I was talking with a friend recently about keeping personal information safe from prying eyes online, and he said, "Not everyone is scared to have their information out there; I have friends who share everything about themselves."
The mere thought of it boggles my mind. I've always figured that those who are lax at guarding their personal info are either careless or ignorant of the dangers, but I suppose it could also be that they're simply comfortable being that way. I just can't understand that!
Even in the early days when I blogged under my real name, I used my first name and a poorly masked version of my last name. The whole idea was to make it more difficult for people to find me via a search engine like Google. Of course, if you were to discover the blog, and you already knew me IRL (in real life), it wouldn't take a rocket scientist to make the connection and figure out I was the writer. But if a stranger were to look for me by running a Google search of my name, my blog wouldn't show up in the list of results.
It wasn't that I was ashamed of what I was writing, merely that I thought it prudent to be cautious. When you have stuff floating out there on the Internet for any Tom, Dick or Harry to see, you don't know who's reading it, so it's wise to be careful. If someone stumbles over it that's one thing, but if a person were to dig around for stuff about you, that's another. Bear in mind that whoever is industrious enough to go looking for you is going to be a stranger and you have no idea where they sit on the scale of insanity (boringly normal, interestingly quirky, mildly eccentric, disturbingly strange, flat-out weird, scarily delusional, bat-shit insane). Yes, most people are fairly normal and well-balanced, but all it takes is for one bat-shit insane person to get hold of your personal information, and you're screwed!
Maybe I'm just paranoid, but I prefer to think of myself as being *cough* security-conscious *cough*. Ever heard of the adage, "better safe than sorry"? Maybe it's because I studied law and then worked with the media, and so have heard enough stories to make my hair stand on end!
In this day of social media, I think it's even more important to protect your personal information, because it's become a thousand times easier to trace you or dig up your various online profiles. Ever since establishing this blog, I've had two distinct identities on the Net: one as Sunflower, which I also use on Twitter and online dating profiles, and one under my real name, which I use on Facebook and elsewhere. Basically, I use Sunflower whenever I don't want to reveal my real name. My friends know who Sunflower is, of course -- it's not exactly a secret -- but random people wouldn't know. And again, you wouldn't be able to find stuff posted under the Sunflower name when you google my real name. This way, I have some measure of control over who sees what and who knows what about me, and I like that.