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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Privacy On Forums And The Web

I've been wandering around the internet since Netscape and Internet Explorer first appeared. I've seen it grow and change. Lately it has changed again with the dramatic increase of activity by multitudes of people posting overwhelming volumes of their most intimate personal details on places like MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and the constantly expanding range of other social net-working sites.

That trend is now reaching older sites such as the diabetes web forums I have been reading and posting on for a few years. The ADA Forum was re-vamped last November to add social networking and dLife added it a couple of years earlier.

I'm continually fascinated that people who would not tell their most intimate personal secrets to their own family, and certainly not to those who may not be their friends, happily post everything from their sex lives to their bathroom problems on the web. It becomes patently clear that the vast majority are blissfully unaware that not only can almost all of their writing be seen by anyone who cares to but it is being stored for readers decades from now. Many also appear to believe that forums and sites which require registration can only be seen or used by those who are registered.

Some years ago, when I only posted on usenet's alt.support.diabetes and misc.health.diabetes groups I googled my sig "Alan, T2, Australia" and was quite surprised to find that my posts were appearing on over 40 different forums; everything from bicycling to low-carbing. Some of those forums required registration - but my posts still appeared.

For one example of many, I am not a member of MedKB: http://www.medkb.com/Uwe/Forum.aspx/dia ... k-Diabetes

These days I also write on several other forums and my blog. I just googled that sig again and got 237,000 responses. Now, I know I write too much - but not THAT much!

Registration may help - but that depends on the software of the web-site and the integrity of the web-master or group owner. Try an experiment yourself. If you are a member of a group or forum that you need to register for, select a unique part of one of your old messages, place it in quotes and google or bing for it. You may get a rude surprise.

Even if your message does not appear in that sort of simple search, remember that any-one can register on ANY forum and "mine" the forum until the moderator or web-master ejects them. That includes anyone who may have a grudge against you or may be looking for information about you. To be honest, the only thing protecting the vast majority of the personal information posted on the web's social networking sites is the fact that 99.99% of it is utterly and incredibly boring to anyone but the writer.

Long ago I made the decision that I would never write anything on the net or web that I would be embarrassed to find was read by my mother, my wife, my children or my grand-children. Those are the important ones; I couldn't care less what the rest of the world thinks of me. Although I do keep in mind things like copyright law and that not all readers may have my best interests in mind.

I write on the assumption that there is NO privacy on the web regardless of the site I write on. Always write with that in mind and you will make the web a much safer place for yourself.

Cheers, Alan, T2, Australia.
Everything in Moderation - Except Laughter