How do I manage my online privacy, when I have friends who blog?
April 1, 2008 10:55 AM   Subscribe

As more of my friends take up blogging, it becomes nearly inevitable that I'm going to show up in a blog post somewhere. This makes me somewhat uncomfortable. Is my discomfort justified? And if it is, what guidelines can/should I ask these blogging friends to follow to protect my privacy?

Several years ago, a guy I was dating blogged about a date we had been on, using my real first name, and it freaked me out. While first names may not be traceable by strangers on the internet, I expect to eventually come into contact with friends/family/coworkers of my friends who write blogs. I'm not happy about the prospect of a conversation coming to, "Oh, you're the girl he wrote about that one time..." even if the story was completely harmless.

That guy and I had a conversation after I saw the post. He respected my wishes to be left out of the blog from then on, but he definitely thought I was overreacting. Since then several more close friends and family members have taken up blogging, and I feel like it's overkill to ask them never to mention me. I'm just not sure what guidelines (if any) are appropriate. I want to say, "Sure, mention how much fun we all had volunteering last week, but please don't bring my name up in connection with the huge drunken party afterward," but that kind of micromanaging isn't really appropriate or feasible.

So - should I let these people write whatever they want, and ask them to remove something after the fact if it pushes my personal boundaries too far? Should I give them advance warning that I don't want to be in their blog at all? Should I tell them they can only refer to me by a pseudonym? How do I mention my concerns to a blogger friend without coming off as a control freak? Or am I really overreacting?
posted by vytae to Human Relations (29 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Ask them to use a nickname like 'Don'tblogme Girl'. I blog my life, but my boyfriend and family get made up names. That way they can write about the way you acted at the drunken orgy, but also allow future employers googling your name not to be shocked.
posted by Phalene at 11:00 AM on April 1, 2008

Unless they are blogging using your full name, you are overreacting. Anyone you know who can identify you from a blog post where your first name was used would likely hear about said information firsthand from gossip or some other fashion. The Web just speeds up transmission.

If someone is blogging using your full name, or you have a highly unusual first name, that might be more of an issue because then if future employers/lovers/government agents google for your name they'll find you as a participant at all those drunken parties. But otherwise? Might be more important things to worry about.
posted by Happydaz at 11:02 AM on April 1, 2008

There is no way to keep your information completely private now adays. I wouldn't even mention things if they pushed the bondaries too far. Have you heard of the streisand effect? You can't control information about yourself anymore. You just can't. It's a losing battle to even try.
posted by bigmusic at 11:02 AM on April 1, 2008

Is my discomfort justified?

I don't think so unless he starts using your last name, or posting inappropriate material or whatever.
posted by Justinian at 11:13 AM on April 1, 2008

Your privacy is already lost, however -- you're talking about people posting information about your day-to-day life, their opinions about you, etc. I think you have a right to ask bloggin' friends to use a pseudonym in your place -- for the reasons already mentioned, and others nobody's thought of.

OTOH, 40 years from now, on the Internet 3, your grandkids might have fun Googling your name for past you might want to hire a writer to make up some interesting anecdotes & blog them. ;)
posted by catkins at 11:13 AM on April 1, 2008

Start a blog with an alias username. Put a few short bland token posts in it. Then have your friends use your blog alias when referring to you.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:15 AM on April 1, 2008

"should I let these people write whatever they want, and ask them to remove something after the fact if it pushes my personal boundaries too far?"

I think this is the right balance. I keep a blog, and mention people by first name. Some bloggers mention people by initials, or by pseudonym. I have one friend who wrote an innocuous blog entry that mentioned an ex-boyfriend in the most oblique terms possible (not even using a pseudonym). He read her blog and went completely ballistic on her.

So as a blogger, it's impossible to know what everyone's breaking point will be. Telling your blogging friends in advance "here are my limits" is too abstract. Telling them after the fact "that's over the limit" is clear-cut and memorable.
posted by adamrice at 11:19 AM on April 1, 2008

I feel like it's overkill to ask them never to mention me.

That's not overkill. That's totally reasonable. Just ask them not to mention you. If they have any sense of basic decency, they'll respect your wishes, since no one's forcing them to blog every single thing in their lives.
posted by Greg Nog at 11:22 AM on April 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

it's totally reasonable to be asked to be left off a blog. as someone who blogs, i would absolutely respect that.

after all, if you wanted the details of your life published on the internet, you'd probably blog it yourself.
posted by wayward vagabond at 11:24 AM on April 1, 2008

bigmusic has it right. You can TRY controlling your personal information on the internet, but its a losing battle. Once you start using the internet in any digital fashion, the information is out there, and you're NOT getting it back.

