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Ask the Expert

Online Safety, What Choices Are Right For You?

By Feb 22, 2011 May 16th, 2012 46 Comments

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Online Safety

Most of us joined the blogging community on a whim. In my case, I stumbled onto a friend’s blog, saw a shiny “Create New” Blogger button in the upper right hand corner, clicked it and quickly entered all my information. Little thought was given to the privacy settings on that first day. I simply added my information, created a URL that contained my last name, and slapped a title in place.

I didn’t think about who would be reading my blog or how it would be accessed. I didn’t think about whether my kids would care if their names and pictures were displayed on my blog when they got older. I didn’t think about how displaying information about them might affect them down the road in terms of teasing or job hunting. I didn’t ask friends or family permission to call them by name.

I just started a blog.

Online safety is something that should have been at the forefront of my mind. Even the friends we meet online are not always who we think they are.

I implemented a few changes in those early days that I’m relieved about now, but still grapple with whether or not I’ve done enough. I learned the hard way that being careless with the photos I post is all the ammunition an online stalker might need to target me.

Some argue that this whole online safety thing has been taken too far and that it’s over the top for us to be so paranoid about it. We see celebrities and their children and the exact locations of their homes splattered across magazines all the time. You don’t see book authors coming up with nicknames for themselves and their children when they publish their novels. Furthermore, it has been argued that while there may be predators online, the likelihood of being targeted by someone locally who perhaps runs into you at a playground or restaurant, is actually higher.

The truth is, if you have a presence online, you will never be 100% hidden from the rest of the world. Your information is out there. Anyone crazy enough to track you down will likely find the means to do so. My theory is that if we make this information as difficult as possible to find we reduce the likelihood of any unwanted contact from an online presence.

Jessica Gottlieb has spoken brilliantly on the topic of online safety at Bloggy Boot Camp and has generously shared part of her presentation with all of us, as well as pinpoints five things we can do today to protect our privacy. I recommend learning as much as you can about protecting yourself online, but my number one piece of advice is to simply be mindful.

Be mindful about who you are writing about. Be mindful about where you register your personal information. Be mindful about how the things you write might follow it’s subjects. There is no right or wrong way to blog, but taking the time to consider and make choices that you feel fit your comfort level will help you avoid future regrets.

What do you do to maintain privacy online?

46 Comments

  • I know I share my first and last name, but when it comes to my friends and family, it’s first names only. I never post pictures without asking permission first and I never EVER post names or pictures of children under 18, even if their parents say it’s okay.

  • J.J. in L.A. says:

    Wow! This is a timely topic. I had to make my blog private just last Thursday because my niece found my blog. I started it because I wanted to treat it like a diary. Then I started telling stories about my family that I thought were funny. In a sarcastic kind of way. I don’t use names (except my first) and have NEVER mentioned my last name or city. But I’m in trouble with some siblings for writing about family anyway. I’ve found out that you can never be anonymous enough.

  • mangiabella says:

    wow….all good stuff!

  • vivi b. says:

    im not sure i had been very careful in keeping my info private. nothing bad has happened to me yat but it’s sure better to prevent it! thanks for this post!

    http://www.theblogforbrides.com
    http://www.journeyofawoman.wordpress.com

  • Madison says:

    Many years ago I used to write a sex column in an online magazine. Surprise, surprise I picked up not one but two stockers. This was before any stocker law was in place anywhere. I was a very unhappy camper. I found out one of my stockers was using the internet connection in a public library in Boulder Colorado to threaten me. Each email became more violent. There was nothing I could do about it. Nothing the police in two countries could do about it.

    The other stocker lived about 30 minutes away from me. I got seriously freaked out when he mentioned that he had started going to a bar that was five blocks from my apartment. I ended up moving.

    Shortly after I lost an online writing job because I refused to have my photo on the site.

    I’ve been careless lately. I think I’m going to follow the good advice here and make sure I can live with what’s out there.

  • Lynda says:

    I love Jessica’s presentation and it prompted me to withdraw the real names of my kids from my site. Not because I’m worried about an online predator, but because I feel they’re owed the right to a Google search clear of mommy’s photographs as they get older and develop their own online presence.

    I first signed online when I was 16, started my first blog when I was 19 and I’ve gone through a lot of trials and tribulations learning what was okay and not okay to publish online. I’m nearly 32 now and after spending the past nearly 16 years glued to the internet I feel pretty safe on it because I’m smart about the precautions I take.

  • Online safety is not just important for kids.
    Thanks for the post.

