Jul 27 2014

Balancing digital privacy

Published by at 9:35 pm under General

I had an interesting conversation with a relative this week about privacy.  Which is, of course, why I’m writing about it on the blog.  The irony of the situation doesn’t escape me.  

“I’ve been listening to you and it’s made me very careful about what I put on the Internet.  I have almost no digit presence, I’ve used very little social media and what few accounts I do have are under pseudonyms, with no direct link to me.  When I do a Google search on my name, it turns up a few hits on me, then the rest of the results are of you and and a friend of yours who shares my name.  The few results about me that do turn up are from competitions I was in when I was younger and I’m not directly tagged in any of the pictures.”

First of all, it’s good to know my family is listening, or at least one member of my family is.  They understand the importance of limiting what you make available on the Internet and have consciously taken steps to make sure that only the information that’s available is data they’ve decided is unavoidable and necessary.  But I have to wonder if they haven’t taken my advice too far and limited their footprint too much.

In this day, it’s important to have a presence on the Internet.  We know that businesses hiring new employees, colleges looking at potential candidates and even the people you might date or meet with search the Internet to learn about us as part of the process of dealing with strangers.  And while leaving a digital trail that’s littered with detritus about when we got drunk or stupid is a negative, having no evidence that you existed on the Internet is nearly as bad to some people and organizations.  If there’s nothing out there about you, while you may not have done anything wrong, there’s no evidence you’ve done anything right either.  And some people take a lack of presence as evidence that you’ve been up to no good.

My suggestion to my relative was to carefully cultivate a digital presence.  Make some of the positives of what you do available for people to find.  Use social media sparingly, but maintain a presence.  It’s okay to have opinions and put yourself out there, as long as you’re aware that what you say will be searchable for the foreseeable future of the Internet.  Be a real person, but be a person who controls the image they present to the world.  I was very careful to also point out that I might not be the best example of limiting your presence.

The conversation degenerated from there into creating a ‘digital persona’, a search engine friendly front that presents exactly what you want to the world and nothing more.  We all wondered about the ethics of creating a persona that’s carefully crafted for future job searches and dating.  No one in the family had a good answer for that one.

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3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Balancing digital privacy”

  1. Sven Erik Matzenon 28 Jul 2014 at 3:37 am

    You definitely need an online presence – one that is presenting you in a way you want to be seen. I don’t think your relative still wants to be known as a former part of the “competitions I was in when I was younger” – she/he may be able to convince them to delete this content. “Not being online” does not mean “there is nothing about you online” – it means “there is nothing about you online that is under your control”.

  2. Scott Kon 28 Jul 2014 at 11:59 am

    I don’t see anything wrong (ethically) with creating a digital persona. How is that any different than what we do face to face on that job interview or first date? You are presenting the information about yourself in the manner/context that you want, and rarely do we display our ‘true’ selves until much deeper into that relationship, of ever.

  3. Martinon 28 Jul 2014 at 10:03 pm


    I’ve maintained for some time that privacy in the digital age means controlling the information that’s available about yourself. Whether it’s the information that you put out yourself or the information that’s collected by corporations and government, being the one who decides who can see that information is the only form of privacy we can have any more.


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