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Privacy and the Inadvertent me

Jamie Barrows

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I’m not sure if I mentioned this before or not. At least I’m not sure if I mentioned it on this blog. But even if I have mentioned it before, it still bears repeating. Anything you put online may come back to haunt you some day in the future. So be careful what you post or say in forums and on blogs like this one.

What brought this topic to mind for me was a blog post I read on the Freedom To Tinker blog, called Satyam and the Inadvertent Web. Basically it’s the story of how a group of pictures taken and uploaded to Flickr several years ago, suddenly became highly relevant when Satyam became news worthy.

The pictures were taken by someone with no real connection to the company other than visiting it on a trip to India. They sat on Flickr for years and lived in obscurity all that time. Then Satyam got in the news for one of the biggest financial coverups of the Indian high tech industry. Suddenly, they were being referenced and viewed regularly. Suddenly those photos became a very large part of who the photographer is online.

The point is, whatever you say online. Whether on an obscure blog like mine, or on a major traffic destination, could become a big part of who you are and how you are perceived when people do a search for you.

People search engines are becoming better and better at finding all the bits and pieces of yourself that are scattered all over the web and aggregating them into a clear picture of you. Don’t believe me? Do a search for your name on Google and see what comes back. Probably more than you would expect. And Google doesn’t even specialize in people searches. If you do a search on a people specific search engine like Pipl.com. You will be amazed at what it can find about you. All those little comments, pictures, and even government records get matched up to your name. It can often even match up nicknames and pseudonyms that you have used in the past.

Those little tiny pieces of you that are scattered all over the web may lie in obscurity and be hardly noticed for years, and then a current news story can easily bring them to the forefront. Suddenly that comment or picture you posted years ago, is on the first page of a Google search for you. And what’s worse, is that you can’t ever really get rid of info once it is online.

It’s not like having an embarrassing conversation with someone or saying something stupid. Those things are easily forgotten once the conversation is over. Comments, blog posts, pictures, and social networking profiles can stick around forever once they are online. Even going back and deleting them (assuming you can) doesn’t really make them go away. They will still be in caches and archives all over the web. And it’s getting easier and easier to find that info if you are looking for it.

I’m not writing this to scare you off from commenting in forums or on blogs. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t have your own blog or facebook/myspace account. All I’m saying, is that you really should think very carefully before posting anything online. You should carefully consider your words before whipping out a comment on a blog or forum. Because you never know when that little piece of you might become a BIG piece of you.


One Response to “Privacy and the Inadvertent me”

  • Alexander Says:

    You are very right – this is more important than many people do consider!
    But… there is no need to use always your full name… e.g. when you are commenting ;-)

    You could even use a pseudonym…
    This wouldn’t be cowardly… it’s simply cautious.

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