You can ask bloggers to not mention you by name, but thats only a small fraction of online activity. Do you use email?, Instant messenger?, txt messages?,etc,etc... Is your Mefi profile the same username as you use on other online services? Anyone who is serious about finding out information about you wont have a difficult time doing it.
posted by jmnugent at 11:29 AM on April 1, 2008

Incidentally, as an analogy, you can't successfully tell people if and what they may gossip about you with others - gossip behind your back is just not your business - even though it is your business and most definitely can affect you. Blogging may be more transparent but is a similar thing - in a way it's not your business, even though it is. If people accommodate your wishes, they will most likely do it out of respect and friendship and decency, not because you are entitled to a say in the matter of what opinions they may express or what memories they may discuss.
I'm saying this as a way of explaining why a softly-softly approach is likely to be the most successful. If you over-react, people may lose respect for you and your requests, so be less inclined to comply with your requests. Some people might even react by doing it more often to help you Just Get Over It. (As they see it, they're helping you).
So, yeah, let people know your preferences without coming down on them.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:37 AM on April 1, 2008

"should I let these people write whatever they want, and ask them to remove something after the fact if it pushes my personal boundaries too far?"

Just wanted to point out that, after the fact, the information will have been read, cached and potentially saved forever. I think that, in general, it's a bad idea to think about information on the web as something that can ever be "removed".

I certainly think you are well within your rights to come up with a "super hero name" that you can insist that folks use, and in my experience people will respect that.

A final word of warning, though, which is that I think that anonymity is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Like it or not, I'd be shocked if ten or twenty years from now it was the norm to simply expect that, having met someone at a party, one could return home and read their personal biographies, see photos of them, and "meet" their friends. That's just the way it works.
posted by Squid Voltaire at 11:49 AM on April 1, 2008

I've toyed with the idea of doing a blog (and ultimately decided not to), but my plan was to create pseudonyms for everyone. And the idea would be that I'd create the pseudonyms myself, rather than use any online names they might already use; therefore, none of their friends, associates, families who happened to know their online name(s) would come across my blog in a Google search, either.

Hell, I didn't even plan on identifying myself, either by real name or regularly-used online name (so no clients, potential employers, etc. could stumble upon it). As most have said above, that seems to be a good balance.

What sucks -- aside from people who DO use your real name, obviously -- is people who skirt the line with you, which is almost as bad. There's a girl I broke up with over a year ago who STILL, to this DAY, makes occasional references to me in her blog, in an attempt to irritate me. She doesn't use my real name, but she makes unmistakable allusions that all of her friends will surely get -- as will I, of course. The fact that she's doing this nearly 14 months after the breakup, though, says more about her than me, I suppose.
posted by CommonSense at 12:03 PM on April 1, 2008

Like it or not, I'd be shocked if ten or twenty years from now it was the norm to simply expect that, having met someone at a party, one could return home and read their personal biographies, see photos of them, and "meet" their friends.

Just wanted to point out that, for the Facebook/MySpace crowd, this already IS the norm. Heck , I did it just last weekend. It took me two seconds to track down a Facebook profile given nothing but a first name and a mutual friend. Maybe that makes me a stalker, but I know I'm not the only one who does it...

I was once the "blogged about girlfriend" however, and I didn't like it anymore than you did at times. Of course, he eventually didn't really like that I was reading his blog either (especially right after we broke up and he was venting), so we reached a deal -- I didn't read, and he didn't write about me.

All that being said, I like the pseudonym idea. It's not perfect -- if I were blogging, there are a few people in my life who'd be automatically identifiable no matter how much I disguised them, but it's a decent compromise.
posted by natabat at 12:12 PM on April 1, 2008

I have to slightly modify my "yeah, I think you're overreacting" answer. After reading the rest of the thread, I think the appropriate thing for a blogger to do is use pseudonyms. It's certainly what I'd do.
posted by Justinian at 12:19 PM on April 1, 2008

I think it's okay to be squicked by reading about yourself on someone else's blog by name, and that this isn't the same thing as thinking OMG I"M ON THE INTERNET.

I'd advise you to think of this (and present it as) a slightly-old-fashioned etiquette/shyness issue, not a controlling information" issue. It's going to go over a lot better to say, "reading my name is too weird for me -- can't you give me a cute nickname?" than issuing the friend-version of a cease-and-desist.
posted by desuetude at 12:19 PM on April 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't really think you have the right to "demand" or "insist" anything here.

