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The internet can make our private lives public but most people don’t care

May 5, 2008

When I started blogging I was quite sure I wouldn’t be posting anything personal on the internet. What I didn’t bargain for was the comments I made on other blogs. Before I knew it I found myself chattering away on various blogs, inadvertently revealing myself in bits and pieces. Bits and pieces? I think I must have left my biography out there on the internet!

Strangely, I am not as worried as I should be even though I know that it’s not just my blogger friends whom I am talking to but a host of strangers…lurkers?

Well, I am not alone. A survey says that most internet users today (60 percent) are not really concerned about the amount of information they leave online and most of those who do worry (38 percent) do not take serious steps to limit it. Overall, almost 80 percent of internet users don’t try too hard to limit the information they leave online, even if some of them worry about it.

And this tendency (to be more open on the net) is increasing over the years.

This survey was done in the United States about six months ago amongst 1,623 internet users and my feeling is that perhaps users in India would be more cautious…but I think the trend here is clear to see…as time goes by internet users are becoming less cautious about revealing themselves…and newer platforms are springing up everyday which tempt users to do so.

First lets take those who don’t worry about the amount of personal information available about them online – the 60 percent.
Out of this group, 43 percent say they do nothing to limit the amount of personal information available about them online. The other 17 percent say that while they don’t worry, they do “limit” the amount of personal information they give out. This group as a whole “actively uploads content.”

Now lets take those who do worry about the personal information about them available online – the 38 percent.
If we break this group up we get 18 percent who say they worry but don’t do anything to limit the information they give out. Only about 21 percent try to “proactively limit” the amount of personal information they upload.

So overall if we look at internet users, less than a quarter actually try to limit the information they give out on the internet. Well, it follows that very few people would actually monitor their online presence with any regularity…in fact of those who do, only 3 percent say they do it on a regular basis and 22 percent say they do it “every once in a while.” The rest have done it a couple of times, that’s all.

So if this survey is accurate, it means that almost 80 percent of internet users don’t try take any serious steps to “limit” information available about them on the internet. And therefore it’s not surprising that not many of us try to find out how much information is out there about ourselves.

Out of those who did search for their digital footprint (47 percent of internet users), a quarter (21 percent) of the self-searchers were surprised at the amount of information available about them online while 62 percent expected to find what they did. But 13 percent felt surprised that there wasn’t more information available about them online.

However, others are trying to find out something about you! 53 percent of internet users look for information about others…their friends, relatives or romantic interests!

  • 9 percent of online adults have checked out someone they are dating. More women than men do this.
  • 11 percent have done it to check out prospective employees.
  • 19 percent have searched for information about co-workers, professional colleagues or business competitors.
  • However a large proportion of those (36 percent) who search for information about others do it to locate someone from their past.

Well, that does give one an eerie feeling doesn’t it…to know that once you put something out there on the net, it is completely out of your control. And it will be available there for years afterwards! A New York Times article says that if these trends are anything to go by “a time will come when nothing that is said online will be treated as embarrassing because we will have become accustomed to everyone disclosing everything.”

And with sites like Spokeo.com, well things have got easier for those who want to spy on their friends! This site “searches your friends’ blogs and photos across 22 social networks so you don’t have to visit hundreds of websites one by one!”

No privacy anymore? Sure, strangers may not come up to me and tell me they know what my favourite colour is or what side of the bed I prefer or what I think of when I wake up…but well, they can easily find out. I wonder if that makes you feel as strange as it does me.

Related Reading: Cyber Stalking – the most common cyber crime
Censorship on students using Social Networking sites in India
The Dark side of the Internet
More articles on the Internet

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30 Comments leave one →
  1. May 5, 2008 7:32 am

    In their zest to be social, I think most people do not realize the ramifications of “letting it all hang out” on the internet.

    Potential employers are researching prospective employees and have denied jobs because of embarrassing photos or blogs they have found. There are even companies whose sole business is to remove a person/’s footprint from the internet- for a hefty fee,

    I would also be concerned about children finding information about their parents “indiscretions” or private information that the parents may have long forgotten about.

    I make it a personal rule to never post anything online that I would not want someone– anyone– to see.

    That’s what diaries with locks and keys are for….

  2. May 5, 2008 9:48 am

    hmmm….i do keep searching for info on me…there aren’t many surprises because i give out a standard set of details…as for personal information….i don’t think anyone knows much about me…no even my fav colour…might be a few my fav football team..