  • Kelly says:

    I’m not super careful about names… I try to be good, but sometimes slip up and put a full name in instead of just the initial. I definitely don’t put anything about my address or any of that…. I try to be mindful of what could be used and avoid it….

  • CK says:

    Thanks! Great topic!

  • Mrs.Mayhem says:

    This is scary! My blog is anonymous, but I post so many photos that I worry that someone could track down our neighborhood. Thanks for these links – I’m off to check out all of the information.

  • Dafeenah says:

    Very useful information. I know most people don’t think about these things because they would never do something to someone else. That is why it is often some forgotten avenue that these people exploit. Today our info goes to places we don’t even know exist. It’s hard to be truly anonymous. For those of you with domains, you should also check out the site WHOIS. Enter your domain name and make sure your details don’t appear.If you purchase a domain but don’t have privacy enabled, then your name, address etc will appear on WHOIS. If you can’t afford the privacy or don’t know how to enable it, then simply enter fake details in the control panel of your site to help protect your privacy.

  • Becca says:

    I’m struggling with this issue right now. My first kiddo is due in May, and I need to make decisions about safety before that day comes.

  • Thanks for the shout out.

    I think you summed it up perfectly when you said that we need to be mindful of what we share. It’s impossible to predict what new technology will be born, but if we share assuming that everything we write is public in every forum we will share mindfully.

  • Astrid says:

    Thanks for this post and all the insights in the comments. I blog unde rmy real name, but I don’t post photos and don’t use other people’s real names. I used to do that (using other people’s real names) a lot back in lik 2003 and 2004 when I first started blogging, and people weren’t too pleased about that, as I was accused violating their privacy.

    I think I’m relatively easy to track down using my blog, but I’ve never had to deal with an online stalker. I am going to take some steps to protect my privacy (or what remains of it) soon.

  • Michelle says:

    Excellent post. I am a very private person by nature anyway, but it’s still impossible not to have all your information out there for anyone to see. On my blog, however, I never mention names, never post photos of my family, don’t share any demographics, and have my domain name registered through a proxy. Still I can google my name and find a little info. about me – scary!

    Peace,
    Michelle 😉

  • Michelle says:

    I try not to put any specific information about location or state. I don’t put specific information about my children or their daily routines. I kept my blog private fo a long time, but I finally decided to make it searchable. I may revert to a private blog because my job. I am always mindful of language and tone because this is a reflection of me. Privacy aside, I don’t want to have an Internet personality that is inappropriate or insensitive. I agree, privacy is important.

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by The SITS Girls, mollymerchant. mollymerchant said: RT @SITSGirls: When it comes to online safety, you may not be as safe as you think you are. Get informed! http://bit.ly/hdCVyg […]

  • Holly W says:

    good info…I probably share too much, but I also think that people will find you no matter what….

  • Missy says:

    I don’t do much to protect myself. :/ I don’t post my last name, but that’s about it!

  • Kim says:

    Thanks. This is making me rethink a couple things. Happy Tuesday 🙂

  • fojoy says:

    This is definitely something important to keep in mind…especially if you bring your RL friends and family into it…

  • Along with my blog I freelance for the San Francisco Chronicle and so far, it’s the readers of the hard copy newspaper who are the only ones who have tracked me down and scared me (over an article I wrote about switching to CFL light bulbs, of all things!) I do think that if you consider yourself a writer, you have to stand behind your work and be willing to have a public association with it. But I’m religious about NOT mentioning my kids’ real names in my blog posts, too easy for search engines to find. I’m working on a memoir-ish project now and am really struggling with how to handle it there…lots to consider…

  • Nic says:

    I had literally never considered some of these things before but I will be much MUCH more careful now that Ive read this!

  • Devonay says:

    Wow. I pride myself on being a good Mom, but I really need to view all of my settings and make sure that we are safe. Thanks for all of the info.

  • Grandma Nina says:

    This is scary. But I often think of celebrities, too, and how “out there” they are. Where do so draw the line? I’m not as worried about me as I am the privacy of my family, especially my grandchildren. I try to keep out real personal info. on them, but I do post their names (first) and pictures.
    If we cut out all personal info most of us wouldn’t have blogs at all!

  • Beth says:

    Great article and Kat’s stalker story and the one from sevenclowncircus really hit home. I pretty much wanted to puke when I read Kat’s stalker post. But we need to protect ourselves. Now, I’m going to go do those five things since I haven’t been as careful as I should be.

  • A reminder to us all. It’s so easy to get too comfortable and forget.

