Protecting Others’ Online Privacy


By now, most of us who have used the internet for more than a few years will know (or really, really should) guidelines on how to protect ourselves when surfing the net.

We know, for example, that it’s not a good idea to put your home address online where anyone can find it and then stalk you. Unless you really, really want to be stalked by a complete and utter stranger — though you’d have to ask anyone you live with if they’d want to share that experience with you, just in case, you know, you all get stalked, out of common courtesy to the people living under the same roof as you.

UBC also offers the occasional workshop on your digital tattoo: the lesson of making sure that there is nothing on the web that you wouldn’t want your prospective employer, for example, to see, and that the stuff that’s about you is resume-worthy stuff.

All excellent lessons. Now let’s think about other people, too. I’m not sure when this started happening — perhaps with the advent of social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace where people will use their real names, create a visible network of contacts also using their real names, and tagging photos of these contacts under their real names? — but I notice that more and more people are throwing their friends’ names out left, right and centre.

OK, I tag people on Facebook. Nevertheless, I will maintain that there is a significant difference between tagging somebody on Facebook and writing out their name on a blog like this: on Facebook, you can set your privacy levels to a limited extent, but this blog is very, very public and searchable.

This is pretty ironic, I’m sure: I have my name pasted all over this very, very public, searchable blog, and I’m making a fuss about online privacy?

Yes, because while I understand I signed up for a limited amount of publicity when I started blogging under my own name — note: limited — other people haven’t. And I/we should respect that.

I don’t know about the legal aspects of any of this, but in terms of common courtesy, I think this is a pretty good golden rule:

If a person hasn’t given permission to have their identifying information revealed, don’t reveal it. This includes discussions about specific classes, workplaces, or any location in which a person can be found. Like posting your home address, many people in your class don’t want to be found at a certain time of day.

Many people also don’t want their photos available on searchable sites, no matter how many they put up on Facebook. Even if you’re going to attach a name to a photo, it’s usually highly unnecessary to put first and last name up. A first name is usually enough to suffice, unless the unfortunate individual has an uncommon first name, like me (for the record, this is why I don’t want any photos of me up without knowledge beforehand). This blog is the first thing you’ll find when you do a Google search for lillienne and there are only so many Lilliennes at UBC to make the chance of whatever you’re posting being of me very, very high.

As one of my friends said, “So I could make up absolutely anything about you and put it online and people would think that’s you.”

“Well, yes–” I began, and, “wait, DON’T YOU DARE DO THAT!”

(If you’re another Lillienne at UBC, please let me know so we can commiserate. Actually, let me know so I can apologise for probably giving you the wrong identity. Also if my friend pranks me and therefore you, too.)

The only time I don’t bother asking a person is if they’re already publicly online. For example, I have no qualms about linking posts made by my fellow UBC bloggers — like me, they’ve accepted a certain degree of publicity. Though I still wouldn’t do anything they don’t do: talk about specific locations they’re in, or put up photos without asking first. (We all know how much we hate those unflattering photos…)

Beyond basic desire for people to control their own online presence, there are sometimes more serious reasons for why a person doesn’t want their information publicly available.

One of the standard questions on the registration forms for the YMCA Camps (I worked there this summer) was, “Is there anyone who should not be in contact with your child?” Most university students are no longer minors, but this doesn’t mean there aren’t people we need to avoid. Or sometimes people do work in stuff that requires a degree of anonymity and they don’t want that compromised.

Plus, it’s very embarrassing for both parties to have to confront/be confronted by someone who doesn’t want their information up on your personal blog. Let us all avoid this by taking care of one another’s online privacy! 😀

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