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[personal profile] godricgal
Some of you know that before I became a poor, lowly student, I had a rather nice job with a software company that was attempting to deal with some of the problems surrounding personal privacy and data ownership on the 'net.

There are things I see in fandom, if not on a daily basis, frequently enough to concern me -- just matters of basic privacy that are important to me and I think should be important to everyone, though I understand that they may not be. However, it's not always as simple as that...

The internet allows us to conduct ourselves in many ways, with many personas. Some people are not worried if these personas cross paths, having more than one is a matter of administration rather than an attempt to compartmentalise online, and indeed, offline activities.

Clearly, everyone reading this is at least reasonably familiar with the way the internet works, what can and can't be done, but what I want to do in this post is lay a few examples at your door, not to scare you, but maybe to make you think a little more on the ramifications your 'net dealings have on yourself and those you deal with.

My first example is a very simple one. Email addresses can go out with a name tag -- in Hotmail, Gmail, all the big providers, it's the first name, last name, you enter in your profile information (though obviously you can omit these details). This information can also be disseminated if the person sending an email knows your first and last name and has it in their address book. I have lost count of the number of times an email has arrived in my inbox with a real name attached to an LJ username in an email address -- even from people I've never had previous dealings with. I admit, I'm probably not a very scary person to send such information to, but it worries me that people do, and for this reason:

How many times have each of you received an email from someone that has been sent out to ten, twenty, one hundred, two hundred people? An email of this kind from an RL friend means not a lot; it's a list of names, nothing much you can do with it. A fandom email of this kind, however, takes on a whole new meaning when the (fandom) email address comes along with a name tag. A person may trust another with their real name, communicate with them from a different email inbox to the rest of fandom; they may not worry about the implications of letting one person know their name because they only communicate with a few, so what does it matter? All sorts of reasons. But when a group email goes out to a hundred or so people, with their real name (first and last!) attached to their fandom email address, that becomes a problem. It is an unintentional breach of trust.

Sometimes, with the best of intentions, the utilities of the web mail providers (and, indeed the clients) let us down and fill the tag information in for us, and though I try to be careful, I sometimes do forget to delete it. There is a simple solution to this: BCC. Send the email to yourself and BCC everyone else.

Journals and communities that use IP logging have me running scared at the moment. Did you know that an IP address can be used to track a physical location? It can. Without cost, without any technical knowhow - it's easy, it would take me a couple of minutes. Beyond using an IP address to ban a particular user (and this is limited in effectiveness because many people do not have fixed IPs (variable IPs are still linked to an exchange and therefore still tools for nailing down a physical location) and they can pop down to an internet cafe, anyway) I'm not really sure of the value of IP logging. Beyond conducting a witch hunt, a la The Miss Scribe Affair, what can be done? It's overkill as far as I'm concerned, serious overkill. I can only imagine IP logging to have a genuine use in a police investigation, and I suspect that LJ logs IPs routinely, anyway.

Facebook is an issue that has come up several times in the last year or so. Where LJ is very much in the business of personas, Facebooks are linked to a true identity. Linking those two worlds make me, for one, very nervous. It's not really a matter of distrusting anyone on my flist; the fact that only a handful of you know my real name is nothing to do with a lack of trust in the rest of you, rather it's an attempt to manage and keep as small as possible those who do know the link between the persona and the identity. Here's the problem with Facebook: the network.

It's all well and good saying that you'll just have a few fandom friends on Facebook, and I do, but those you friend there may have other people they're happy to give their full names to, and those people have other people they're happy to give their full names to, and so on, and before long there is a rambling network of people who, potentially, could discover the true identities of others who did not wish to be found out.

Now, I don't know what the answer to this is. First of all, it worries me to see general invites to Facebook sent out on LJ; it makes me concerned that people are not being careful enough with their privacy and their identity (which is something that is with you for life). Second of all, it makes me worried about those who might be exposed who've carefully guarded their privacy to that point.