  • Kat–you are so right! I also jumped into blogging on a whim and had to make lots of changes to how I was writing and what I was posting once I realized that people other than my family members and friends were visiting my site. Honestly, I had no idea that could or would happen when I started!

  • Karen says:

    I have not shared my last name. And I try to use my blog’s email address instead of my personal one for all blog stuff.

  • I came into the wider web from local BBSes in the 90’s. I was an online gamer & we never used our real names. So my first thought everywhere is ‘what name shall I create for this place?’ whenever I join somewhere new. I’ve never put my full name anywhere except Amazon & Paypal. Not even Facebook has my full name. It’s been second nature to me for more then 20 years to use an alias & I am glad of it.

  • angie says:

    Excellent post!

  • Eva Gallant says:

    She makes some good points.

    Happy Tuesday, everyone. Stop by my blog to see The Bare Facts about Hockey!

  • luci gabel says:

    Yes, this is all so important to remember.

  • Cheryl says:

    I’d already removed my info from WhitePages.com. There are a ton of paid sites (7-day free trials) where my name is listed. Couldn’t find a way to access this without signing up.

    Be careful about joking around by posting pictures from Google. Back in September, I did a post to support Love/Avon Army of Women and snagged the funniest images I could find. The big breasted woman I chose was obviously photoshopped. Humor sells. I thought I was safe.

    I had been away for awhile and started posting again. Not many comments. So I did what any neurotic blogger would do, I checked my site meters. The hits were staggering. Somehow that silly image from September had gone viral on Google. Even after taking the image down then removing the entire post, the hits keep on coming.

    The internet is truly forever.

    I’ve always been careful with all things related to family and friends. I’m over-the-top cautious and it’s paid off dividends.

  • Thank you for writing this. I know a lot of people want to be open about their lives and that is each person’s decision for themselves and their own family but many people also don’t realize that everything you write online and every blog post you write ends up cached online and can be searchable *forever*. This is really important to think about when blogging about sensitive subjects or one’s children (of which I do both). I am a firm believer in Children’s Right To Privacy – especially when it comes to sensitive matters like health issues, mental health issues, legal issues, and personal struggles that relate to a child.

  • Amy says:

    Hope everyone has a wonderful Tuesday!

    Check out my adventure redoing the nursery closet all by my big girl self….no hubby help required!

  • Brandy says:

    This has been on my mind ever since I started blogging! Thank you for this information. I really didn’t know what to do or where to start to protect my privacy.

  • Joy says:

    How scary! I felt sick reading Kat’s post about an online stalker. While I try to keep where I live vague and my last name off everything I realize how easy it is to slip. As far as Jessica’s 5 things to do to protect ourselves, I am going to make it a priority in the next few days to take care of several of those things.

  • Very interesting info.

    Have a lovely Tuesday, everyone!

    Betty xoxo

  • Lena says:

    This is an awesome post. I try to be careful when I post.. But I’m not sure how careful I am. I as a few others regularly google my name to see what come ups.. A few days ago the first result was my name, first and last on my blog. I had forgotten all about my copyright thingy that I had a while ago. I changed that fast, now all that comes up is my facebook and the last result on the first page is my blog.. I would rather that not be there but I don’t know how to get it off there besides taking my name from all my blog posts.

  • Good advice. I am always concerned when I see pictures of children along with their names used on blogs, especially when the author of the blog lists the area where they live in their profile. It wouldn’t be difficult for someone to cause problems given that much information.

  • Michelle says:

    Very useful information! The privacy issue is actually something I’ve been thinking about for awhile. Happy Tuesday!

  • I try to be careful with family pictures.

  • Angie says:

    Really valuable information here. I just registered a new domain name yesterday and made sure to add the privacy feature. I like the tips Jessica has to offer and while it may take some time to implement, I think the payoff definitely outweighs the work involved!

  • Happy Tuesday! So nice to have a long weekend, don’t you agree?
    alison

  • Jessica Gottlieb’s tips are very useful. And actually, I was already in the process of faxing Intellius to get them to remove my personal information.

    To maintain privacy online I regularly Google my name to see what pops up. Whenever I see myself listed in a directory, I immediately go to that site and have my name removed. Specific sites I often check for personal information are pipl.com, 123people.com and zabasearch.com.

    I don’t have a personal Facebook, Twitter or MySpace account for privacy’s sake. Nor do I use sites like MyLife or Classmates.com. I don’t post pictures of myself on my blog nor give out names of friends, families or co-workers. And even though some blogging communities require posting an e-mail to my profile, I’ve made sure that the name attached to a sent letter is my avatar’s name, not my own.