First, let me just say I am not writing this post to criticize anyone. How much information you choose to share or not share on your blog is completely up to you. Completely. However, I thought I’d pick McH’s IT Security Brain a bit to help you all understand why I, and others, choose not to use our names or any other identifying information on our blogs. I will also share with you a personal story.
Hmmm . . . personal story first or technical info?
What’s that, you say? We really don’t give a flying crap? O.K. then, technical info. it is.
Me: What, in your professional estimation, would be the single most important reason for people to strictly limit the amount of personal, identifying information they use in bloggerland?
McH: To protect your identity, duh!
Me: Right. But say my name is Jane Smith and I live in Beaver Lick Kentucky (I am so not making that up). So what if I put that on my blog?
McH: Well, Jane of Beaver Lick you were polite enough to live in a small little town that makes it easier to narrow down who you are and where you live. I did a quick search on “Humperdink” and there are a total of two Humperdink families in the U.S., they would be much easier to find if they were kind enough to list their city, but even with a common first and last name it is possible to find someone.
Me: So, what you’re saying is that you can find me? Like my address?
Me: Well, sure. Everybody knows there are online white pages. Right? I mean, if they’re internet savvy enough to blog, they know about the white pages. So what? So what if you find my address?
McH: Once I have narrowed down where you live and who you are, I can start searching your blog for other identifying information. One of the biggest concerns should be your children. It is not uncommon to find the names of children, pictures of them, their birthday, where they were born, their nicknames, where they go to school etc… If I was a pedophile I might use this information to find children who lived near me and be able to use the information I have learned about their lives to convince them that it is ok to get in my car. I can probably even snow their teacher because sometimes the names of the teachers are listed in posts, so I can present myself as having been given permission to pick your child up.
Your second biggest concern should be that someone can glean enough information to steal your identity. Once I have your name and address I might be able to figure out where you bank, who you have your mortgage with, etc. This is especially easy if you are in a small community. I can shut off your utilities. I can cancel your accounts. If I am lucky I will be able to find your social security number by going through public records from your town. If I know where you work, or what you do, I will have any idea if you have money or not. I could always just be lazy and pay an online private investigator to crawl through various internet available databases to search for information on you. This will help me to know whether you have enough potential credit to make a good candidate for identity theft.
Me: Pedophiles? Identity theft? That kind of thing only happens on t.v., right?
Here comes the personal story. No, it does not involve identity theft or pedophiles. It doesn’t even involve blogging. It does involve a stalker. The whole point is to let you know that crazy people are out there, and it doesn’t just happen on t.v.
No, I am not that bad a judge of character. Because stalkers are always people we know, right? Wrong. Random, crazy people sometimes. So there was a random crazy person who decided his ex-girlfriend, Tanisha Jones, lived in my house. Given the number of times I caught him looking in the windows he had to know that I was the only woman in the house. Given the times of day he would show up, I think he had at least a vague idea of McH’s work schedule. Given he would pace back and forth on the sidewalk in front of my house, talking to the sky and the ground while gesticulating wildly, I think he was crazy. Given the very large Colt 45 cans he left on my doorstep, I think he was drunk and crazy. Given the fact that he would not run when I screamed, nor would he run when about 200 lbs. of dog would go crazy at the fence or at the door when he was around, I felt he was dangerous. Given the fact the police department didn’t care because neither my daughters nor I had yet been raped or murdered, we moved.
Because we had had a hand carved sign with our house number and last name hanging above our door for several years, we figured he knew our last name. So, for years, we had our phone listed under my dead rabbit’s name and my maiden name.
Now, here’s a little bit about identity theft. My dead rabbit got invites to join mail-order clubs. Actually, he did join BMG years previously. I’d had my number listed in his name back when I was teaching high school, also. He also frequently got credit card offers and companies calling to help him refinance his home, etc. It was amazing to me what I could have done in my dead rabbit’s name. They didn’t want his social security number. Just his name and address. I promise, he only ever joined BMG. Anyway, if I could have done these things with his name, what could someone do with yours? Just something to think about.
Back to the stalker. I know what it feels like to be afraid to go out of my house because I don’t know if the crazy man who keeps showing up at my house, pressing his nose against the windows and doors is going to be out in my bushes. I know what it feels like to live with no natural light because I don’t know if it’s safe to open my curtains. I know what it’s like to come down the stairs to see my baby and toddler standing in a chair waving back at the crazy man who is waving at them, about two feet away and separated only by window glass. I know what it’s like to have my house broken into and, in retrospect, wonder if it was HIM. Just for clarification, the house was broken into before I ever saw him for the first time, but not before I found the first Colt 45 can.
So, that was just a random crazy. “See,” you’re saying, “it has nothing to do with blogging.”
But to me, it does. It does because, when you blog, information is going out there for anybody to see. Anybody. Not just the few crazies within your greater metropolitan/suburban/rural area. Add to that the fact that identity thieves and pedophiles are known to troll the internet specifically looking for information to steal and children to victimize, and I really worry that the online adoption community specifically is setting itself up for a tragedy.
O.K., so here is a challenge if anybody wants to volunteer. You volunteer your blog and McH will see just how much information he can find out about you. If more than one person volunteers we will pick one. If only one blogger volunteers and it is someone who, like me, doesn’t use identifying information of any kind, then we’ll just scrap the experiment.
1. You volunteer and then just blog on like usual, changing nothing you have posted previously.
2. McH will see what he can find out about you in one week or less (without paying for any private, third-party search services, unless you want to go halfsies on that).
3. None of the information he finds about you will be posted here or anywhere else. It will be emailed to you (though we will not email ss#’s or anything specific like that, since that would be dangerous). Anything he finds will be shredded in our trusty shredder when we are all done with this little experiment.
And George, if you’re out there, Tewt the Newt might be able to find you if you had a blog.