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Hiding In Plain Sight

May 15, 2014

When my mother got married the last time she decided to elope on a cruise up the Eastern seaboard. My friends at the time asked me,

If she decided to elope, how did you know about it?

I knew about it because my mother lacks the ability to respond privately to a message on facebook.

Yesterday I shared a story about how some people’s betrayals have affected me. (How Can You Forgive The Unforgivable.) In addition to some business examples, I shared some details of a very personal betrayal that happened in my own house.

A couple of readers reached out to me to express concern for the level of detail I was sharing. They were rightly concerned about the tendency that people have of oversharing online. It got me thinking about online privacy. Let me talk about my some different people’s approaches to online privacy and then I’ll explain exactly what I was doing yesterday.

In the early days of the internet, and pre-internet, no one worried too much about online privacy. I had an early CompuServe account in the 1980’s. You picked your own display name. Your “real” ID was a series of numbers. But, your profile existed only on CompuServe and even then, people tended to post to only a few forums. You got to know people. One of my best friends in the world Danita Zanre was known as an “email goddess.” She still is as the founder of www.Caledonia.net, where she expounds on GroupWise and several other non-Microsoft technologies.

In the mid-1990’s the Internet really started to take off. We all had to decide how we were going to appear to the rest of the world. From the beginning I wanted to be known by who I am. It’s an attitude I’ve continued through the years. There is a reason that this blog is called www.rodneymbliss.com. Part of the purpose in starting it was to establish an online presence. I wanted any credibility I’ve built up over the years to be associated with the real me.

I have other friends who’ve been online as long as I have who took different routes. My friend Dave (www.heartmindcode.com) is @dbrady on Twitter. He’s Chalain on LiveJournal and Facebook. He picked Chalain in the 1990’s partly because “handles” were fashionable and partly because he thought he’d be able to hide behind a pseudonym. He’s now realized that all hope of anonymity is gone. His rule is to never say anything online in a semi-public area that he doesn’t want to be public. He continues to use the name Chalain because that’s what his friends know him as.

My brother, Richard is a brilliant internet marketer (www.blisspoint.us.) He has a real talent for looking down the road and seeing what’s coming. I asked him how he approaches online privacy.

I don’t. There is none.

You don’t have any filter on what you post?

Well, I try to not use my kids names. But, if there is a situation where I need to talk about my child I use the child’s name.

I’ve often talked about my friend Howard Tayler (www.schlockmercenary.com.) Howard’s business is built around having an online presence. He needs to get thousands of people he’s never met to come and read his comic, but also to buy books and merchandise. Howard’s approach from the very beginning was he gave his children pseudonyms. And he and his wife Sandra have been hyper diligent about only using their children’s pseudonyms online. Sandra says it is disconcerting at times because long time readers will approach her at a convention and talk about her children using their pseudonyms.

Their oldest child is now an adult and an accomplished artist. She is starting to make her own way through the digital forest. She’s widely known by her pseudonym thanks to 10 years of Howard talking about her and sharing her drawings over the years.

My lovely wife and I had to decide what we felt comfortable with as our children were growing up. We are some of the stricter parents, but we don’t drift into the paranoid state.

We almost never post pictures of our kids. Our children who are not adults do not have online accounts. No facebook or twitter or instagram until they get to be 18. We also never use their names. I recently wrote about my son saving another boy’s life (Sometimes It Really Is Life Or Death.) In that case, I used a pseudonym.

That brings me to yesterday’s post. There is a lot of personal information in that post. And one of readers was concerned that later in life the children involved might not appreciate the story being shared. I’m sensitive to that. To combat it, I did a few things specifically yesterday. First, I was intentionally vague about the number and the genders of my children in foster care. I have thirteen children. There are plenty to choose from. I also shared no information about the victims. I also hinted at the abuse, but wasn’t blatant. Although the hints were pretty broad.

Did I do enough? Would it be possible for someone to through the process of elimination figure out which children are involved? Possibly. But, unless I become a famous writer with paparazzi chasing me, I don’t think anyone will care to go to the trouble.

And that’s the heart of my online privacy strategy. I agree with my brother that if you are online you have no privacy. None. Don’t even pretend. Just accept it.

But, here’s where you can protect yourself and your kids. Hide behind a click. What I mean by that is that most people are lazy. I don’t have the statistics, but there are firms who track the effectiveness of websites and one way they do it is by calculating how many clicks a visitor has to go through to get to your content. You lose people on each click.

Did you know that there is a page two when you do a Google search? Well, sure you probably knew that, but have you ever gone to page two? Three? Probably not. We tend to graze when we consume information online. Each click is another step and most people won’t take it.

So, you can find out just about everything about my online presence. I have hobbies that I pursue online that I do not post to my blog, LInkedIn, or Twitter accounts. I’ve intentionally made them a click away from my business profiles. You can find them, but will you? Probably not. And most people are like you.

So, I was deeply touched by readers sharing concern for my online privacy, and even more for their thoughts to protect my children. It’s a valid concern. My current plan is hiding through obscurity. There are a few billion people online. The spiders who gather all information will get my stuff and the marketers will throw me into a demographic, but the casual person browsing online probably won’t make that extra click.

I’m content hiding in plain sight.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children.

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss)
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

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2 Comments
  1. A couple thoughts. First. I have been online long enough to have had “handles” and if you search for “mobilene” you will find me, as that was the last of my handles. I still use it because jimgrey is always taken as a username, and mobilene almost never is. But increasingly I just post fully as myself, first and last name, because I gave up long ago on having an Internet persona that would be in any way different from who I am. So my blog is at jimgrey.net.

    Second. I use my kids’ names only on Facebook, and I have permissions there locked down to just people I’m friends with. I have written about my kids on my blog a few times, but don’t use their names and tell very little about their lives, certainly nothing that anybody could really use. But that’s not so much because of privacy, but because their lives are theirs and the stories are theirs to tell, not mine, not without permission anyway.

  2. danitaz permalink

    Rodney,

    You can probably tell that I agree with Richard on this. If you put it out there, expect to see it again sometime when you least expect it. It’s possible that we’re all from a “different” culture, because we did almost “grow up” online, even though we were adults when we began our online careers. That said, those of us who were mentioned in this post probably know more about online security (or lack thereof) than anyone who worries about us! And hiding in plain sight works for me!

    Danita

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