Privacy on the Internet . . . and me

As I was writing the previous post (Privacy on the Internet) it got me thinking about how I approach posting things online. I have a ton of stuff online about myself and am easily findable with a quick Google search. (At the moment 6/10 (without middle initial) and 8/10 (with) of the first page of results are about me.

Even though I’m all over the place, I’m still taking advantage of privacy controls, and I’m trying not to post things that I think could cause me trouble down the line. (There was an exception to that rule for several months.) But I’m finding it increasingly difficult to balance the desire to be out there,  making myself findable and accessible, with the desire to control who can see the details.

While my Facebook profile is pretty well closed up, most of what I post to Flickr is completely public, and my blog is (obviously) public. So how much good does locking up my Facebook profile do? (I should note that my profile does not include my phone number or address.) With a quick perusal of my blog & photostream, you could get basically the same information about me that you’d see on my Facebook profile. (And let’s not even talk about the perennial Facebook problem of friending people that you’re not really even friends with. I use Facebook to keep up with people I know and like in real life. For a while I thought it might be a tool to rekindle some old college friendships, but that’s not so much the case. So, if I never see you and we don’t even interact online, I don’t want my newsfeed cluttered up with info about you. The “more and less info” controls only do so much.)

And this doesn’t even get into the flip side of the coin — you can control what you put online about yourself, and who can see it, but how much control do you have over what other people post? For example, I feel obligated to friend people on Facebook when I have posted photos that include them — it’s only fair. (And that, naturally, only exacerbates the problem above.)

Lately I’ve been thinking about changing how I post to Flickr by marking anything with a person in it as “friends & family only.” (I’m doing this to a small extent now, with photos where people are a bit on the tipsy side and doing something silly, and more recently with photos of tiny cousins.) But I know for a fact there are people who visit my photostream who don’t have a desire to be on Flickr, even if it’s just to get access to my photos. They’re taking advantage of the fact that pretty much everything I post is wide open.

So, how do I balance the inclination to let my far-away friends and family see what I’m up to, with my increasing desire to be a bit more mindful of what I’m posting for public view? Do I want to force my Mom to have to log in to Flickr to see what I’m up to? How carefully do I want to curate my photostream? And do I go back and change the privacy setting on photos that have been up for as long as three years? (After all, once something is out on the web, you can’t really take it back.)

Even so, more and more I’m leaning towards doing it. I tag all of my photos pretty well, and so it’s easy as pie for someone to visit my photostream and see every photo I’ve ever posted of a particular friend. Plus, since I tag my photos that means that they attract people who wouldn’t normally be looking at my photostream — witness the string of favorites and comments on photos of Ravens fans at the Mayor’s Christmas Parade. Do I need/want those people looking at random photos of weddings and parties I’ve been to? On the one hand, you can argue that they probably don’t care that much. But on the other hand, is it a bad thing to be a little more careful?

What do you think? (I especially direct this question at those of you who make frequent appearances in my photostream.)

6 thoughts on “Privacy on the Internet . . . and me

  1. I think about this all the time. I’m out there. All over the place. I try to think about “what would I want my co-workers to know” but there’s stuff out there from a million years ago. (I’ve had some sort of online presence since 1996.) I, too, use the friends and family protection on Flickr, and only post stuff of my friends that I know wouldn’t really embarrass them. But then there are other people who post photos of me doing goofy stuff, and I’ve got coworkers on facebook, and it just gets complicated.

    So, I guess I don’t have anything helpful to add to the conversation, except to say, I haven’t figured it out either.

  2. I approach this in a very similar way that you do. My Facebook is pretty restricted, and everything else I do I only post using my Nom de Shoes 🙂

    As far as I know, I’m nearly un-Googleable using my real name, and I hope to keep it that way. Right now, all that comes up after pages and pages about more accomplished people who share my name is some work I did for a nonprofit in the 1990s – not a bad thing to have on my permanent record.

    On Flickr, I try to make sure anything with a recognizable (human, not canine or feline) face is F&F only. I’ve been remiss a couple of times, but my friends usually alert me to this.

    My coworkers think I’m a bit of a snob because I won’t open my Facebook up to them. I’m more ok with that than I am with having to deal with “friend collectors” or the boss knowing a little too much about me. My policy: Linked In is for work relationships; Facebook is for everything else.

    Um… can you tell I think about this a lot? 🙂

  3. I’ve been thinking about this too. I’ve been online in some form since 1992 (FreeNet and a 14.4 modem, OMG), and yet I find myself hesitating a lot when I’m deciding how much *more* to put out there. Obviously my blog is in public space, but a lot of my Flickr is marked “friends and family” and I make liberal use of the “guest pass” feature for folks that aren’t (and don’t wish to be) members. I haven’t figured out yet how to keep others from posting pictures of me. I try to be sensitive about what I post in places like Facebook, and generally don’t tag with full names (I also have my images marked as “friends only” on FB), but that only takes you so far. I’ve noticed that some people come through and re-tag my images with full names and others don’t.

    I’ve been thinking about going back and putting all of my Flickr images that include people behind the F&F wall, too. I already do it with kid pictures, and I guess in a way, I hope that karmically, others will be more considerate about their posted images if I do the same… I just don’t want to be tied to “curating my photostream,” as you put it, too closely, either.

  4. I have a fairly unique name (except for my sister) so it’s pretty easy to track me down. (Not to mention that I’ve been online in some form or another since 1988.) I guess I just don’t worry terribly much about privacy. I’m fairly proud of who I am, and though I have one thing that I’d prefer people not knowing, especially in a work context, I’ve realized it’s almost impossible for me to prevent anyone who really cares from finding out.

    I’m not sure that makes sense, but it does to me.

  5. I could care less about what anyone sees of ME on the Web, but I think carefully about putting pictures with other people in them anywhere public. Graduation pictures, fine. Large party pictures, fine. Small gathering with friends who mostly aren’t on the Internet – no. I require permission to follow me on Twitter or FriendFeed, and I am careful not to put my address and phone number up. If you tried hard you could figure out when I am going to be out of town, but you’d only be able to find my empty office, not my empty home. I don’t really care much about my privacy – I just try to respect the privacy of other individuals who might be in my apce. And I use my real name everywhere except Second Life.

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