Some people are hesitant to go online fearing invasion of privacy. That said, in order to blog or engage in social networking, we knowingly, willingly give up part of our privacy.
To remain semi private online can be easy to implement, however the more time we spend online, the more information we share, the easier it may be for others to put the pieces together.
Online privacy was a topic I was well aware of when I started blogging, and even though I chose to use my real name and share some personal information, I continue to monitor what I post online.
I know others try to be careful too, but as time goes by, it’s easy to become lax. Easy to slip up.
Listed below is a sampling of information we may be trying to protect while online, but may be inadvertently disclosing .
- Our birth date
- Medical conditions
- Where we live
- Where we work
- Our real name
- Our financial status
- Our whereabouts
- Our personal email address
- Our political or religious viewpoints
- Our trust
- Our photo
- Our marital status
- The names of our children
- Our reputation
Let’s say someone publishes their birthday is October 7th – no year. I realize for privacy reasons they don’t want others to know their complete birth date, but if they publish a blog post or share photos of themselves celebrating their 40th birthday, it doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out the birth year.
Your birth date is a vital piece of information identity thieves look for, as is your social security number. Keep this information confidential.
In the United States the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was enacted to keep medical information private and protected so as not to interfere with our health care. However, some people willingly admit online to medical conditions and illnesses.
I also see this happening when someone writes a blog post stating they have “xyz” condition. Others comment and say they have the same or something similar.
Note: If you’re in the job market, a prospective employer could easily check your online entries and may avoid hiring you based on your past or present medical conditions.
Trying to hide where we live is fruitless unless we consistently use a proxy server. Our IP address is like a fingerprint. Not only does it tell others the general vicinity we’re from, but it tells others what browser we’re using, the platform we use (i.e. Windows XP), our screen resolution, how we arrived on a page (via a search engine, direct or referral), what pages we viewed, how long we spent on a site, plus much more.
Although using a proxy browser may protect some of our data, others may question why we feel the need to remain anonymous and what we’re trying to hide.
For those who want more information with regard to the ownership of an IP address, Whois is a popular site used for this purpose.
Important note: I would discourage everyone from publishing their physical address online. For mailing purposes, consider using a post office box.
If we’re self employed, blogs and social networking sites are a perfect place to promote our business, however if we work for an employer, a blog or social networking site could easily become a place to vent our frustrations about our job. In most cases this doesn’t create a problem, however if our outbursts begin to border on defamation, we could get ourselves in trouble.
It’s one thing to say “My boss made me #*$&% angry today.”, however saying (for example), “Barbara Swafford at Blogging Without A Blog is an incompetent moron who rips off her clients.” may land you in a courtroom.
Being vague about where we work may not keep us safe from repercussions. The clues we leave online could easily pinpoint the name of our employer.
Note: Check your company policy if you’re blogging or visiting social networking sites while at work. Many businesses state personal use of their computers is not allowed. Keep in mind, your online activity may be monitored and could be grounds for termination.
Many bloggers use an alias, however if we’ve neglected to tell our real life friends we don’t want our true identity revealed online, it’s easy for friends to get carried away on sites like Facebook. They may address us by our real name or tag us in a photo, thus allowing others to easily put the pieces together.
Another area where real names are sometimes disclosed is in our email address. Let’s say my login name is Betty Boop, but my email account is barbaraswafford@…., It’s not hard to figure out (assume), my real name is Barbara Swafford, not Betty Boop.
Note: If the email issue is something you’re concerned with, it’s easy and free to set up an additional email account on a site like Gmail.
Showing how much money we’ve made from our blog may entice others to sign up for our affiliate program or purchase our latest ebook, however sharing information about our personal income or assets could expose us to online scammers.
The same holds true when we share photos online. Although it may be fun to brag about our latest expensive “toy” or exotic vacation, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out (or assume) we may also be well off.
We all need time off. Time off from blogging, as well as time away from home or work. With blogs we can refrain from publishing, use the postdate feature and have new posts automatically published during our absence, use a blog sitter or guest posts. That said, many bloggers also admit they’ll be away, including the fact they’ll be out of town. In order to cover all bases, some will also post this information on Facebook and Twitter.
Unfortunately this tactic can also be a red flag. As discussed in an article on PC World, thieves used entries (about people being away) found on Facebook to rob homes.
This is something I questioned from the beginning. Should I share my personal email address on my blog? I chose not to, but instead use a plugin for a contact page. This not only keeps my personal email account easy to manage, but helps to keep spammers at bay.
If you do decide to share an email address online, consider setting up a separate email account for this purpose.
Important note: If you change the email address you use online, the next time you comment on your favorite blogs, your comments may go into moderation.
Some will say we shouldn’t discuss politics or religion online as it can lead to alienation, a firestorm of comments, or even bring out the trolls. Even if we do not publish our views, others can easily check who we’re following on Twitter, friending and/or “liking” on Facebook and put two and two together.
To save you time from researching me, I’m a Christian, registered as an independent and vote for whom I feel will do the best job based on their qualifications and I do not discuss religion or politics online. 8)
Bloggers are basically a good group of people, however as with any platform, we’ll find some bad eggs. It’s not uncommon for bloggers to email each other and disclose personal facts without knowing that much about the recipient.
Emailing a fellow blogger “offline” does not guarantee what you say will be held in confidence. Although most bloggers will respect your privacy, in the event you have a falling out, the other blogger is not who they say they are, or the other blogger decides to be a jerk, what you’ve shared with them could become public knowledge.
Be cautious when taking conversations offline.
Granted, if we don’t want to share a photo of ourselves online, it’s easy not to publish one. But what happens if a friend or family member publishes photos on their Facebook page and identify or “tag” us? We can ask them to take it down, but will they?
Prior to going online, having a conversation with friends and family with regard to not wanting our photos posted online may help. but that’s not a guarantee it won’t happen.
On Facebook we do have the ability to “untag” a photo.
As adults it’s our prerogative to share our age, but what I see happening on Facebook, where the minimum age to have an account is 13, are minors who proudly disclose their age. Some of these accounts are truly minors, however online predators often pose as minors, as well.
All the more reason to monitor the online activities of children whom we know.
I’m not sure why someone wouldn’t want to admit they’re married, however I do understand why a single woman might be hesitant to admit she lives alone.
With online predators and scam artists not only targeting children but single women, monitoring what is said online is important.
I think it’s very important we protect the privacy of our minor children. Using pet names or aliases for children works well on blogs, however if we also have a Facebook account and disclose their real names, we’ve just revealed that which we had been trying to hide.
If we blog AND use Facebook, being consistent in how we identify our children can help to alleviate this problem.
This one reminds me of a favorite quote of mine,
You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time. ~Abraham Lincoln
Most of the people we meet online are genuinely nice people, however if we’re dishonest about who we are, our values, our beliefs, etc, we could easily get caught up in our lies. Since I started blogging, I’ve witnessed several people saying one thing on their blog, but something totally different on a social networking site. When I see mixed messages being posted, I not only question the person’s honesty, but their credibility.
It’s one thing to want to protect as much of our privacy as possible, but scamming or conning others can easily catch up with us.
Although we may try to remain somewhat private online, if we’re not careful we can easily leave breadcrumbs for others to follow.
Where will the ones you leave online lead others?
How important is online privacy to you?
What do you do to protect yourself online?
Do you see other areas where fellow bloggers, friends or family are risking their privacy?
Care to share?
P.S. When leaving a comment, do not reveal any personal information which could be detrimental to you or others, now or in the future.