Posted by: Michelle Mitton | August 25, 2008

Readers’ Panel: Internet Privacy Issues

Privacy on Your BlogDear Michelle:

Have you ever addressed the issue of security and pictures on your blog? How do you decide what you should or should not publish and do you worry about publishing personal things or pictures of your children?

Sincerely,
Mary at
Not Before 7

I’ve been asked this by many people but most recently by Mary so I’ll give her credit. It comes most frequently from people who don’t have blogs who, puzzled by the phenomenon of blogging, will ask me why on earth I would expose so much personal information but sometimes bloggers want to know how cautious they should be when posting pictures or information.

I don’t want to be flippant about this, as with much of life there is potential for danger, even disaster, but it’s a matter of evaluating the issues and acting with wisdom.

First let’s look at the benefits of sharing a bit of your personal information with your readers.

Sharing personal things connects you with your readers, lets them know a little bit about you and gives you credibility. If I tell you that I’ve been happily married for 16 years, I’m six feet tall, I hate touching raw chicken, I once made myself sick from eating too many yummy Brussel sprouts, I love the smell of hospitals and I can say the alphabet backwards in five seconds then suddenly I’m not just a name on the other end of the line I’m a real person.

You can, of course, share too much of a good thing and while I do share some of my life here on Scribbit there are actually many things I’d never divulge. I wouldn’t share sensitive information about my children. For example, if I had a child who was caught shoplifting or taking drugs I wouldn’t write about it because of the repercussions it might have for that child. They don’t need a permanent record of those kinds of mistakes even though discussing parenting issues such as that might help others navigate difficult circumstances.

I wouldn’t share intimate details of my marriage or my relationships with other family members, some things (at least around here) are better left unwritten and I’d never want to write something about another person that I wouldn’t feel comfortable saying to their face.

I wouldn’t write anything about my husband’s work environment. It isn’t my right to talk about things he’s experiencing there and I wouldn’t ever want to write about sensitive information that could jeopardize his office or his job. Not gonna do it.

I’m also not very good about sharing deeply personal feelings but that’s just a part of my personality and not due to any great rule I set for myself–I just have a hard time talking about personal issues with anyone but Andrew or my children and I tend to be a little stand-offish and difficult to know until I feel comfortable with someone. Writing about personal tragedy, for example, isn’t something I could do easily though maybe someday I might feel differently. I’ve wondered if this is a shortcoming of mine because sometimes there are benefits of sharing trials–makes them more bearable for those who are going through them for example–but for me I feel awkward about it so it usually remains in the background.

The point is, despite what many people might think I don’t share a great deal of personal information here at Scribbit–unless you consider pictures of my kitchen probing and raw–but I do think that infusing your blog with a bit of what makes you you and giving the characters in your life real names and faces makes them believable, helps your readers feel at home and makes you feel more invested in your writing.

So then what are the cons of sharing?

The world is a crazy place with crazy people who do crazy things and there is the chance that one day you wake up and find that you’re the next victim. It’s possible for nasty people to find your blog, exploit pictures of your family or steal your identity–you could even grow your very own stalker and find yourself in real personal danger. It could all happen and I’m sure if I put this out to a vote that I could find someone who could tell me a story of what happened to a friend of a friend of a friend who had that exact thing happen to her.

But is it realistic?

We do a lot of dangerous things each day: crossing the street, eating fast food, sunbathing, driving a car, in fact most of the things we do each day carry some amount of danger. When I was a kid we played this goofy car game called “It Will Kill You” where someone would name some boring item and the others would have to imagine a scenario where that otherwise commonplace thing could kill you. Yea we were a cheerful family.

I remember laughing about how raindrops were deadly because you could get one in your eye at just the right time to cause a car crash or how enough of them together could drown you or how a raindrop might carry a toxic pollutant–all sorts of ways for that innocent little drop to wipe you out. It was funny but it’s come to the point that this is how we tend to view life.

Yes, it’s possible for the right brand of crazy to stumble upon your blog and make your life into a Hollywood horror flick but you’ve got to look at the odds. Think about how much personal information is available on the internet–look at My Space alone–and think about the pages and pages of private things people are sharing. Then think about your blog and compare–which would provide a greater incentive for someone who was truly out to find someone to harm? They’re not going to be shopping around in the momblogs if they’re looking for a victim and even if they were I don’t think that reading about our family vacation is going to inflame them enough to track me down, travel all the way up here to Alaska and stalk me. Really, I’m just not that attractive.

Your odds of coming to harm are about the same as being hit by a sniper at the mall. It certainly could happen but the odds of it occurring compounded with the odds of it ever doing any damage are so minute that it’s hardly a possibility let alone a probability.

Of course you don’t have to do things that raise those odds any–for example I don’t use my real name I use a pen name on my blog and for my offline writing. I don’t publish my phone number or address and use a P.O. Box for mail service associated with Scribbit and I don’t reveal information that could be used toward identity theft–such as birthdays, middle names, etc.

I also keep an eye on my Google Analytics and the key word queries people do on the search engines that lead them to my blog just to be aware of the kinds of words people are searching for when they find me and I don’t use words that would provoke visits from less-desirable visitors.

So, weighing the pros and cons, I long ago decided to share personal things on my blog and I post pictures that add to my posts. I mention things about my life in a hope that they’re entertaining to read and I love exchanging emails with people to get to know them a little better. I love the personal nature of blogging and the immediacy of each post or comment so if telling everyone that right now I’m sitting in a pile of rubble while my house is under construction, dry wall dust between my toes, is dangerous then I don’t know that I care to continue writing here.

But those are just my personal feelings, you’ll have to make up your own mind.

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