On privacy, protection and online identity
When I started this blog nearly two years ago, I had a grand plan to never reveal my name to anyone. My first post had a generic byline. The “user name” assigned to the main posting account was “… and she runs.”
I’m so original.
A couple months later, I changed it to “T.C.” I don’t think I mentioned anything personal, related to my life or my job, until about six months into the whole blogging thing.
Then I made a critical decision in terms of how much I would reveal on this blog. I decided that if I was going to write about my training, my personal life, my diet, my weight and everything else, I would do it by being completely transparent about who I was.
I’m writing about this because I had a lengthy Facebook discussion earlier this week with several other Sweat Pink ambassadors about this topic.
A lot of questions came up in the exchange.
How much should you reveal? Should you worry about your information getting into another person’s hands? When we publish blog posts, do we realize how people could read between the lines and find us?
For me the answers are a little more black and white than they are to some people.
I wrote my first newspaper column when I was 15. I wrote for newspapers for 10 years, my name, work phone number and email address were out for anyone who had a phone or Internet access to call me to do so. I also spent four years dealing with online trolls in website and social media communities. My husband once made the mistake of listing our home phone number, now disconnected, in the phone book. One of those commentors from the online community I managed actually once called me. At home.
Years before, when I graduated from college, a man approach me asking me if I was “the Tara Cuslidge” who wrote for the newspaper. As much as it was a little concerning, I never felt a need to protect myself. I wrote a column my first year of graduate school where I talked about everything from social topics to personal issues.
Transparency is the pinnacle of good journalism. It’s something I teach my students repeatedly every semester. It’s because of that I don’t hide behind a pseudonym on my blog.
But I’m not against it.
In fact, I specifically didn’t take my husband’s name professionally when I got married to protect him. He had the right to be a private individual even if I chose not to. It wasn’t until a paperwork mistake at the college I work at happened that anyone started using my full, married name on documents that find a way to the public eye. Only since I left my full-time journalism job have I started to retreat to a far less public role.
Would I reveal my name again if given the chance to start over? Probably not. But it’s hard to take it back once it’s out there. The Internet has a unforgiving memory. The cache is deep. I used to tell people who called and wanted stories removed from the website I worked on daily that “even if it goes away here, there’s no guarantee that it will disappear from the Internet.”
In the Facebook conversation, we talked about blurring photos, erasing bib numbers and other ways to protect yourself from online trolls or stalkers. Here are some of the things I took from our conversation:
RACING GIVES YOU AWAY
Do people online know your name? Do they know what event you ran in last weekend? Do they know in what vicinity you live in? It’s easy to do a search online where someone can put together all those details and, in some cases, figure out your last name. If you’ve Googled yourself lately, you know what comes up (even if it’s just your Athlinks.com results).
On that note, you should Google yourself. I know it’s cheesy and people feel weird about it, but it’s also a way to know if information that you don’t want online got there. I tell my students, once they start writing, to Google themselves once a month. For them it’s a safeguard against people stealing their content. But it’s a good habit to have.
DON’T FLASH THAT BIB TOO QUICKLY
I mentioned this today even though I’m guilty of it. I once got an email from a “husband of another racer.” It was only a couple months after I started blogging I wrote a race recap from the Nike Women’s Half Marathon. It is so crowded at the race, and always is, that I didn’t think anyone would recognize me. But I’d been blogging about it for a couple weeks. He sent a rather strange, kind of creepy email, about “seeing me” at the finish.
Yikes. And wow. I didn’t respond. It was too weird.
I’m guilty of posting numerous photos on social media sites of me still wearing my race bib. A word of advice: Don’t. It makes it THAT much more easy for someone who wants to find out who you are to do so.
I have noticed my husband doing some self cropping of me when I ask him to take post-race photos of me. He usually tries to only get my face, the medal and the top half of my torso. I never told him to do so, but I’m glad he does.
LIMIT YOUR DOMAIN INFORMATION
While a private domain registration is usually a recommended ay to prevent anyone from finding out information about who you are and where you are, you can also update your domain information and exclude the important tidbits.
Mine has my name listed, which is already part of the copyright information at the bottom of each page, but I purposely put in “XXXX” for other information and switched up the information for my address. Anyone can search whois.com to find out who owns your domain, which will likely lead them to finding out more information.
Just make sure you change the contact information for all four areas of contact, not just one.
Or just pay the extra dough to have a private registration.
KEEP INFORMATION VAGUE
Again, I don’t necessarily follow this guideline. I do, however, protect a lot of information about other people. I don’t call the See Jane Run ladies by their full names. I don’t say a lot about my husband, outside of the fact that he is incredibly awesome. In fact, I’ve gotten used to NOT putting information about him on my blog.
You know where I live? Fine. It’s a city of 80,000. You know where I used to work? Good for you. That one isn’t hard, I was there for a collective 10 years. You looked up my RateMyProfessor.com profile? Then you know my students are my biggest fans. Whatever. But I’ve blocked out my direct address in several photos. I’ve chucked photos of my Garmin immediately after I PRed because you can see my information in my RoadID.