If these are good friends, expressing your concerns might accomplish your goals, but many people do not respond well to demands, and since you don't really have any sort of right not to be blogged about, you need to approach it from a perspective where you're attempting to persuade.

I think that asking never to be mentioned is tantamount to saying "Please don't talk about me to your other friends."

This is a lot more complicated than many posters are letting on, though. Simply saying "don't mention me" leaves open a lot of questions. Do you mean not to mention your name? Never to refer to you at all? Something in between?

Pseudonyms are fine, although understand that really all this fixes is the googling problem... once someone cracks the pseudonym (and it's usually not very hard if you know the person behind the pseudonym) all of that "privacy" is gone.

It would probably serve you better in the long run to just get used to the fact that you're going to be blogged about. Eventually it's going to be someone that you aren't friends with and, therefore, can't do anything about.
posted by toomuchpete at 12:21 PM on April 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't think it's at all out of line to gently request a really vague pseudonym and a bit of consideration that they not blog about things regarding you that they would not want a prospective employer to read with them in mind. Example: it's really common among a lot of blogs I read for spouses, kids and close friends to get simple tags that are just variants of ... well, "spouse," "kid," and "close friend." F'r instance, one close acquaintance/lj friend of mine, whose livejournal I've been reading for years, consistently refers to her child as TC and her husband as TH, and it actually took me over a year to realize that these were not initials for their real names but stood for The Child and The Husband.

I tend to pseud my friends on the spot but not do a very good job, with the result that I have five M's ... I guess that works as far as keeping them anonymous goes, but my friendslist probably has no idea who's who.
posted by bettafish at 12:51 PM on April 1, 2008

The fact that the internet's involved has people thinking weirdly in some of these responses. What you're describing is not demanding or insisting on controlling, nor is it--as some people are construing it--a naive question about how to prevent your personal data (name, email address, address, etc.) from ever being found online. (Even so, I won't go into how bigmusic's resignation appalls me.)

These are friends you're talking about? Friends listen to, take seriously and respect the comfort zones and maintain the confidences of their friends. They should here, too. If they don't, then you have ask whether they're friends worth keeping.

You have every right to let friends know you're uncomfortable being mentioned at all/by name/by last name/by pseudonym or whatever. It's the same conversation you'd have with a friend about making a fool of yourself last night or failing an exam or putting your foot in your mouth or about personal details in general. "Ugh, I'm a little embarrassed about my behavior last night. I'd appreciate it if we kept it between the two of us." Or: "I know you're blogging and all, but I'm really uncomfortable about being written about. You know me, I'm just a private person and I'd appreciate it if you didn't mention me. If it's too juicy a story to pass up, let me know and maybe we can work something out."
posted by cocoagirl at 12:56 PM on April 1, 2008

I blogged for years under a pseudonym and it wasn't a problem for my blogging friends who used that for a link. I also knew that if anyone really wanted to do, they could have cracked the code and known my identity. I tried really hard to obscure the identities of other people if they hadn't given their expressed permission to be included in my blog (or didn't know about it). Of course, this was way, way back in the early(ish) days of blogging, before the turn of the century. Now I blog under my real name and it's no big deal. I self monitor content that I don't want to be public. Thus, the style of my blog and the content are very, very different. I still don't use other peoples names without permission.

I think it's either in or out. You shouldn't ask to have some content included and some sanitized, but that isn't fair to the writer or reader. To eliminate someone is one thing, to create a perfect cyber person is another.

You simply ask them to use a pseudonym and not include photos of you. It won't be a perfect screen, but then nothing is.
posted by 26.2 at 1:32 PM on April 1, 2008

As a data point, Tedra Osell owns and runs BitchPhD, but was until fairly recently very protective of her real ID. Now, pretty much the first google result on her will show you a presentation she gave at MLA that talks about the site.

