A Shade of Internet Paranoia

I watched a documentary on Edward Snowden yesterday, which led me to think about privacy online. It’s not that I haven’t thought about it before. I’m sure that anyone who writes a blog must have had a close think on the subject.

I realize that posting personal information online is not always the best idea, but the temptation to do so can be great. Why? I suppose because that is when writing is at its best for both the person who is writing and the person who is reading. There’s a little bit of Peeping Tom and a little bit of Flashing Fred in each of us.

But what if one day I post something that seems like a good idea at the time, and then end up regretting it? There are plenty of people who’ve had this experience. To avoid this, I always try to think before posting about how I would feel if everyone I know happened to read that post. If I feel too uncomfortable at the thought, I press delete. Slight feelings of discomfort are not a problem, since I’m here to get out of my comfort zone.

I have thought about these issues but I haven’t really gotten all the answers. So, I’ve posted my own questions and the answers I found on Google. Shortly, I’m pretty sure Facebook will attempt to sell me some online security service.

Can you delete posts that have already been published?

Yes! Here are the instructions. If you like, you can even delete the whole blog, in one fell swoop. I did this with my earlier blogging attempts. It felt gooood.

I read somewhere that things I put online stay online, even if I do delete the post. Is that true?

Yes and no. I couldn’t quite get to the bottom of this. If the post has been shared, re-blogged etc. you have totally lost control of that post. On the other hand, if the post has only been on your personal site and practically no one’s read it, you should have no problem. Of course, someone might have copied the content unbeknownst to you. There might be back-ups, which perhaps might be accessed if someone cared enough. Luckily most of us are not that interesting.

How much should I reveal of myself?

That depends on what you write about and how comfortable you feel at the thought of everyone potentially finding out about your private life. You should pay particular attention to the influential people in your life, like your boss, your mother, and your children. Writing about potty-training your kid, illustrated, may seem like a good idea at the time but how will your kid feel about it when he or she is at school? It is important to be responsible about this at the same time that you remember that in the end it is your own decision. Sometimes writing a post on potty-training can be a great idea. No one else can or should make this decision for you.

Another issue to remember is safety. This article has a cool infographic on how hackers can piece together information about you that they find online, and use it later for their own purposes. These can include identity theft, cyber stalking or infecting your computer with a virus.

Should I use my real name? Faux name? No name at all?

The answer to this depends on the context. If you are in business, your real name is obviously necessary, or at least the company’s name and your own name made available on request.

Using your real name makes you sound more reliable. This article details the problems one blogger had when she started out using a pseudonym. People automatically assume that you have something to hide if you write under a pseudonym.

I read somewhere (possibly a Blogging 101 article) that using a name is a good idea, even if it is a false name, since people find it easier to relate to someone who has a name. I’ve compromised by using my real first name and the first capital letter of my surname. I’m happy with that decision so far.

It’s worth it to repeat that information you have online might be used against you, and this is obviously easier if the hackers have immediate access to your whole name. The same goes for the names of your near and dear ones.

What about pictures?

The same thing goes for photographs. Having a picture of you online is a good idea from the user perspective. Whether it’s a good idea for you is a personal decision. I would use the boss-mother-kids test particularly about pictures. Personally I don’t feel comfortable posting pictures of my children online, although this article makes the point that kids in the future will practically all have baby photos online, so teasing shouldn’t be such an issue.

Anything else I should know about blogging safety?

This article is a gem. The main thing that jumped at me was that I should delete the “admin” username. The article shows you how. Hackers try to access accounts by finding blogs who use the default admin username since that is half of the information they need to access your site. Another half is obviously a password. Your cat’s name just isn’t good enough.

So think about security before you post.


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