Category: Privacy

Aug 07 2010

Who Will You Be Online When You Die? BlogHer Day Two

I’m in the Geek Lab this afternoon, in a session on “Taking an inventory of your digital life” by Rosemary Jean-Louis and Kristen Kuhns. Sort of similar to my own panel yesterday, but different – more about understanding the impact one thing can have on your digital presence.

They make a very good point, that you’re not going to end up in the history books unless you’re Steve Jobs or something. You are making your own history with your online presence across social networks, blogs, email – it’s not JUST your blog. You’re leaving footprints everywhere you are online.

In fact, it’s entirely possible the worst stuff about you online is not on your blog. For example, that damn Quake box picture that I will never live down is on, not here.

A recommended list of places to check to determine your “digital inventory”:

  • Ping sites
  • Location sharing sites
  • Your websites
  • Websites that have quoted you
  • Websites/blogs you have commented on
  • Websites you’ve joined

They recommend using Google Alerts for your own name to catch new mentions of your name. I do this, but it’s become pretty funny for me, since there is a reporter with my name. Every time she writes a new article (which is a couple of times a week), I get alerts. But hey, at least I’m up to date on the news in Boston?

Interesting point about how your digital presence is more than just the now, but about your legacy. I admit, I pretty much never think about that, and it’s a fantastic point. Your children, your great-grandchildren will read about you online someday. Imagine if you could read your grandmother’s blog? How cool would that be.

And some recommendations on how to leave a digital legacy to be proud of:

  • Centralize your identity – consider using Open ID or Facebook Connect (or other) to be the same you everywhere.
  • Be familiar with privacy settings on sites you belong to and their policies on what happens when you die.
  • Consider adding your username and password info to your will so your family has access to your blogs, email, social media sites.
  • Consider an online vault site, or digital will (Entrustet is one company – never even knew this existed).

Ok, I admit, I NEVER EVER think about that. I’ve dealt with it from a work perspective, mostly back when I was with the LiveJournal Abuse Team, but it is worth thinking about. If I die, do I want this blog to stay here, with the last entry as whatever it was?

Facebook apparently allows family members to access a deceased user’s profile, but Twitter has no such policy. Most companies don’t, apparently.

Hotmail allows a family to order a CD copy of their loved one’s emails. Now that’s creepy to me. I really don’t want anyone getting my email history after I’m dead, I wonder if I can opt out?

Online retailers are in a whole other category for digital legacies. What happens if orders keep coming in and you’re dead? How does anyone contact customers, etc.

It’s also important to remember that technology changes. This is the first generation who will be online from birth ’till death – I’ve definitely seen that with my niece, where my brother bought the domain name for her website before she was born (even before he’d tell ME what her name was!). You’ll note- now that Alice is two, that website isn’t being updated anymore. Pics are private on Flickr. But what if Flickr goes away? Caption your pictures, make sure you know who’s in them, because you won’t know forever. That’s a great point for someone to make to me, the lazy girl who just uploaded pictures to Flickr that I took over New Year’s in Ireland! I’m terrible about archiving and recording things for posterity.

Check out Rosemary’s site at The Geek Treatment or @thesexygeek, and Kristen at Story of My Life.

Fabulous session, ladies, very very glad I attended.

Aug 06 2010

NSFW and TMI? BlogHer – Day One

I think it’s interesting how every year BlogHer seems to have a theme running through the sessions. Last year it was really focused on how to blog, or become a better, bigger blogger. This year it seems to be more about what, or how to share, and how to spur community around whatever you’re sharing. And that was certainly the topic of the panel I was on – “Authenticity or TMI: When does blogging the personal hurt your brand?”

As everyone knows, this is my personal blog. I talk about all sorts of stuff here, but it’s not about work, as in, it’s not about my job at Yola. To read about that, go check out the Yola blog which has lots of people blogging about all things Yola.

This is my personal space. I talk about tech stuff, baking, science fiction, my cats, annoying experiences, whatever is on my mind at the moment. But I also heavily self-censor. There are topics I will never, ever discuss here, or at least, not until I’ve made a conscious decision to change my online image.

Those of you who’ve known me since the Pseudo days know that there was a time where I didn’t see any limits to what was “right” to do online. I also believe that the Internet was a very different place then. My mother wasn’t going to accidentally come across an episode of Lilith & Eve and be freaked out because I fake-punched Aurora in the face (and what an awesome fight that was!!). These days there would be no keeping that from my mom, my employer and everyone.