I don’t want you showing up on my doorstep, or finding me at a local store. If we run into each other at a race, that’s cool. But please don’t stalk me. I’m not that interesting.
GIVE FEW DETAILS ABOUT RACE PLANS
I list the races I’m participating in on my blog. It’s about community. I want people to say “oh hey, I’m running that race too!”
I don’t give details about where I am staying, who I am staying with, what I’m doing before the race or even when I’m going to the expo. Moreover, I don’t talk about the plans for my house when I’m gone. I don’t blog about certain details until after the fact. I’ve been told that my race preparations are all over the place. Some races that people assumed I’d travel for, I haven’t. Some that I should have stayed the night with before, I didn’t.
Notice again the vagueness?
TAKE POST PRECAUTIONS
A couple months ago, I posted an image that I had edited a name out of. My friend’s daughter made me an awesome poster at the Mermaid Run in Fremont, but she spelled out her entire name on it. I know my friend well enough to know she wouldn’t want a photo with her little girl’s name on the Internet.
When I color corrected it in Photoshop, the name was barely visible. Perfect.
But I also ask my friends if I can post photos of them. They know I have a blog. They also know if they run with me, they’re usually be part of it.
Let’s face it, photos like this would be kind of odd:
I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t post these photos if I had to blur my best friends out. But I literally ask for permission every time I take a photo now. Or, at least, I imply that it’s going on the blog. “I’m taking this for my blog,” I say. Sam, in particular, will usually tell me if I can’t post something. Jennie is a journalist. She knows the way I write for this blog. She gets it.
By the way, that Chico sweater is kind of a misdirection. I didn’t graduate or attend California State University, Chico. I was going to…but then my undergraduate institution gave me 24,000 reasons not to in the form of a nearly full-ride academic scholarship. The context of which is now you know I was an excellent high school student, graduating tied for something like 13th in my class. You know what? That information is available about me on the Internet as well. Back to the sweat shirt: I was glad when my then boyfriend, now husband decided to go to Chico State. Totally made the $50 sweatshirt he wouldn’t have never bought me worth it.
Also: If you search me on linked it, you likely know what school’s I attended and graduate from. See, there is so much information out there already.
IN FACT, THE “BLUR” TOOL IS GREAT AND SO ARE WATERMARKS
Especially if you want to blur out your friend’s faces or a bib number you don’t want the world to see.
It’s easy to use. But I’m a big fan of finding more creative shots to use instead of making ridiculous Photoshop edits. A lot of bloggers also add watermarks to their photos. Just last month, a blogger’s images of her son were discovered on a blog about a fake child supposedly suffering from cancer. Just know that even if you have a watermark, your images will be taken by uncouth people.
When I worked at a newspaper we couldn’t stop the people taking our content. Sure, we ask them to take the images or video down, but sometimes, even after the warning, people would just come back and do it again. Anyone can do a screen capture. And a lot of people are very skilled with Photoshop and can remove watermarks.
I have images that were shared on Pinterest, which I have a button for. That’s fine. As a blogger, I accept that as a “cost of doing business” per se. But I’ve read that Katie at Runs for Cookies has actually had an advertisement for a weight-loss program use her “before” and “after” images. She was upset, if I recall the post correctly. I would be too.
DON’T POST YOUR RUN GPS STATS STARTING FROM YOUR HOME
This is the quickest way for someone to know where you live! It’s also one of the reasons I’ve stuck with DailyMile independently of Garmin Connect. I post my runs to the blog via a DailyMile widget. I don’t sync to Garmin.
- You don’t need to know my running routes exactly unless you’re my husband and I don’t come home.
- I don’t want someone “following” me on my run.
- When I run with friends, I don’t want their homes displayed.
That’s one of the reasons that when my friends and I started running together, we deliberately started our “path” nearly a half mile from one of our homes. The walk provided a good warm up and took us far enough way where people would be left guessing.
SCARY THOUGHT: PEOPLE CAN FIND OUT MORE ABOUT YOU
Contextual clues are everywhere. No matter how much you try to hide, you are likely going to slip at one point or another. I’ve actually seen this happen to even the most private bloggers. Just last week, I saw a blogger who usually goes by a pseudonym accidentally post a reply to a comment using her full real name.
Another blogger might put your name up on accident as well.
I once wrote a story that a man in the community I worked in didn’t agree with, for whatever reason. My tagline, the area displaying my phone number and email address, was left off the story. So the guy instead turned to the phone book. He called my grandmother. It freaked her out, especially because her address is listed next to her phone number in the phone book.
He called my grandmother. She gave him my work number. He then called me and told me how he called two other people listed in the phone book and found out that I was still a college student. It was “no wonder” I got it wrong. (For the record, the fact he disputed wasn’t wrong.)
In today’s Internet-driven society, there’s a likelihood that if you’ve ever participated in any sort of event, you’re on the Internet somewhere. We can protect ourselves all we want, but the issue remains. If someone wants to find you, they can definitely do so.
So be careful.
Run with me!
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