Being totally anonymous on the internet is hard. I do what I can to keep online me away from professional me, just because I prefer it that way, but it does require that I ask people to do things that annoy them, like not posting photos of me on Facebook (when you work with teenagers in the theater, harder than you think). People will probably honor your wishes to be called Vytae Girl or whatever, but be prepared for that to somehow magically come back to your first name. Even my efforts only resist a pretty cursory google search, but I've decided that's OK.
posted by Medieval Maven at 1:48 PM on April 1, 2008

It's not overkill imo to ask not to appear in someone's blog. We're talking about your "private" life, however devalued that concept may be, and no-one should pretend that even an amateur blog intended to be viewed by a small circle is merely a conversation between friends. As you point out, any post can likely be googled, and once picked up by a search engine it will hang around on the internet maybe forever. Your friends and family might like to consider this aspect of blogging too. Pseudonym & no pix is the best fallback.
posted by londongeezer at 1:51 PM on April 1, 2008

I wish people would stop looking at blogs as a new communications paradigm that requires an all new set of 2.0 social rules. Neither is true, but whatever.

"I spend a lot of time at The Algonquin and a lot of my friends are writers now. I'm pretty sure I'm going to end up as a character in one of their novels sooner or later if I don't say something. What can I do to protect my privacy?"

As you can see, Tallulah, this is not actually a new problem. Names have been changed to protect the innocent since the dawn of time.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:51 PM on April 1, 2008

If I ever write about people, I use their initials. You could let your friends know that you prefer that they use your initials or an alias. Most won't think twice about complying with such a simple request.
posted by reenum at 5:31 PM on April 1, 2008

One of several reasons I don't have a blog is precisely the problem you raise: it seems like way too much effort to differentiate between the public and the private in such a share-now, ask-questions-later sort of format (which, respectfully, DarlingBri, is what I think distinguishes blogs from books--but I'll save my speculations about living with writers for another day). So I sympathize with you. Personally, I think that just because the concept of privacy seems to be becoming radically revised doesn't mean you have to go along with it entirely (unless you want to).

I'd say that, practically, the best way to stay out of other people's online lives is to minimize your own online life. As relationships seem to sort of split themselves into virtual manifestations and real face-to-face encounters, and if you're not part of the virtual one (ie. if you don't have a blog/facebook page/whatever-the-kids-use-these-days page yourself, and if you interact with them only in real life, or, if virtually, by one-to-one communication like email only), I think it will tend to reduce their willingness to mention you online. The problem with this is that, by abstaining, you may feel like you're missing out on aspects of your friends' lives. I haven't solved that one yet.
posted by roombythelake at 6:17 PM on April 1, 2008

Just wondering: do you have a "regular" first name, or is your first name distinctively spelled or unique so that EVERYONE knows it's you if they see it and you're the only one who crops up on Google?

If it's the latter, definitely go with a psuedonym. On the other hand, if you're just another Jennifer in a sea of Jennifers, I don't think I'd worry about it massively. Yeah, a few people will know that it's YOU, but most people aren't going to know or care as long as a last name isn't attached.

(On my own sites, anyone who has a kr8tivly spelled name that would insta-ID them, I just don't mention their name or go with an initial.)
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:53 PM on April 1, 2008

One thing to think about is that it's possible that your friends thought they might offend you if they left out your name. I've had friends or even dates wonder why I hadn't mentioned them in my old blog... they seemed to want the attention.

That said, you don't, so I don't see why it's a big deal to say, "Hey I like your blog! Would you mind changing my name if you talk about me?"
posted by jetskiaccidents at 8:31 PM on April 1, 2008

Thanks for all the insight, everyone. I feel better knowing that some of you think this matters, some think it doesn't, and some think there's nothing to be done anyway. It makes my ambivalence feel justified. I marked best answers based on tidbits that felt most valuable in my head:
- Deleting after the fact doesn't necessarily remove the content from the internet as a whole.
- A good guideline is asking friends not to post anything about me that they wouldn't want a future to employer to read about them.
- Think of the conversation as an online-related analog to "Let's just keep this little incident between us," an exchange that could take place with any non-blogging friend.
- And, as so many people mentioned - pseudonyms are definitely the way to go.

For the record, I don't feel the need to "demand" or "insist," and I'm not concerned that people will blog about me against my wishes. They're my friends, you know? They're respectful. I just needed some help sorting out what my wishes actually were, and how to communicate them. So, good job helping me with that. Thanks to all.
posted by vytae at 6:28 AM on April 2, 2008

OK wait, I have a brilliant suggestion for how to manage this, one I would implement myself had I any semblance of privacy left or any interest in having any to begin with.

What you need is personal calling cards that say:

Vytae Rosencrantz
(212) 555 1212


Hand those out to your friends, and it will both be amusing and instructive. I absolutely bet it will work, too.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:53 AM on April 2, 2008

« Older Stuck in Cisco Hell   |   Hudson River Crossing - Pro Tips? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.