Monday, May 18, 2009

Internet Safety 101

So apparently there was an Oprah episode on internet safety (I'm not quite sure, since I didn't watch the episode) a while ago that caused a huge stir. People left and right are making their blogs private, and I wanted to share my thoughts on this.

1. One incident isn't the norm. People don't stop driving their cars because someone heard of someone in some other state who got in a car accident. We would think that was ridiculous. However, when we hear about some girl in Australia whose photo was used for an advertising campaign without her permission, we all rush and either stop blogging or publishing pictures online altogether or go private and make it such a hassle for people to view them that it seldom is worth the effort.
2. You are in more danger from those you know than from those you don't. People who are concerned about blog privacy often are worried about "lurkers" they don't know obsessing over their blogs. Statistically speaking, you are far more likely to come to harm from acquaintances than from random people. I'm afraid that it would take a "perfect storm" for the scenarios that so many people envision to occur. First, someone with an obsessive tendency would need to stumble across your blog and become obsessed with you or your family. Second, they would need to able to gather enough personal information about you to be able to stalk you or your children. Third, they would actually need the incentive do so. It just seems very unlikely to me.
3. Just because Oprah says it doesn't make it so. Likewise, just because other people are doing it doesn't make it necessary. People ought to think critically about what they hear and see from other sources. Wikipedia has taught us that group think is often correct, but it is still up to us to think for ourselves, especially about issues that are so open to interpretation.

Now, having said that, I do believe that internet safety is important. I think that there are smaller, more important, and more useful steps that people can take to protect their families. Here is a list of some of my ideas:
1. Remove any references to your last name. If your blog address is, change it. Don't use "The Smith Family" as your title. Only list your first name (or a nickname, if you want to be even more secure) in your profile.
2. Consider removing references to the city you live in if you want to be extra safe. NEVER show pictures of the exterior of your house or your child's school.
3. Use a watermark on your photos. Place a transparent watermark on your photo that cannot easily be cropped out. This is easy to do, and I am going to begin watermarking the photos I put on this blog. I will be happy to make a tutorial showing how you can do this. I know that one reason people are making their blogs private is that they worry about people using their photos inappropriately or without permission. This can go a long way towards mitigating those fears.
4. Don't post your full email address in a forum, blog comment, or anywhere else that may be unsecure. I've seen people who are (apparently) concerned enough about their family's privacy to make their blogs private but will post their full email addresses in other blog comments. This is not smart or consistent! At the very least, form your email in such a way that bots can't harvest it easily; for example, myemail AT whatever DOT com.
5. Keeping your blog out of the google directory will reduce the number of unwanted visitors. In blogger, there are a number of privacy settings under "settings." I'm sure wordpress has similar options.
6. Use an internet filter. If you're truly concerned about keeping your family safe on the internet, use a filter. It's just common sense. We use Safe Eyes and have been pleased with it. I know there are several other good ones out there.
7. Think beyond the internet. Remove your phone number and address from the phone book. Place your home phone and your cell phones on the Do Not Call Registry.

There are several other steps that you can take to protect your family that I won't list here. Truly, I am understanding of those who feel the need to make their blog private. I just feel that there is a lack of dialog on this subject and that some people are not thinking about the information that is coming to them from the media. Remember, the media's job is to sell, and fear is one of the best ways to do it. There are so many wonderful blogs out there, and it would be a shame if they were all closed because of sensationalized reporting.


Jen Kesler said...

good post!

Laura said...

I agree with Jen - great post!

Taylor and Stephanie Haught said...

I am so glad that you posted this. I was feeling like a neglectful parent because I have not made my blog private and I won't be any time soon! I just don't think there is any need to fuss over it.

Erin said...

Sorry. Daughter of a police officer, and will always be paranoid. Better to be safe than sorry, but I understand your point.

Jessica said...

Good post. It is nice to hear all points of view on this. I agree with you. There are so many ways we can keep our family safe and not go private with a blog. Thank you for sharing. :)

Stef and Bry said...

I have a private blog...just a personal choice, but you make some really good points. How do you watermark pictures?

Larson log said...

I just went private too-so maybe you are talking about me, but my blog isn't that cute- so maybe you're not...I didn't see the Oprah episode either but I did have an interview with an FBI agent that he told me that crimes aganist children are on the rise and blogging helps perps become familar with those they are "eyeing" and he suggested that I go private. I agree that media is sensational and I really like your suggestions. I think it is a personal choice just like everything eles. And I thought since I did just go private I would share my reasons.