichment program.
At least that’s what they’d say if they’d been following the story of Citibank’s recent reaction to a customer’s blog. Citi froze the account of a web start-up called Fabulis because they found some of the blog content on the site (an upcoming “network that connects gay men with amazing experiences down the block and around the world”) objectionable.
Within a day, and after a lot of buzz across the web, Citi had apologized for the actions taken by some of its employees.
Clearly Citi’s review process was flawed and its initial decision-making skills were lacking. But the bigger story here is not the specific case but that a major corporation was trolling the web to make a decision regarding the freezing of an organization’s account.
The other day, a guy who was pitching a start-up idea to me, began the meeting by saying, “I know from some of your recent blog posts that you’re not going to be a customer of this product.” We’re all used to that. Everyone Googles each other to get a read on a person ahead of a meeting, a date or a conference call.
But most of us have never really considered the idea that our banks or other large institutions would be basing a relationship with us on our publicly available blog posts, tweets, status updates, and photos.
Could a health insurance company reject coverage because you’ve complained of some nagging symptoms on your Twitter account?
Imagine going to a doctor and having him say, “Come on Dude, I think we both know where you got that rash.”
Would a life insurance company raise your rates after reading a blog post in which you complained about your wife’s driving?
What about the IRS contacting you with a letter that reads: “We understand from your recent Tumblr post that you won a pretty big pot while playing Texas Holdem at your friend’s house. We assume you’ll be reporting those winnings.”
Will what you say ultimately be used against you? And will it be that hard to triangulate what others say to, and about, you in order for big corporations to get a better idea of your whole story?
While I complain about your oversharing and your Farmville pets, I am the last guy on the planet to ever suggest that you watch what you say or write. But maybe we’re all being naive about the risks of sharing on the web.
Who knows, maybe by the time you get to this point in my post, my own bank account will be frozen. Or at least my shrink might have raised my rates. And what am I gonna say? Once you’ve helped fill the first shoebox with cash and guns, they sort of have you on the hook.