Monday, September 17, 2012

On Privacy, The Internet, & Being Safe

I used to think that putting some personal stuff online wasn't a big deal. It's not like I was important enough for people to stalk or anything. And I'm not saying I am now, but things have been slowly changing over the six years since I started this blog.

Truth is, I recently found some things online about me that were, let's say, vaguely stalkerish. Not to the point where I was totally freaked out, but it put me on high alert. Like, "Oh, so there are people in the world who actually have the time to read my entire blog archive. I had no idea. Interesting."

I've recently had to ask myself a new question: Do I want people to be able to have that window into my life, into who I used to be and how I got where I'm at now?

When I first started this blog, I used to post a lot of silly things, or personal things. I talked a lot about my books and research, about my family and friends. Back then, I think it was okay. I had very few readers and nothing really to worry about. Things have changed lately. And please, don't take this as me saying I'm SUPER famous or anything like that, because I'm so not. But selling a book has garnered a certain amount a visibility, and I imagine that'll increase a little once the book is actually out. What used to be okay for me to talk about is shifting, whether I want it to or not.

When I was querying and on sub, I used to think a lot of writers got "too good for us little people" when they sold their books, because they started to close off online and were just too busy to interact like they used to. But as I've been going through the debut thing myself, I've discovered that "closing off" is for very different reasons than I imagined. Mainly, for safety purposes.

I'm sure a lot of you have heard about the agent who was attacked by someone she rejected last week (via Nathan Bransford). That is an extreme but sobering reality. I truly believe that the majority of writers are very nice people, but it's a case of a few troubling sorts ruining it for the rest.

The truth is, I've had a few unsettling, this-person-is-kind-of-invading-my-privacy moments already. I've had people approach my husband asking him to read their novels and recommend them to me, for example. I've had uncomfortable comments on my blog along the lines of "Why am I not your husband?"

What I experience on a smaller scale must be really difficult for writers who are even more visible. I have heard some stories that make me pretty scared to be doing this whole author gig.

So with all that in mind, I would just encourage everyone to be safe. Here are some ways you can do that if you feel the need:

• If you have Blogger, it's really easy to revert your older posts to drafts, if you now deem them maybe too exposing (something I've been doing a lot of lately). No deletion necessary, so you can keep them for yourself if you want.

• Never talk about where you are going—talk about where you've been.

• Don't use the location pins. (I seriously don't get the location pins.)

• If you want to advertise an event, advertise it. There's no reason to say that you will be there even if you are going.

• Consider the personal pictures you post online, and if there is any way for people to locate or contact you based on them.

Be safe out there, guys. I wish we didn't have to think about this stuff, but we do.


  1. All very good advice. I use location pins, but I choose random places around the world as the post location. Occasionally I'll mention my home city but never my actual address or even close to my address.

    I'm glad you posted this. Not a lot of people think about how easy it can be. I went to respond to someone I followed on Twitter and up pops a map of where they are. I let them know that I was able to see it. Unfortunately, the person thought I was being stalkerish and blocked me. At least they took the warning seriously.

  2. It sucks that we have to think about this stuff, but we've been doing a lot of the same lately. For us it helps a little that we write under our maiden names. We still try to be careful about what we post online for all to see, pics of kids and tweets about where we're at and when are pretty limited. You hate to have to think this way, but Pam's story is a good reminder that we all need to be vigilant. Ugh.

  3. Fantastic article! It's such a scary thing and fine line to walk. I often want to comment of blogs/tweets/etc of authors I enjoy reading and following, but always wonder if it's too creepy.

    I read about everything that happened last week and it just made me sad. The world is a scary place. I have a neighbor who constantly updates his FB with when he's out of town. It's like he's begging someone to break into his house. Yikes.

    Be safe out there.

  4. That's a very good point. I'm going to have a look at what I have put online in the past.

  5. Excellent advice. And yes, it's sad that someone could be attacked like that.
    This is why I never update my status on Facebook. I don't want people to know where I am every minute of the day.

  6. "Never talk about where you are going—talk about where you've been."

    YES. That. And the photo awareness is important too.