  3. May 5, 2008 9:54 am

    intelligent post,
    u can be easily profiled on the net if a person so chooses to
    all he needs is time and limited resources
    thats why its intelligent to keep a separate online and offline profile and not reveal too much, one more reason to blog anon

  4. May 5, 2008 11:56 am

    Hmm. Nice post. Orkut can be biggest example of putting personal matters online but that can be limit upto certain level but I have seen that most people don’t care — including me.

    In today’s age — you are literally sold on Internet. Your email is sold to Marketing companies, your interests, your hobbies are on sale. Your blood group too!

    Second thing is blog. I have almost all my personal information online (orkut/blogs) except my waist measure and some very personal things😉

    Gladly, I met much better friends online (and now they are RealLife friends) than in RealLife.

    Every coin has two sides. May be coin has third side too — and thats more important.

  5. May 5, 2008 12:12 pm

    Its scary yeah, but I think once we have published or shared our info over the internet, there is no turning back. You can’t remove it completely whatever you do.
    Do you think revealing our identity in blog is not a good thing?

  6. May 5, 2008 12:24 pm

    Well, i have seen people jumping off the roof , just to get publicity.
    Internet is just a Hi Fi version to get it.
    if you go search some personal blogs, they even write what they are craving to eat in the evening.

  7. May 5, 2008 12:27 pm

    People do stumble upon my blog while searching for someone who has left a comment on my blog. And one can easily figure it out if that someone doesn’t have a common name.

    People do search other people and themselves too, to check where do they list on web and what are they related to.

    I however, do tell the concerned person that people are looking for him/her on google.🙂

  8. May 5, 2008 4:18 pm

    most people are inherently lonely… and hence they actually welcome the attention they get by revealing the interesting tit bits of their life.

    plus they are also confident that whatever they release won’t be harmful to them… i.e. they are not sharing a secret or their financial data

  9. May 5, 2008 4:29 pm

    We have seen some examples of employer not letting their employee blog about anything related to company/work. Or they are given notice or say bye bye.

  10. May 5, 2008 5:08 pm

    If there’s an upside to all this, it might be that future generations will be able to get a much clearer idea of how people once lived their daily lives. At some point — depending on how long the information is kept — people might be able to google their ancestors to find just what their lives were like.

  11. May 5, 2008 5:14 pm

    It’s not that I don’t care Nita, it’s that I got tired of hiding you I was. Then when I decided to put my real name on the novel I published, there wasn’t any point in trying to stay anonymous.

  12. May 5, 2008 5:22 pm

    Nancy, I agree that one shouldn’t write about things that one doesn’t want one’s children or boss to know. These two are very sensitive areas!

    Vishesh, that’s pretty cautious for someone so young! Mainly it’s the young who expose themselves readily on the internet…although oddly it’s the young who are most likely to use nicknames!

    Prax, people who blog anon make very convincing arguments but somehow my heart always told me to blog under my own name. I thought I would be careful about what I put out there, but ofcourse it’s not always easy to do that. But even then, the idea of blogging anonymously doesn’t sit well with me. Perhaps if one is going to write intimate details of one’s life, yes, it does make sense. But I never planned to do that. I wonder why you blog anon Prax. You don’t write personal stuff on your blog.

    Kartik, I agree there’s a third side. If you blog under your own name there are more chances of getting people to relate to you and make friends. And by the way even colleges put those restrictions on people. There was one guy who used to blog regularly in a group blog I was with but he had to stop as it was one of the college rules!

    Suda, no I don’t think that revealing one’s identity is a bad thing. But if one are in the job market then one has to be careful. overall, be careful that you don’t write anything your boss shouldn’t know!🙂

    Asif, well I guess some do it for attention, but some simply want to reach out to people.

    Anshul, I have never had anyone looking for someone on my blog! That is indeed interesting.

    Paul
    , I never thought of it that way. But it would be better if someone collates the data isn’t it. In fact I have a project exactly like this. Many months ago I started my family blog and have so far managed to get some family members to contribute to it. I have published details like old letters from my great grandfather, old family photos etc. A lot more work needs to be done though.

    Brian, Its a good thing you did. I think in some cases revealing one’s true identity can be liberating.