Facebook is a tool to be careful with at the best of times. Every movement you make on Facebook is logged, traceable and undeletable. There is a forensic department at my university and they routinely use Facebook to profile people, without any assistance from Facebook; the information is just there. The biggest problem there is that you can lock your own Facebook to the hilt, but the minute you start participating in groups, networks, even venturing onto other people's Facebooks, the trail starts. Facebook lets other people put photos up on the internet of me and tag my identity to them. Of course, if I know about the tag I can have it removed, but the photo is still there, on the internet for all their friends, friends of friends and networks -- or even just any old soul -- to see.

I digress, though... I believe, in the next few years the issues of managing our identity online are going to go though some major changes, simply because the internet cannot continue to grow in scope and function efficiently without it. I don't know how important Facebook is going to be in that, but the idea of a 'net-wide aggregation of data about individuals is a possibility that concerns me. There is no precedent for what happens, five, ten, fifteen years down the line to the information we are putting on the web today in ever-increasing amounts -- we are the guinea pigs. Already, employers are routinely checking Facebooks before making the offer of a job. Universities have been known to do the same. We can lock down a lot of what we do online, but we do leave a trail, and frankly, I'd prefer my trail not to lead back to Harry Potter fan fiction liberally sprinkled with light smut. That is not something I want to discuss in interview, and not something that I'm sure a great many of you would want to discuss when and if your big chance at getting published comes along.

There is no need for paranoia, just careful management.

I hope this doesn't sound too preachy, and please be assured that this is not directed at anyone in particular; it's something that has been concerning me for some time now and my week off has given me the opportunity to get my thoughts down.

Date: 2008-03-27 05:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] vivnow.livejournal.com
We can lock down a lot of what we do online, but we do leave a trail, and frankly, I'd prefer my trail not to lead back to Harry Potter fan fiction liberally sprinkled with light smut. That is not something I want to discuss in interview, and not something that I'm sure a great many of you would want to discuss when and if your big chance at getting published comes along.

I'm not a writer but I know where you're coming from. You know what I do for a living.

Date: 2008-03-27 05:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] godricgal.livejournal.com
I think there should be an element of concern for how your online activities might reflect on you in your profession, whatever it may be. Better put, it's your private life, and by putting it on the internet we are opening ourselves up to very easy scrutiny - if we're not careful,that is.

Date: 2008-03-27 05:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wizardelfgirl.livejournal.com
I really know what you mean with this. I walk a very thin line between keeping my persona separate from my identity because I write many posts about my job and it's actually fairly easy to find my real name. I compensate this by not revealing much else about me (like posting photos or saying where I live and the names of my family and friends).

Furthermore, I understand what you mean about Facebook. I have a hi5 account, and as a rule I never post pictures of myself or others. My friends, however, do, and they have the annoying habit of tagging me in the pictures, so all my efforts to stay anonymous go down the drain.

Date: 2008-03-27 07:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] godricgal.livejournal.com
I think the trick is to make sure that if you talk about things in RL, you leave enough out to make it arbitrary information. It's when you start to add a few details which can be cross-referenced, giving data - information - meaning and additional context.

My friends, however, do, and they have the annoying habit of tagging me in the pictures, so all my efforts to stay anonymous go down the drain.

This is one of the biggest dangers, I think, both in fandom and in RL, that you can be as conscientious as you like about protecting yourself, but other people can unintentionally undo some of that. What concerns me about photos is people posting pictures of others in situations that they would not want advertised - on a night out, relaxing at home, etc. Things that people want to keep private because they compartmentalise their RL into private and professional lives.

Date: 2008-03-27 05:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mrstater.livejournal.com
Using this icon because it has Mad-Eye in it...

Thank you so much for initiating this dialogue. This is something I've been thinking a lot about lately, mainly in relation to Facebook.

I've worked very hard to protect my identity in fandom: I have an email just for fandom, and it contains only my first name. I think it's pretty impossible to google MrsTater and wind up with anything connected to my real identity, and honestly, odd as it sounds, I'm less worried about fandom people knowing me in real life than people from my real life knowing about fandom. Because people just don't understand why you'd write smut about someone else's fictional characters (or write smut at all, lol). Still, I don't give out my full name readily, which is why I've mostly avoided card/gift exchanges with LJ friends.

