Own yourself

An excellent article from Anil Dash on some of the side effects of Google’s ability to find anything — and anyone.

Every time there’s a resurgence in general-audience (non-techie) interest in Google, as after Newsweek’s recent Google fawning, the issue of privacy in a presence of a pervasive and permanent record rears its ugly head. People who aren’t technologically savvy don’t realize that statements don’t fade away or remain in confidence on the web; The things we say only get louder and more widely known, unless they’re completely trivial.

We’re all celebrities now, in a sense. Everything that we say or do is on the record. And everything that’s on the record is recorded for posterity, and indexed far better than any file photo or PR bio ever was. It used to be that only those who chose career paths that resulted in notoriety or celebrity would face having to censor themselves or be forced to consciously control the image that they project. But this faded as celebrity culture grew and as individuals are increasingly marketed as brands, even products.

Google’s ability to track people down often can be truly amazing, though admittedly, it does pretty much require you to have a somewhat unusual name or e-mail address to use for the search. For instance, Googling for ‘michael hanscom‘ does find me, but not until the sixth link, and even then it’s just my name buried within Phil‘s FOAF file. However, Googling for my online pseudonym of ‘djwudi‘ brings up link after link related to me, either posts here on my site, or comments I’ve left in various other places around the web.

What to do about this ability to be ‘found’ on the ‘net? Well, the best things to do may just be to accept that nothing you put on the web is truly private, and become active in taking control of what information is out there, as much as possible.

I own my name. I am the first, and definitive, source of information on me.

One of the biggest benefits of that reality is that I now have control. The information I choose to reveal on my site sets the biggest boundaries for my privacy on the web. Granted, I’ll never have total control. But look at most people, especially novice Internet users, who are concerned with privacy. They’re fighting a losing battle, trying to prevent their personal information from being available on the web at all. If you recognize that it’s going to happen, your best bet is to choose how, when, and where it shows up.

That’s the future. Own your name. Buy the domain name, get yourself linked to, and put up a page. Make it a blank page, if you want. Fill it with disinformation or gibberish. Plug in other random people’s names into Googlism and paste their realities into your own. Or, just reveal the parts of your life that you feel represent you most effectively on the web. Publish things that advance your career or your love life or that document your travels around the world. But if you care about your privacy, and you care about your identity, take the steps to control it now.

To that end, I think I’ll be picking up www.michaelhanscom.com soon, most likely pointing it here. Comments to other sites, where previously I’d use ‘djwudi’, I’ll probably start using my real name now. As long as I’m me, in a world where incredible amounts of information can be found with just a few clicks of a mouse, I might as well take control of who I am.

0 thoughts on “Own yourself

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  3. A very insightful page, this. Thanks for the read. Having my (our) own webspace I feel somewhat “safe”, but still you raise an important point – knowing that information will leak, we might as well face that fact and post information how and where we want it [to originate, at least].

    I think I’ll have to spend some time figuring out if it’s worth sticking to my online alias even though, truth be told, I’m actually quite fond of it.
    For now, I think it’s worth keeping, if just to have a short handle (as you can tell my name is not). The fact that it is not obviously linked to my true identity (even though it’s an easy bit of research if you’re the least bit knowlegdeable) is just a minor issue.

    On a different note, I can’t help praising you for the appearance of your web site. It’s smooth and professional-looking, and focuses on content rather than flashiness. That’s what we’ve been trying to do with our site as well, but I do declare that you succeed better by far. Wow.
    (One point, though: I’m using Mozilla v1.5 so I’m fairly confident what I see is what you intend — but the labels for the three Name/Email/URL fields above this comment entry box are a bit amiss, line-break-wise. But only in the initial comment footer, it’s okay on the “preview” page. Just so you know.)

    :o) Jan

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  5. Sorry for all the trackbacks :( I meant just one! Typepad kept sending timeout messages so MT kept pinging everytime I updated that.

  6. Wow… I really let myself go and now all of that info is on the web. Oh well, I will probably become famous like I’ve always wanted, even though now people will be able to see all of my crazy sides.

    This is a really great post, especially for those just starting out on the internet.