Own yourself

This entry was published at least two years ago (originally posted on December 19, 2002). Since that time the information may have become outdated or my beliefs may have changed (in general, assume a more open and liberal current viewpoint). A fuller disclaimer is available.

An excellent article from Anil Dash on some of the side effects of Google’s ability to find anything — and anyone.

Every time there’s a resurgence in general-audience (non-techie) interest in Google, as after Newsweek’s recent Google fawning, the issue of privacy in a presence of a pervasive and permanent record rears its ugly head. People who aren’t technologically savvy don’t realize that statements don’t fade away or remain in confidence on the web; The things we say only get louder and more widely known, unless they’re completely trivial.

We’re all celebrities now, in a sense. Everything that we say or do is on the record. And everything that’s on the record is recorded for posterity, and indexed far better than any file photo or PR bio ever was. It used to be that only those who chose career paths that resulted in notoriety or celebrity would face having to censor themselves or be forced to consciously control the image that they project. But this faded as celebrity culture grew and as individuals are increasingly marketed as brands, even products.

Google’s ability to track people down often can be truly amazing, though admittedly, it does pretty much require you to have a somewhat unusual name or e-mail address to use for the search. For instance, Googling for ‘michael hanscom‘ does find me, but not until the sixth link, and even then it’s just my name buried within Phil‘s FOAF file. However, Googling for my online pseudonym of ‘djwudi‘ brings up link after link related to me, either posts here on my site, or comments I’ve left in various other places around the web.

What to do about this ability to be ‘found’ on the ‘net? Well, the best things to do may just be to accept that nothing you put on the web is truly private, and become active in taking control of what information is out there, as much as possible.

I own my name. I am the first, and definitive, source of information on me.

One of the biggest benefits of that reality is that I now have control. The information I choose to reveal on my site sets the biggest boundaries for my privacy on the web. Granted, I’ll never have total control. But look at most people, especially novice Internet users, who are concerned with privacy. They’re fighting a losing battle, trying to prevent their personal information from being available on the web at all. If you recognize that it’s going to happen, your best bet is to choose how, when, and where it shows up.

That’s the future. Own your name. Buy the domain name, get yourself linked to, and put up a page. Make it a blank page, if you want. Fill it with disinformation or gibberish. Plug in other random people’s names into Googlism and paste their realities into your own. Or, just reveal the parts of your life that you feel represent you most effectively on the web. Publish things that advance your career or your love life or that document your travels around the world. But if you care about your privacy, and you care about your identity, take the steps to control it now.

To that end, I think I’ll be picking up www.michaelhanscom.com soon, most likely pointing it here. Comments to other sites, where previously I’d use ‘djwudi’, I’ll probably start using my real name now. As long as I’m me, in a world where incredible amounts of information can be found with just a few clicks of a mouse, I might as well take control of who I am.