I'm a little paranoid about Facebook because I didn't think through the ramifications of being seen on other people's friends lists, but some digging around in security has turned up that you can jack your settings up all the way so that you only ever show up as Somebody to non-friends, with no picture, so I think that may be the way to go. Now, this makes it impossible for anyone to find you on Facebook, so it's a bit of a trade-off. But then I only got on to look for people, not to have people look for me, lol.

One thing that makes me kind of sad about not wanting my fanfic attached to my real identity is not being able to do a squeeful post promoting my novel one day, with people who are my friends and mean a lot to me writing-wise. I'll just have to be sneaky and pretend I'm reccing someone else's book. ;)
Edited Date: 2008-03-27 07:11 pm (UTC)

Date: 2008-03-27 07:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] godricgal.livejournal.com
LOL I am all for Constant Privacy Vigilance. ;)

In general, am more concerned with keeping RL out of fandom than fandom out of RL, but I believe it requires enforcement from both sides -- by not letting your relatives spy your LJ name over your shoulder and by being careful with your real name in fandom -- trying to limit the number of people who can connect the two.

I don't appear on anyone's friends lists, either any more, but I'm not entirely happy with that scenario. Having roamed around the south of the country for most of my adult life, there are a lot of people I've lost touch with who I'd love to find again, and Facebook was the best chance of doing that. But it's swings and roundabouts and there's got to be compromise - for me, protecting privacy has got to come top.

I think it's very difficult when there is something in your life that you want to share with people who truly are friends, even if they don't know your full name, address and bra size (no, wait, they probably do know that, thanks to copious numbers of memes ;)) but it's something that is unique to you, i.e., the publication of a book, which is tied very strongly to your identity. I would love to tell everyone about the products I've worked on because I think that the kind of people I know on LJ would find them interesting and useful, but it just can't be done, unfortunately.

Date: 2008-03-27 07:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mrstater.livejournal.com
(no, wait, they probably do know that, thanks to copious numbers of memes ;))

LOL It's probably really scary what people know thanks to memes!

Date: 2008-03-27 06:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] shimotsuki.livejournal.com
I want to thank you for this very timely post, especially from your perspective as someone who's worked in online security. I'm also very concerned about keeping my fandom identity completely separate from my RL identity, to the point that I'm trying to keep my RL name (even my first name only) from being posted on LJ, anywhere, even in f-locked posts... My worst nightmare is for my fandom identity to turn up as the result of a Google search on my RL name or other information, and the best way to stop that is to keep most of my RL information off fandom-related sites.

That said, I have been known to participate in an LJ community that displays IP addresses (logging them is one thing, displaying them is another thing entirely). I've been vaguely meaning to contact a mod and ask if they would mind shutting that display function off. Now your post has inspired me to do that sooner rather than later!

By the way, I love your new(?) layout, and I hope you're having a wonderful week off.

Date: 2008-03-27 06:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mrstater.livejournal.com
That said, I have been known to participate in an LJ community that displays IP addresses (logging them is one thing, displaying them is another thing entirely).

For what it's worth, you can only see them in your own posts; but I don't like to think that when I review someone's story the author can see my IP address!

Date: 2008-03-27 06:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] shimotsuki.livejournal.com
Oh, thanks, that does make me feel a little better!

I still wonder if they'd be willing to shut that off if I asked very nicely...

Date: 2008-03-27 06:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mrstater.livejournal.com
It would definitely be worth a shot, I don't like it either!

Date: 2008-03-27 07:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] godricgal.livejournal.com
I find it scary enough popping up on Google as it is, the thought of my LJ username being eternally associated with me is a terrifying thought. But thankfully, I think it doesn't take much to make that a very unlikely scenario. I think it's all a balance, making sure that information you do give out on LJ has no meaning outside of it. I used to keep my first name very quiet, but now it doesn't worry me, really, because it's just a label and not by any means unique, but it is certainly a clue that can be used to build up a bigger picture.