  13. May 5, 2008 5:23 pm

    Excellent post,Nita! It has got me thinking😐 Nancy’s comment has got me thinking too🙂

    However,for those who are really worried about revealing too many personal details online,if one gets a basic understanding of how the internet works,it is not that difficult to be as anonymous as one wants to be.

  14. May 5, 2008 6:53 pm

    Hmmm…come to think of it, even I have been leaving quite a lot of personal things on my blog lately.😦 Should I be worried? But I do make a conscious effort to make sure that I don’t disclose too personal things…but then I might be leaving trails at the comment section of other blogs.
    But maybe one day my grandson might bump into my blog and would be surprised at how his dada lived his life.😉

  15. May 5, 2008 7:47 pm

    I write a lot of personal posts..so am guilty of leaving behind lot of personal information, as I write anonymously I am saved a little.
    Just googled my name and cool I just did not find anything relevant :0

  16. May 5, 2008 8:36 pm

    I try to keep the information about myself specific enough to be read as an individual but also to be read as a universal type. There is not much I have posted which makes me fear exposure or to fear embarrassing my family or friends. Just as one is cautious about being completely transparent with face-to-face relationships, the gradual building of trust and limiting information one gives to others access, I am so cautious on my blog entries. I have not checked on my existence on the net as I feel little to be concerned about.. Just naturally cautious, maybe. G

  17. May 5, 2008 8:59 pm

    wooooooooow! family album!
    I’m just gonna check it right now!
    Have a nice monday!

  18. May 5, 2008 8:59 pm

    But maybe one day my grandson might bump into my blog and would be surprised at how his dada lived his life.

    what about your granddaughter?😉
    The cultural ingraining begins quite early.😀

  19. May 5, 2008 9:17 pm

    @Amit : Hmm…really bad on my part.😐 I don’t know. I guess we are just brought up in a way that such things are always there at a subconscious level although I don’t care a damn if its a grandson or a granddaughter.
    Ok, so i’ll change the line to – But maybe one day my grandchildren might bump into my blog and would be surprised at how their dada lived his life.
    Hope I am sounding like a normal Earthling now.😀

  20. May 5, 2008 9:49 pm

    Amit, it’s not a question of good/bad, but as you mentioned, there are cultural biases that we all (including myself) imbibe at a subconscious level.🙂

    My apologies, I didn’t intend to play the role of a PC police – I think it’s fine for parents/people to desire a certain sex in their babies, but it’s also important to have some awareness as to why, and how much of that is contributed by culture/tradition.

  21. May 5, 2008 10:42 pm

    Ankur, I missed your comment there! I agree about the lonliness part…but I feel they don’t really manage to alleviate lonliness. I don’t think the internet can compensate for real-life relationships though I agree it may help. It’s strange though because people seem to get satisfaction from blogging anonymously.

    Raj,
    not at all difficult! You too are a mystery man.

    Amit
    you are thinking of grandchildren…but I would be worried about the future girl-friend🙂

    Rambler, all I know is that you are a 26 year working man living in Bangalore who loves to write! But if your email id is related to your first name then I know your first name. Not much!

    G, you are the only person I know on the internet who has kept her real name off the blog but at the same time revealed herself. You have struck a beautiful balance. I feel I know you, I can trust you, even though I don’t know what you look like or who you really are. I think it’s because of the depth of your writing.

  22. May 5, 2008 11:55 pm

    As nancy and kartik said – u r very much tracked

    its ok at ur age but for a younger person it is kinda scary
    cause people change opinions change – but ur word somewhere on the net stays in Google cache forever
    and someone can get crazy – and hate you for what u wrote

    plus if someone wants to track me it ain’t too difficult
    even if im anon – think of it as a primary firewall
    lastly whats in a name – im accessible aint i?

  23. May 5, 2008 11:59 pm

    and as i see it personal details don’t matter much to people
    it just gives people a peak into ur lives , mabe helps to build up ur profile
    but if u take a stand it can get bad – who knows which politician or mandal will get angry and track/hunt u down ?

  24. May 6, 2008 12:14 am

    @Amit : There is no need to apologize. In fact, I didn’t even realized that I had written something like that till you mentioned it. But somehow, if nothing else, my own comment disturbed me. I would be the last person on earth who would care about the gender of my children/grandchildren, but still the way grandson came out of my subconsciousness disturbed me. Nothing more.🙂

  25. May 6, 2008 5:00 am

    Better half works in the field and insists that I keep away from it as much as possible🙂 “You all are so naive…you have no idea how easy it is to manipulate anyone’s information online,” he says.