My choice is simply not to put it online. Other women on the panel with me have other approaches to this, and I can’t say one is right or wrong over another. It’s a very personal decision, and one that someone should very consciously make. So here’s my advice, and a summary of what I said on the panel:

Don’t leave it to chance. Sit down and decide where your line will be drawn. What is the right content for what network – they’re not all the same. After that, go clean up anything that doesn’t fit between the lines. Decide what you want the top search result to be for you in Google. If it’s not the top result already, do some SEO and make it so.

Whether or not you want to be, you are a brand online. And just as Coke or Pepsi fastidiously monitors their brand online, so you should yours as well.

Feb 20 2009

Facebook Changed Their TOS. So What.

Two weeks ago, Facebook updated their terms of service. This past weekend someone wrote a blog entry pointing out the changes, and that people should maybe worry.

And people flipped the frack out….about something they didn’t understand. At all.

Sheesh. Before freaking out, let’s talk about a bit of the basic information behind this first. This issue involves user data and a site’s Terms of Service.

1) Terms of Use/Service and Privacy Policies

Every single site out there could benefit from a Terms of Service/Use & Privacy Policy, and any commercial site launching without one is asking for trouble. The documents generally cover what a user can and cannot do with the site, what the site is responsible for in the event of illegal activity or police involvement, what the site will or won’t do with a user’s information, and the typical indemnification “it’s not our fault if your computer breaks.” ToS aren’t unique to websites or tech, but sites are bringing these things to the attention of mainstream folks a bit more.

These docs are important for the legal protection of the company, but also to make as clear as possible to a user what will be done with any information they may provide. I don’t have one for this blog, because, well, I don’t much care, this isn’t a business, it’s my blabbering and your comments here are your own. But folks who take their blogs a bit more seriously will include something.

The moment you hit a website you’ve agreed to their Terms of Service, whether there’s a registration process or not (“your use of this site is governed by this agreement between you and whatevercompany, inc”). Ignoring a site’s terms is the same as signing up for a credit card without reading the fine print.  One month later, you get your bill:

“I didn’t see anything about 35% interest!?”
“Sure you did, you signed on the bottom of the form that you agreed to the fee.”
“I didn’t notice, so take the money back.”
*hysterical laughter* “Is this a crank call?”

Yeah, that doesn’t go over so well. There isn’t much difference between that and a site’s TOS. You agreed to it, you’re stuck with it.  And just like credit card agreements, it can be changed at anytime, with all changes taking place retroactively.

Personally? I read ‘em all, have found some fun doozies buried in various agreements, and have refused to sign up for sites or services because of them. Most recently, a line in a beta user agreement required that I “never say anything negative about the site or service.” Add to that the “this agreement exists in perpetuity,” and suddenly I’ve agreed to a gag order. I don’t think so! I was truly amazed people did sign up, but then again, I’m sure they didn’t read that.

2) User Data = You Online. Forever.

I talked about this a lot in one of my entries from she’s geeky, since it’s a big issue I don’t think people understand (and this Facebook mess just proves that).


Ok? One more time.


It doesn’t matter if you’ve locked your Facebook, if you’ve deleted it, whatever. It’s there. If not somewhere you can find it, then it’s in Google cache, or on the wayback machine, in your friend’s inbox, on flickr, somewhere. Don’t think that if you can’t find it it’s not online – the Wayback Machine, for example, only keeps a small fraction of their archive available online.

Now – this latest Facebook blowup.

The freak out was over the fact that Facebook added some language to their Terms saying they would keep a user’s content and licenses even after the person deleted the profile, and removed some other language about users being able to remove content to invalidate the license.

Hey, guess what people? This is nothing new – Facebook just put it in clear text. With the massively complicated architecture of today’s websites, there are caches and archives all over the place of things you’ve put online. If you delete something, it may no longer be delinked, but don’t kid yourself into thinking it’s gone. It’s probably not.

Should facebook have updated it’s TOS like that? Eh. They should have probably been a bit more subtle in their language, but the fact is, had a blog not pointed out what the changes meant, nobody would have noticed.

Want to read some spooky legalese? Check out Google’s Privacy Policy:

When you access Google services, our servers automatically record information that your browser sends whenever you visit a website. These server logs may include information such as your web request, Internet Protocol address, browser type, browser language, the date and time of your request and one or more cookies that may uniquely identify your browser. Also, in order to protect you from fraud, phishing, and other misconduct, we may collect information about your interaction with our services. Any such information we collect will only be used to detect and prevent fraud or other misconduct.