As for IP logging, frankly, it angers me that LJ even allows it to happen, and I certainly think there ought to be more education about it for those who do not know what it means, I think the the potential for harm to come of it far outweighs any benefits to it, of which I, personally, see none. I have been meaning to do a bit of digging to see what LJ have had to say about it in the past, and I would like to write to them about it at some point, to see if they'd reply and what they have to say about it.

Date: 2008-03-27 08:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] shimotsuki.livejournal.com
I find it scary enough popping up on Google as it is

Heh. I have to, for my job...at least in my academic field, Google is the first search tool anyone uses to find out who's working on a given topic. (I'm in the middle of a research-literature search just now, actually, as I try to plan my next three weeks of lectures, and I'm Googling all over the place.) There are certain specific searches you can do on my research topics where I'm in the first three to five hits, and that's great, because one of the criteria for getting tenure at a US university is "impact on the field". If my stuff doesn't show up in a Google search, it's that much less likely to get cited!

But clearly I don't want R/T angst (or other sensitive personal info) popping up amidst the publication references and project descriptions...*shudders* Likewise, if I ever start a blog for friends and family, which I've considered, you'd better believe that's going under yet another screenname that's different from both fandom and RL.

Date: 2008-03-27 07:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] godricgal.livejournal.com
Sorry, I forgot to reply to this...

By the way, I love your new(?) layout, and I hope you're having a wonderful week off.

Thank you! It's been up for a month or so, I think, but I've not posted much! Week off has been very nice, thanks. I've had a bit of work to do but nothing too taxing and all things I enjoy doing, so it's win-win. :)

Date: 2008-03-27 07:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] katyscarlett76.livejournal.com
Thanks for writing about this, you've given me so much to think about! I don't particularly want my fandom identity clashing with my real one in any real way. So my RL friends use my work email and fandom friends, if they wish, can use my fandom one. I don't refer to my fandom identity on my Facebook page, although I do have a few fandom friends on there (those I trust and who already know my full name/address etc from Christmas cards or because they already know me from somewhere else anyway). I do have some HP related groups/ applications but then anyone who knows me knows that I'm a fan (if they don't realise the extent).

I resisted joining a network on Facebook when I realised that all members of the network could see your profile. I have joined my work one but have jacked up my privacy settings so I control who sees what. Non-friends can't see anything that isn't freely available by the work web site anyway. Plus I have the added plus that the name I use is not my real full name (We have a Nymphadora situation going on here, well maybe not quite that bad but I don't use it!) and only a handful of very close people know that (I'm talking family and my best friend)!

But I do think we all need to think through these things carefully, so thanks for drawing our attention to it!

Date: 2008-03-27 08:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] godricgal.livejournal.com
I'm glad it gave you something to think about - that's all I really wanted to do.

You can fiddle with the settings on Facebook so that you can prevent other people in your network from seeing your profile if they're not on your friends list. Though I have, temporarily, left both my networks because your networks are still visible beside your name in other parts of the site and they give away my location.

It's nothing that can't be easily managed, but people have to be aware. :)

Date: 2008-03-27 07:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] belladonna1986.livejournal.com
There is no need for paranoia, just careful management.

I already am and understand and appreciate your concern, a friend of me recently told me to be careful with using sites, such as facebook, etc. since some employers check them out and use them as an additional source on applicants.

an IP address can be used to track a physical location
Uh? how does that work? Now you have me scared, or rather feeling uneasy. What exactly is IP logging? I'm glad you're talking about it, internet seems to become kind of risky...
Nevertheless thank you with the advice, didn't know about the name tag in emails :)

Date: 2008-03-27 09:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] godricgal.livejournal.com
Your IP address is linked to your local exchange -- I don't want to be too specific because I don't want to generally advertise how it's done because I've not locked this post, and the fewer people who know about it the better! Your ISP (internet service provider) will either give you a fixed IP, which is yours and yours alone, or it will serve you up with a slightly different IP address each time you connect to the internet. It's not an exact science - I ran a trace on a couple of my dad's fixed IPs and it reckoned they were in Manchester, which is way off, but I also ran one on my old fixed IP in London and I got a map of my old street, with a nice pin exactly where my building was.

