Monday, July 2, 2007

I don't want my picture posted on my friend's web site. Am I a privacy nut?

Dear HTT,

A friend of mine keeps a personal website with tons of personal information posted. I, on the other hand, am an extremely private person who doesn't want anything personal posted anywhere.

My friend and I travel together and he posts photos from our trips. That's always been fine with me because he used an online service that
required an email invitation or password to view the photos and it was
nice to share among friends. Now he's switched to a different service that allows anyone anywhere to view our photos. Granted, not many people out of our circle of friends visit his website and wouldn't have a direct link to his photo album. And I doubt strangers would look at another stranger's vacation photos. But they are out there and I feel very uncomfortable with it.

I realize that I am a little nutty about personal privacy, so that's why I need your advice. Am I being too nutty? And how offensive is it for me to ask him to password-protect his online photo album?

Dear Private,

You might be asking the wrong person, since I put personal anecdotes out there all the time and practically beg people to read them!

Then again, self-centered though this may be, I mostly only talk about myself in my personal posts. When I do mention friends, I don’t give their names, and sometimes I change details about them to protect the innocent. I think I’ve posted only one picture of a friend, and I asked her first if she minded. (She didn’t.) I have talked about family, but only in general terms, not naming any names.

So, no, I don’t think you’re being irrationally protective of your privacy. In my case, vanity would be an even bigger issue. I wouldn’t necessarily want the whole world to have access to a picture of me, say, climbing on horse when I was in Costa Rica. (I wasn’t exactly nimble at it.) And I’m sure people have plenty of other unflattering pictures of me that I’d rather were kept in a drawer somewhere, in the old-school manner of photo storage before it was easy to dump all 500 vacation pictures on a web site.

But, whatever the reason, be it privacy or vanity, I don’t think you’re being nutty. I don’t know the ins and outs of all the picture-posting options out there, but just the other day my brother was extolling the virtues of a site that lets you password protect some albums and not others, easily. So, given that you don’t need to be some kind of web programming genius to do it, I think it wouldn’t hurt to ask your friend to install some kind of privacy feature on his pages. Or, at least, to take down the pictures of you.

Take care,


Anonymous said...

[I used to have some awesome photos of HTT in some rather undignified poses. Lucky for her they were taken in the pre-digital-everything era and I lost my shoebox full of incriminating evidence.]
I agree that a compromise can be reached that will help preserve the letter writer's feeling of privacy, but I also think we can all expect to be addressing issues like this for many years to come. And I think our privacy will inevitably be eroded by these new technologies. I'm not sure that there is any long-term defense against it.

Anonymous with an Unlisted Phone Number, But What's the Point?

Anonymous said...

Thanks, HTT. I did ask my friend to remove my last name and photos from his website and he did. He was a little curt and defensive about it, which I don't understand.

As for the last comment--our privacy is indeed being eroded and there is no defense against it.

Anonymous said...

From what I've read, the whole 'concern with privacy' thing may be generational... Generation Y and those younger, who have grown up with social netowrking sites, blogs, and all the current technologies don't seem to have any concern that lots of information about them is available to anyone who wants it... Though perhaps they will become more concerned as they join the corporate workforce, become parents and grandparents, etc.

It should be interesting to see how those who have lived publicly but don't have Paris Hilton's money deal with the records of their 'youthful indiscretions' as they age...

Anonymous said...

Frankly, the thing that worries me is that if you google my name, you not only get references to me, but also to a woman with my (somewhat unusual) name who lives in Iowa and is, apparently, some sort of religious nut. I worry that a prospective employer will google me, and find this woman's 'letters to the editor...' So I'm not worried about the VALID information about me that exists in publicly available places; I'm concerned that someone will mistakenly associate INVALID information with me!

Anonymous said...

Interesting comment about Generation Y's comfort-level with posting personal information. I tend to agree, but I think youth and inexperience has a lot to do with it: They're being naive, and at some point in their lives they won't want, as the previous poster described, to be in the situation where prospective employers can Google them and find embarrassing pictures of them or posts online.

Working at a university, I might be in an unusual situation, but I have known several people over the past decade who have been stalked. Students, teachers, you name it. One situation began when students were asked to write their name and email address on a list that was being passed around a classroom. A guy in the class noted the name and email of a cute classmate, and was happy to discover all of the personal information, pictures and contact information he could find online. He started calling her apartment, and was even more thrilled that he was able to frighten her and her roommates as well. By the time I heard about this, six months later, he was following the girl and her roommates around campus. A roommate was one of my students, who told me about the situation one day when he had followed her to campus and she was afraid he would show up at my class. Do you think that these women are pleased to know that this guy is looking at their personal pictures online?

My husband is still being contacted by a psycho ex he broke up with 10 years ago. He's moved across the country, has a new, unpublished phone number, but recently he posted his email address on a class reunion website and shortly thereafter he started receiving weird "Do you know who this is?", anonymous emails. She eventually revealed herself when he didn't respond.

I know I'm being a worst-case-scenario person here, but all it takes is one freak to make anyone regret posting any personal information online. I think it is wise to exercise caution.