Being Cautious of Big Brother

by john on May 7, 2003

In response to the article I wrote commenting on his absence from blogging, Deane writes:

It all comes back to the fact that I was sticking a LOT of opinions out there and Google isn’t very forgetful. There are situations where you just can’t stick the toothpaste back in the tube. Once you publish, it just takes one person to save the file, screencap the page, or send it in an email and you may as well have tattooed that opinion to your forehead.

With Googling being so prevalent it’s a new verb and everyone from friends, enemies and stalkers using Google to dig up the dirt it’s extremely important to pay close attention to what you write about, especially if your name is also included on your site as many Bloggers’ are. Something you write today will be cached by Google and will be accessible far longer than you probably care to imagine. I’ve found some old Usenet posts I made in the early nineties that I wouldn’t mind being deleted but they are there for eternity.

Not only do you need to be careful what you write but also who you write about. Think twice before writing about someone by name unless you are prepared for the consequences. As an example, I live next door to a professional hockey player whose team is still in the playoffs. My son and I got to go to a game last week because he didn’t play and his wife gave us her tickets. We spent some time with them after the kids went down the next day and a lot of very interesting stories came out of that conversation. Stories that I’d love to write about but I won’t – the last thing I want to do is include his name in a story on here and suddenly find my site in the result set for those fans looking to find out more about a certain player. Privacy is too important to wantonly flout that of others.

There is a balance between being truly anonymous and being just anonymous enough to not allow yourself to be Googled. Anyone wanting to know my name could find it out easily enough. I’ve written and will continue to write about my family and work. Eventually it ties together and my regular readers get to know me as if I were not anonymous, and to a degree I feel comfortable with. Could I include an About page without including my name? Yep, and I probably should.

Be open, be honest and be passionate about what you write. But watch out for Big Brother unless you are willing to pay the price.

{ 4 comments }

Joe Grossberg May 7, 2003 at 10:17 am

“I’ve found some old Usenet posts I made in the early nineties that I wouldn’t mind being deleted but they are there for eternity.”

Well, when it *was* the old Usenet, you could delete your own posts. Now that Google’s taken over, the rules have changed, retroactively.

Also, “big brother” seems to indicate the government, or some government-like corporations. I think it’s the wrong term, when you’re more concerned with, say, your mother or prospective investors finding this:
http://groups.google.com/groups?hl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&selm=1991Jan11.073833.14136%40ux1.cso.uiuc.edu

john May 8, 2003 at 9:33 pm

That’s hillarious!

Elaine May 9, 2003 at 1:22 am

It would be nice, I suppose, if the world could accept that people, all sorts of people, have favorite pornos, or controversial political opinions, or antipathies towards people, or know people who are nominally (or totally) famous, without it being a moment to freak out. But I don’t think that’s too likely.

If you blog about your life, eventually you run into the question of whether it’s appropriate to blog about Person X or Topic X. I’m continually impressed by people who are able to be way the hell out there, and still walk the line of being respectful of other people and *their* privacy at the same time.

Joe Grossberg May 9, 2003 at 10:46 am

It’s funny because he probably wouldn’t dare post something like that now. And it’s funny because we’re relieved it’s Marc who goofed, not us.

However, did you look at the date on it? Jan. 10, 1991. Twelve years ago. Seven years before Google was launched. Nine(?) years before Google Groups had them archived and indexed on the web.

He was a freaking freshman in college, and made a silly remark. But thanks to Google, there’s a permanent record of it.

Yes, in 2003 we can safely bear in mind principles like “Don’t post anything online unless you want the whole world to see it”, but who’s to say what the future holds?

What if someone buys eBay, and “private” purchases are there for everyone to see?

Or if some offshore company makes everyone’s arrest, driving, or credit record available?

It sounds far-fetched, but hey … who, in 1991, would think that some AOL-using granny could find a quip posted in the dark, obscure corners of Usenet?

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