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Access Denied: Blogs and Privacy
Google allows bloggers to safeguard posts from the wrong readership
Nicolas van der Leek (Nick)     Print Article 
Published 2006-11-29 10:03 (KST)   
The disadvantage of a blog is simply that it's sometimes too accessible as a "public domain."

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The writer of a blog probably has in mind an invisible audience of friends, some who are real and possibly live in the same area as the blogger, others who might be semi-forgotten acquaintances, and then still others, friends of friends and strangers from far flung places like Iceland and Nepal.

It's all good, of course, when someone googles their way to your blog because they're looking for specific content and you have it.

And I'd be perfectly happy for someone, anyone, who wants to read something about, say, how South Africans spend Christmas, or a girl searching for a guy's Christmas wishlist, to have a look around.

Even better if they get inspired or curious, seeing pictures perhaps, and develop an interest in South Africa or a particular issue. But it's altogether more sinister when someone is googling stuff like "9/11 twin towers satan" and they find their way to my innocent piece of webspace dedicated to training regimens and environmental concerns, and perhaps an incidental reference to hell or satan as in: why the hell would I do that? Or: it was hot as hell.

You're also in trouble if you publish someone's name and someone googles their own name, or a friend does, and they don't like what you've written -- even though it wasn't mendacious or written with ill-intent -- and they then go through your blog with a fine tooth comb, looking for your own words so they can hang you with them. Obviously when that's happening, blogging isn't much fun. And you really need a way to get rid of the blawkers -- blog stalkers --massing at your http and sending your counter spinning.

That's a sure sign that something has happened. If your counter usually jumps about 20 or 50 slots a day, and now suddenly it's jumping a 100, you've either caught someone's fancy, or you've incurred their wrath and they've begun to dig. If you're getting nice sunny compliments, nothing to worry about. But if you have a spinning counter, with no feedback, you've got to wonder who is behind it.

Meanwhile, if you think I've just conjured up the satan link mentioned above, check this Web site out.

My point is, over a period of time, your blog is going to be hit -- now the word starts to acquire a grim kind of significance -- by undesirable people. I don't just mean nut jobs, I mean, maybe you were driving somewhere and you pissed someone off that you knew. Or you're applying for a job and a jealous person that knows you has access to your personal diary, and it's with some vindictive glee -- and no small amount of self righteousness -- that they're going to source whatever they can find that paints you in a bad light.

Maybe you're competing for a promotion, or something else trivial -- thinking of buying a car, or taking a course -- and that information, which may seem harmless, may supposedly have all sorts of implications for a blawker.

If you're like me, and you publish the good, with the bad, with the ugly --hoping that the good shines the brightest -- then you do run the risk of being run out of town. I've had a couple of undesirable visitors, and even at times, one needs -- or perhaps simply feels the need -- to express something about someone close to you, but you simply don't dare.

This is why it's a good rule of thumb, for me anyway, not to eviscerate the details of a recent argument with one's girlfriend, simply because things can change in 24 hours, and once again, a jealous rival, or big brother, or someone who simply wasn't there might draw the wrong conclusions. There's the very real risk of someone coming across a single post -- particularly once it's been referenced and passed on to/or by another -- and then read as an isolated but apparently substantive representation of who you are.

There are blogs entirely and specifically devoted to flashing this sort of voyeuristic stuff, as a sort of my-life-as-a-soapie. Often the more sordid the better. It's not my thing.

Mushypeasontoast is a very popular blog about an attractive girl who basically pinballs from one adventure to the next. It's very popular, but unlike me, she simply has to conceal her identity.

When we met her at a blogging conference she refused to allow photographs of her to be taken -- but some were taken anyway -- and also refused to share strategic information, such as for which magazine she worked.

She also confided that she'd already suffered the attentions of stalkers, and I can't think of anything more unnerving than a stalker who is nourished daily by your blog, even worse, when your disappointments and setbacks actually make them feel better about themselves.

While the core audience of my blog is probably less than 20 different people viewing a page per day, it certainly doesn't constitute my definition of a public forum, and I wouldn't want it to.

Correction: sometimes I would, for example if I post a story that I believe is meaningful and important. But other times, I might not want anyone to read something I've posted.

I remember writing about the 180km cycle and being really upset about the race, and not happy with a teammate, and although I was determined to write and log the workout/race in order to draw comparison the following year on improvements in fitness, in the back of my mind I thought: I really don't really want anyone else to read this -- but I suppose if they must they can.

Then I received comments on that particular post which I felt like responding to as follows: Please stop reading my blog. Or: Can't you just not look at my blog today?

And what about someone like me who routinely posts articles, fiction, sometimes even a university assignment: isn't it just an invitation for plagiarism?

After all, if someone in Smallville U.S.A. published a perfectly suitable article I'd written -- found using google -- how would I know about it? Unless it was published on the Internet and unless I went back and googled all my own articles looking for duplicates -- and who does that? -- I would never know.

Fortunately, Google has a remedy for this dilemma. Anticipating massive demand for increased privacy -- and possibly to defend from unnecessary lawsuits -- Google have come up with a beta version of blogger, which will allow users to password protect content.

I think this will prove both very popular and very useful, although it's a shame in a way, because it simply constructs millions of gates in cyberspace, when blogs helped create endless fields of unfenced access.

In the case of my blog going beta (and it will, the beta version is simply not compatible at this stage with such a huge blog -- mine has over 5000 posts), visitors to this blog can simply email me for access, and obviously, if I know you, or if you prove to be devoted and trustworthy, you're always welcome.

The password for the rest: access denied.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Nicolas van der Leek

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