I wish this were obvious to more people. Even when a website claims to provide you privacy, it doesn’t. Simply the nature that the data – the text, the photos, etc – are stored somewhere else means that they can be gotten to. There is a nice article on this subject over at TechCrunch.
Long ago, back in 1998, I decided to start a blog. Back then it was called a .plan, but still, same thing. Before posting my first post I had a long conversation with myself. The moment I put something online, it could be copied and stored by others. It would be like have a conversation with a friend, knowing that the conversation was being recorded. The recording would exist and I would never know for certain who listened to it unless I had the only copy and destroyed it. Even then… Ultimately, I decided that I would post online, and nearly fifteen years later here we are.
That said, there are things I don’t explicitly talk about. I try as often as possible only to post about myself and my own feelings. I try to avoid stories that involve other people unless I can find a way to tackle it from my perspective with minimal impact on them. I have a wife, whose name is probably not hard to discover if you wanted to dig, but I don’t mention her by name in my writing, mostly because if I did I would feel the need to have her clear what I wrote before posting whereas if I just call her “the wife” or “my wife”, I feel okay just running with it. The same goes for much of my family and friends, mentioned in generalities but never specifics, unless they want to or unless they are no longer with us.
I’m very careful about posting photos… of other people. Dig here and you’ll find a shirtless photo of me. I’d advise against it. The only reason I posted it was an attempt to motivate myself to exercise (it didn’t work). I’d never post something like that of someone else without their permission, and explaining to them how the Internet works.
See, I’ve got nearly fifteen years of content on this site. I could go back and delete some of the older embarrassing stuff, but it wouldn’t go away. Google has a copy, as does the Internet Archive, and perhaps a stalker or two. Once released into the wild, it’s out of my control.
Even inside a walled garden, like Facebook. If you post a photo, even if you make it private and set the visibility to “Only Me”, that photo still exists on a server in the Facebook farm of servers. It can get hacked. Some people, specifically celebrities, have discovered things like if you put private photos on a service like flikr or elsewhere, people can hack those sites, get your photos and publish them on placed like the Encyclopedia Dramatica, at which point they are public and will exist in Google searches forever being reposted time and time again by people seeking hit/pageview/impressions driven revenue.
Your Facebook, your Flikr, your Twitter, your LiveJournal, etc, etc… no matter how “secure” you think they are, they aren’t. You should assume every time you post anything to the Internet that it is public and permanent – everyone will see it and it will never go away.
Anyway, enough seriousness. Let’s end this with a song…