Thursday, 5 February 2009

Online Privacy

I'm generally a pretty cautious guy with my online life. I've read the horror stories, seen people make *huge* mistakes and generally made a prat of themselves online (e.g. posting photos of yourself drinking when 'off sick', etc). So, although I've been using the internet in various forms since the late '90s, to start with I never had a blog, didn't have any online websites, and only communicated by e-mail. I was strictly a consumer only.

My strictly regulated privacy has slowly and gradually slid away until now, I'm posting a couple of times a day to random people I don't know via twitter (dave_renoir) quite happily. How the hell did I get from there to here?

The first step was probably forums. It started with one or two cautious posts, jealously guarding my email address, to stuff I really needed. One by one this crept up from a simple question and answer until I finally realised I actually sometimes knew more than some of the other regulars and started answering questions rather than answering them. In 2001, I got into building maps for Half-Life 1 and ended up joining a 'mod' team where I was introduced to the joys of chat rooms and direct messaging. I was still pretty cautious, and only chatted to a few people, but for the first time I'd given my real email address to someone I hadn't seen! The world didn't end, I didn't get hacked, and in fact, everyone I'd met was actually pretty nice (Hi to the T:FfF team!).

A couple of years later, I took up Aikido. I'd been to a several lessons and was pretty committed, so I set up a small website for the club ( I wrote up a few articles on the basics, a bit of publicity material, and really needed to post an email address so readers could ask questions. I took a deep breath, and posted my real address, waiting for the torrent of hate mail and spam that would inevitably follow.

I was pleasantly surprised. There was no increase in spam and no bad mail. Over the last 5 years, I've had about 30 polite questions which have been easy to answer and about 3 targetted mails from chinese martial arts maufacturers. I've only had one possible 419 scam, from 'the Nigerian National Judo team' wanting to hire our hall for the 2012 olympics.

The social networking sites started the same way, thin end of the wedge. I created an account on Friends Reunited to look up some old friends. Then it became a facebook account, just used to monitor and keep up with my family, who have adopted it wholesale. Even my mum and dad (silver surfers) have an account.

About this time, I started building a RepRap, and started this blog primarily to track my progress and to help anyone else building one. After a break to have hand surgery, I've started posting again.

I sat down and thought a lot while I was off - it was pretty much all I could do without my hands. I came to some conclusions:
  1. Most people are either pretty nice and polite or just don't care. There isn't a large pool of 'stalkers' waiting to catch the unwary.
  2. The 'signal to noise' ratio is so large on the net that only interested people are likely to find your postings.
  3. Only people I know are even likely to be interested in my rantings. And they're probably just being polite.
  4. Tracking down people on google is already fairly easy, and there's already enough there for a motivated user to track me down.
I came to the conclusion that there's not really a lot extra to worry about - the genie is already out of the bottle. I don't do anything that I wouldn't chat to a stranger about, and if they want to be bored by the geekiest nerd in existence then I'm quite happy to tell them all about it.

I might as well make the most of this new technology stuff. So I'll post more.

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