Saturday, January 30, 2010

We all lie--but without anonymity

This was my week to finish up a class I was teaching on blogging. It's not part of my job, per se. Since we receive federal funding, part of the grant stipulates that the organization must engage in a certain number of professional development class hours each year. The problem with that is that the grant itself doesn't cover the cost of professional development, so we have to come up with plausible things to teach each other in house.

I didn't appreciate how much I know about blogging until I mapped out a three-part lesson plan, including homework, research, and a couple of articles about ethics, freedom of speech, copyright considerations, and privacy. I knew none of this in 2007 when I started Brainucopia. I couldn't even figure out how to put a picture in a post. How far I've come. A background in corporate training gave me the classroom skills I needed, but it was Brainucopia itself that provided me with the most important lessons to teach.

My "students" asked about privacy, so I made a handout about ways people protect their privacy online. I explained that although I keep a personal blog, I can't use my own name because of safety and professional reasons. Everyone was given the choice of whether or not to name themselves online. Most chose to write under their real name, having nothing to hide themselves.

Before I taught the last part of the class--the part about adding bells and whistles and gadgets to a blog, I took a look at my own blog and at the doo-dads I had added it to it (and to the other three work-related blogs). In a attempt not to appear like an uninformed dumbass, I also decided to play with some of those doo-dads, and what I found left me staring at the computer monitor, mouth open in horror and surprise.

I had been reading my stats--stats I never even knew were being collected via the same program that runs the Brainucopia hit counter. For me, the hit counter was merely a means to answer a simple question: Is there anybody out there? The answer was chilling. Not only were there quite a few someones out there, I could find out quite a bit about them. After I easily identified my own information, I ran every piece of information about it I could and was appalled to realize that not only wasn't I keeping many secrets, but anyone whose blog or Website I had ever visited could just as effortlessly know quite a bit about me.

I thought I would hyperventilate.

This was how I gained some interesting insights about various people I know but don't know. For example, quite a few us lie about where we actually are on the planet. My location as listed in my Blogger profile is an inside joke in my family. It's where my grandmother was born and raised, but now it's a ghost town with a population of 11. Where I really am--as well as maybe the name I use with the bank and on my driver's license--are not details I have been hoping to reveal.

Bloggers who are working through intensely personal life issues or who are whistle-blowing insiders understand the need to maintain their privacy, although I suspect most are completely unaware of how little privacy they actually have.

A reminder to tread carefully.

Our digital DNA is left behind everywhere we go online. Usually, this is not a problem, unless you acquire the attention of a stalker who has outstanding sleuthing skills. In that case, you might want to think about using the computer at the library.

1 comment:

Ethereal Highway said...

It IS shocking what even a simple stat counter can reveal, isn't it? I took mine down temporarily because I was absolutely astounded when I accidentally discovered that one of my readers at the time had ABSOLUTELY NO PRIVACY just with one simple click. In a very freaky jumble of circumstances, said reader's decloaking could have also caused my own by default. I must admit - it shook me up pretty good.

I have also noticed that the same people often show up in different locations depending on which stat counter is being used to track.