    First I thought he was paranoid (which he is a bit)…but I have gradually grown to respect his knowledge in this field. So I minimize my personal info online.

    But yes, I am surprised by the amount of personal info (including photographs) that people are willing to upload online and make public!

    The point is not so much about the technology as it is about the fact that the world is full of mean people who want to screw you up and they are ready to make best use of the loopholes in the technology😦

    Having said that, there are many people who do want you to know about them, many for professional reasons. It’s free PR🙂
    So…

    SS

  26. May 6, 2008 7:01 am

    a friend realised that her man was having a scene because he put up pictures on Facebook .
    i know tons of people who have their mobile numbers and home addresses on Facebook..
    I recently read about ranbir kapoor breaking up with his beau on FB. And, this is only one social networking site…
    i am not sure that people don’t understand the ramifications of putting out so much information about yourself… i am still aghast to find so much usable information on-line…

    but some stuff gets there inadvertently

    i was horrified to find my address on the internet. i had to fill in home address details at the domain registrar when i got my domain. It was meant to be private …and suddenly it is out there and i don’t know how to make it private again😦

  27. May 6, 2008 8:54 am

    Someone I knew in school, found me on one of the social networking sites and asked for my number, since I wasn’t interested in giving the number, but I couldn’t rudely refuse too, so I immediately searched for more people with my name on that site. Because there are many people with their phone numbers published etc, I found one person with my first name and a phone number, gave that number to to the guy who was asking it. :mrgreen:

    This is another way information can be mis-used.

    @harini: Domain registrars have an option of private registration too, for which they charge some extra money per year, where your other details except name won’t be disclosed.

    I sometimes laugh when some people say there online identity is tightly guarded secret while a simple who.is to their domain name reveals their complete name and contact details.

  28. lallopallo permalink
    May 7, 2008 11:01 pm

    The way I see it is that if you really want to keep your life private, no networking site, or your blog or any search engine can prevent you from doing so. Once you put something on net, you are responsible for the content. I think it’s very childish for some people to say that, ‘ oh, some people found my address or about my gf’s or etc etc from orkut/facebook/my blog’..
    Common, if you really want to be discreet about it, you should not have put that information on net. It’s not rocket science to understand that once you put something out there about yourself, it’s no longer private.
    When I give some information about myself on net ( whether it’s facebook or my blog), Iam fully aware what could be it’s repercussions. So, I tell what I want to tell & what I feel is safe for me at that moment.
    On the other hand, I feel that this increasing transparency in will be helpful in the long run for a more evolved society. I talked a bit about it on my blog sometime back.
    lallopallo.wordpress.com/season of reunions destiny

  29. May 10, 2008 9:54 am

    Prax, true even with a nickname if someone is determined, they can track you down. However, when it comes to strong opinions about sensitive issues, it applies to real life as well. At least where I am concerned even in my real life I have no problem sharing my opinions! I guess I am just not an important enough person for it to matter to anyone!

    SS, for professional reasons many people are forced to put up their info online and I guess they have to take the good with the bad. However now with the cyber police there are so many ways to track down miscreants, that it makes one feel confident of putting one’s info online.

    Harini, I have heard of people breaking up through SMS too…in the olden days it was by letter! Those who do it this way are probably reluctant to face their beau and well, that tells a lot about them.

    Anshul,
    wicked, wicked!!🙂

    Lallopallo, just today I found a site which helps you collate the information of a person you know from 22 different sites and gives it to you on a platter! It’s scary isn’t it! I found the site intriguing enough to add the link in my main post. After a few free tries one has to pay though. Someone I know used this site and sure enough they got the mal masala!

  30. May 10, 2008 12:16 pm

    I agree with you, Nita. It seems the world is definitely not short of people who are determined to take us all back to the dark ages, where disease, famine, war and death were the order of the day. They are determined to halt and reverse the progress of humankind. If that is what they want, that is what they will get! Persons like you or me cannot stop them. Those b******s are getting sucked into a vortex from which there is no escape. Let them face the consequences of their own actions!

    Raj, I have a feeling you got the wrong post!🙂 – Nita.

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