Katy Guest: No cyber-secret is ever safe

It's now easier to be duplicitous - and easier to be found out

Related Topics

It was H L Mencken who wrote that nobody ever went broke underestimating the public's intelligence. But the great journalist and professional cynic clearly didn't anticipate the 21st century, in which a major company slipped up by doing the opposite – though in this instance it was more a case of overestimating the public's sense of morality.

The mighty Google thought it would be a great idea to create a social networking site by plundering Gmail-users' email contacts books and kindly making users' contacts into Facebook-style "friends" for them. It hadn't occurred to them that some people might not want all their contacts to know who else they have been contacting. Some things, thank you Google, really ought to remain our little secret. Sorry if you're very disappointed by our murky G-subterfuge.

A similar cold hand of panic grips Facebook-users when a spam message arrives promoting an application that can tell you who has been looking at your profile page. It would be fascinating to know which pathetic little weirdos have been tragically stalking one under cover of e-darkness, of course. But nobody wants that enough to allow anyone else to know when we have been looking at their profiles.

It is nothing more sinister than entirely natural human curiosity that makes a person want to find out how their ex is looking these days (gratifyingly rough, as it happens). But some sad people might take that healthy curiosity out of context – in particular, gratifyingly rough-looking exes, the arrogant little morons. So it's a good job that the mythical snoop application remains nothing but a salutary fiction, for now at least. Facebook, thank goodness, understands that some of its users have secrets.

The problem with modern technology is that, while it makes it exponentially easier to be duplicitous and underhand, it also makes it so much easier to be found out. Just ask Vernon Kay how temptingly simple it seemed to send saucy phone messages to raunchy textophiles none of whom was his wife.

The "sex text" appeals, it turns out, to the desperate, the exhibitionist, the very stupid and the alarmingly ambidextrous, which must be why footballers are so keen on the format. David Beckham allegedly had an epistolary extra-marital friendship a few years ago which was said to have involved the Napoleonic line: "I really wish we was in your bed now." A line that was preserved in perpetuity the minute his errant thumb pressed the send button – the silly boy.

It would be sad to believe that social networking is mostly made up of antisocial behaviour: cheating on partners; checking up on exes; meddling maliciously in other people's affairs. But it is always worth bearing in mind how one's innocent written comments might look to others.

Mencken was ahead of his time when he wrote that "conscience [is] the inner voice which warns us that someone may be looking". If they're not looking now, they probably will be very soon. Cheaters beware: there is no such thing as a secret in cyberspace.


React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Opponents of Israel's military operation in Gaza are the real enemies of Middle Eastern peace

Gabriel Sassoon
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

Government hails latest GDP figures, but there is still room for scepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little