Know what that means? They track you online, and save that data. The wording is nice and light, but that’s what it means.  That’s scarier to me than thinking that Facebook may keep a record of “25 things about me..” even after I delete my account.

The lesson here is twofold. Just as in real life, don’t sign anything you haven’t read. If you don’t like what you’re reading, don’t use the service. And don’t think your information can ever be taken offline once you’ve put it there. It’s there forever, and even if one website says they’ll protect your information, they can always change their terms of service to say otherwise.

Be smart, be careful, and stuff like this really won’t matter.

Update: Just wanted to add a link to this article, “What Facebook’s Stumble Can Teach Your Company.” I think the opinion expressed in the article is highly idealistic and probably extremely unrealistic, but it’s still a good read.

Nov 09 2007

Track Me, Baby

I was talking to some coworkers today about how nothing you do at work is truly private – your company tracks you (or at least, I’m told mine does).

I understand the tracking of my actual work � emails and such � that�s good in the event of a lawsuit or anything where we�d have to provide evidence. I even understand tracking web activity � for example, one of my good friends can no longer access MySpace from work because her coworkers were having a wee too much fun during the day and slowing down their entire network.

I very much feel that it is fully my employer�s right to track me, and don�t feel personally invaded or any of that stuff by them doing so.

But I wonder what they expect to see, especially from my web activity at work. Obviously, I�m on MySpace all day. I do hit up some of my �must have� sites I was writing about yesterday, but mainly, if I�m not on MySpace at work, I�m probably on another social network, or new Web 2.0 site. I�m on �em all. I scramble for private beta invites the second they�re available, and will join anything and everything just to see what it�s like. I�ve even been known to hit up some very, very Not Safe For Work sites to check things out.

I do end up joining a bunch of awfully boring sites, but every once in a while, something surprises me. Sandy�s a great example of that � I think I heard about this site from the TechCrunch conference, and now I use it daily.

This got rambly. But my point was – look at my logs from work and all you’d see is one random website after another after another. And while I do believe my company has every right to look at what I’m doing – I don’t believe I have any right to privacy when I’m being paid to do something – I do wonder what they’re trying to accomplish

“She changed her status four times today!! Bad bad BamBam!”

Eh. Maybe not.

Jul 15 2007

My Boss is My Friend

I thought this article from the Wall Street Journal was really interesting: OMG –My Boss Wants to ‘Friend’ Me On My Online Profile.

I have a very different perspective on this subject, obviously, given where I work. It’s always been fairly standard for me to have my coworkers as friends on whatever social network we happened to be playing with at the moment. My MySpace friends list is filled with coworkers, and I know current and former coworkers read this blog.

I did take notice when my Facebook friends list began to fill with former and current coworkers. Facebook used to be very small, where networks were really only people you knew, your true friends. But the atmosphere of the network changed, from small and private, to more open and social.

It’s all very interesting to me. The current trend at MySpace is to give people more control over who sees what. On Facebook, there already are advanced privacy controls. People are just rendering them useless by adding anyone as a friend.

I wonder if part of it is standard social network growing pains. Every network seems to go through this, people want as many friends as possible, gather them all, then start to prune when the numbers become unmanageable. Even on something as new as Pownce, you see the people with 450+ friends sending more requests, and can only wonder how these people keep up. I have all of 19 friends and updates are scrolling right off the screen.

The article’s focus isn’t really what I’ve been rambling about, it’s more about how you can slight someone if you dare decline their friend requests, and the harm in putting very personal information about yourself online. Both points are true, of course, I’ve never, ever thought twice about declining a friend request from a coworker. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever declined a request from anyone I know in real life, friend or not. I always figure, why not, I truly don’t put anything online I don’t mind the world seeing.

We may be giving people more and more ways to keep things private at MySpace, but that still doesn’t mean they’re not going to give acquaintances access. Facebook has lots and lots of ways to keep things private, but people already are giving anyone access. As long as that trend continues, how private is private?

Once upon a time, I wrote “friends-only” entries in here. I don’t do that anymore, and the entries are no longer online. I saw the definition of “friends” become “acquaintances” on Facebook and MySpace, starting getting random friends requests on here, and knew it was time.

Is there such a thing as private anymore? It’s an interesting question, and a challenge I think all of us who work in this space are going to have to tackle in the very near future. People do want privacy. They want to be able to secretly gossip with their friends, share family pictures, and tell private stories. They don’t want the boss to hear all about the bad date. It’s up to us to find a way to let people keep their secrets again.

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