How it started

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

When I was a university student in the 90s, I bought a housekeeping manual which I still have, and still use. It’s one of those books that tells you the right way to do laundry, how to set a table, how to mend your clothes, how not to accidentally kill yourself with fire, and that sort of thing. The book is very 1990s, very American, and very middle class – let’s face it, I have never needed to know the proper way to clean a chandelier – but that somehow adds to its charm. (Do buy a copy if you’d like to experience it.)

I did not buy the book out of any sort of domestic impulse; I bought it because my mother was suddenly dying before she’d had a chance to pass on all that knowledge, which rendered me just as suddenly on my own in the world without a clue. In those years, I referenced it quite a lot in the spirit of “oh holy shit, how do I do this??” So having it at hand since then has been a good reminder to raise my own child to not be as dependent, or as clueless, as I was.

I was flicking through it the other night, after said offspring expressed their bewilderment about something, and I was astounded to find two pages on online privacy and safety, as these things looked when the book was published in 1999.

At that time, I was maintaining static web sites for both personal and professional reasons in raw HTML, Microsoft FrontPage, and Allaire HomeSite. (And yes, I was walking uphill barefoot in the snow, ten miles, both ways, to get to the campus computer lab). In all seriousness, I was also receiving itemised monthly phone bills in the post which included a line entry for every time I dialed in to the internet. It was, indeed, a very different time.

Still, I was fully cognizant of all these online privacy issues, and rather vocal about them too. That I would be working on them full time, 25 years later, would never have occurred to me. Then again, that I would be on my own at 20 would never have occurred to me either.

So, in the spirit of seeing how it started for online privacy, click on the image to view the pages full size. I apologise for not supplying alt text or typing this out. Do shout at me if you’d like me to supply it.Two long pages of text from a book

The Author

I’m a UK tech policy wonk based in Glasgow. I work for an open web built around international standards of human rights, privacy, accessibility, and freedom of expression. The content and opinions on this site are mine alone and do not reflect the opinions of any current or previous team.


  1. Art says

    Amazing how relevant most of that advice still is. It’s also striking to me, how the text is so well written and to-the-point. Clear, jargon-free, yet accurate, explanations. I guess I’m too used to reading SEO’d guff. I miss books.

    • The book was mildly controversial at the time because the author was a practicing lawyer. It was considered beyond belief that a professional woman could also write a housekeeping book, as if one side of her was betraying the other. Things really have changed since then.

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