You just have to be careful - look out for where your IP address might be stored - you should be informed before a site logs your IP. But I think IP logging on LJ wrong, I think it's wrong for LJ to offer the facility; the people who use it, I think, need to be made aware of the exposure they are giving people.

Date: 2008-03-27 09:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wildmagelet.livejournal.com
It doesn't sound preachy. Thank you for posting it. After having a few people on my f-list experience recent problems with copyrighting the work that they publish on LJ, it did get me thinking about the privacy issues. Which is one of the reasons I've always resisted getting a Facebook. I realise that LJ isn't the most private of places either, but I feel a lot more comfortable here, where there is more of a blogging than a social networking focus. I think I've got the privacy settings on Facebook about as high as they can go, but if the post-grad group that I signed up for doesn't work out, I'm not sure I'll bother keeping my Facebook, to be honest.

Date: 2008-03-27 11:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] godricgal.livejournal.com
I'd be interested to hear about the copyrighting issues, if you wouldn't mind telling me some time. One of the other issues that I have with Facebook, and indeed MySpace and many of the other sites that facillitate media sharing is their ts&cs in regard to copyright, in that they claim ownership of everything you put up there. I think LJ lends itself better to privacy because it's a persona, rather than a legal identity that Facebook uses. You're much more in control at LJ because if you lock posts, then no one can see them, it's as simple as that, whereas Facebook is a lot more convoluted and it's security settings are far from simple. I feel comfortably on LJ, and as long as people are sensible, I see no harm in it (apart from IP logging, but thankfully that is a rare practice). :)

Date: 2008-03-28 01:59 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] iamweebles.livejournal.com
Excellent post! Especially for those of us with children - one of the things that I'm trying to drum into my children is that there is no expectation of privacy on the internet.

Date: 2008-03-28 03:05 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] vivnow.livejournal.com
Well, I just saw this on angelpiphi's lj:

"The NEA (National Education Association) recently published an article about teachers who own personal websites like myspace and facebook. Apparently teachers who are posting "sexually explicit photos" and stories about their weekends, which students are finding access to, have all lost their jobs. A Colorado English teacher lost her job after composing and posting sexually explicit poetry on her myspace site. Police were even called in to investigate. Our local association has urged all our members to remove any and all personal websites. The association has also warned members that such sites "can be used as evidence in disciplinary proceedings," which could not only affect a teacher's current job but his/her teaching license" as well."

My lj is pretty much a G to PG rated site, but this still scares me. What do you think?

Date: 2008-03-28 04:06 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] katyhasclogs.livejournal.com
Hmmm I think it's very easy to feel more anonymous on the internet than you actually are.

It's interesting that you should post this now, because I was thinking a bit about this kind of thing just last week. I feel very conscious that if you google my main email username you come up with what little fanfic I've written, right at the top of the list.

Now, If I'd made a conscious decision to enter fandom and start writing, I probably wouldn't have picked a username that was the same as my main email. But that's not how it happens, is it? It's more gradual than that, and you're in it before you know you've started. So what starts off as just any old username so that you can leave reviews and save favourites shortly becomes a pen-name from which you're writing all this stuff.

Now because I'm not totally keen on the idea of any random friend, relative or potential employer googling my username and coming up with my fic, I changed my author name at ff.net (which had the additional advantage of making it more consistent across fandom). But that turns out to have been pointless given google's method of archiving everything.

Facebook I'm less concerned about, merely because I make minimal use of it (I ignore it for months at a time), I have nothing there that I would have a problem with, say, an employer seeing and don't mix it with fandom.

What really freaks be out, is googling names/usernames and coming up with stuff that isn't me, but might be construed as me because of the shared name. Because I really, really have no control over that and I don't like everything I see.

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