    Famous or not, I think these are things everyone online should think about. (And really, what is to be gained by broadcasting your exact location at any given time? If you want someone to join you, contact them directly!)

    What happened to Pam makes me sick, and I wish we lived in a world where no one ever had to worry about stuff like this. But we don't, and so I think it's best to be safe/defensive about personal information online. Not paranoid. Just smart.

  7. Very sensible, Natalie. Even for those of us who haven't quite made it yet.

  8. I am very funny about this stuff. I have tried to do my best to keep 'real' information about myself and family out of my blog, while revealing enough of my real personality to be honest about who I am and what I'm about. Yet it would probably be real easy for someone to find out where I live. Yuck.

    We live our lives in a very exposed way in this day and age. The good thing is we get to 'know' a lot of people, but we really don't know who we're dealing with, and it's a lot easier to be found than it used to be.

  9. Great advice, Natalie. I have always been mindful of these types of things and I think now that my book is coming out, it's probably a good idea for me to go back over old posts just to double check for privacy issues. I love that you wrote this post. Sage advice for all of us out here!

  10. Such a timely post. What happened to Pam was just horrible, and so scary. I reverted ALL of my past blog posts to drafts a month or so ago, with the intent to go through them and see what I want to leave on my blog (and I have next to no followers, just felt like it was something I needed to do). I haven't made it a priority yet.

    I checked Spokeo fir the first time in a while after Pam tweeted about what happened, and sure enough a map popped up showing my house and street name.

    Make sure your smartphone doesn't post location along with your EXIF data!

  11. Very true. I recently shut down most of my past Facebook posts to protect my privacy as well.

    Another piece of advice. Pull yourself off of people searching websites. There's TONS of them up there and it's really easy and cheap for people to look up your personal information.

  12. I'm already reverting a lot of old posts to drafts, but mainly because I babbled about stupid things. I've NEVER used the location pins, and I think they're really stupid/pointless.

    I've always been a little paranoid about what I post online, but these days, I don't think you can be too careful.

  13. Good advice Natalie. That's too bad you've had creepy stuff happen already. We do need to be careful.

  14. Great post Natalie. I once wrote a humorous post of my trip to Alcatraz Island (which used to be a prison,) and I put a photo of myself into the post thinking it was funny. I'm in Al Capone's cell. Now if you Google my name that photo comes up. I wish I knew how to delete that!

  15. That is kind of unsettling that people know so much information about you, and that they've approached your husband (or made comments about wanting to be your husband). Even though a lot of people interact with each other online, they still need to respect each other's boundaries.

  16. Scary! A creepy guy was able to trace a friend of mine to a grocery store because of her Facebook account. She still can't figure out what gave her location away on there, but it really freaked her out. She closed her Facebook account and hasn't reopened it for a couple years now.

  17. I agree with you and great advice! It’s a scary world and one must be cautious. As far as someone reading my own blog archives however, I would be chuffed and flattered that someone has taken the time to do so. Maybe the reader is genuinely interested in what you have to say and find your posts informative and inspiring, even if they were written two, three or six years go. I’ve already reverted some of my old posts to drafts, but not because I thought someone was stalking me, but because they were just plain embarrassing, revealing or whatever. I would definitely get rid of anything that basically says ‘I’m not home today’ or ‘I’m going to Rarotonga for a week’. That is really inviting stalkers, especially if they’re living in the same country or city, or live right next-door!

  18. Just catching up on my blogs--and holy crow, found yours and Nathan's posts a few minutes apart. I had no idea about the attack on Pam (apparently it's darker in my writer cave than I thought.)

    Yes, be safe. And smart. And when in doubt, use extra caution. Stalkers of all types are frightening, and what happened to Pam is downright horrifying. Balancing being real vs. maintaining privacy on-line is tough, but clearly we should all be careful of everything we put out there.

    Very good post. Stay safe. :)

  19. Very good advice, Natalie. I'll have to check out Nathan's post; I haven't seen it as of yet.

    I've been thinking of keeping a certain distance in terms of how much I say in a blog or online. It seems safer that way.

  20. I hadn't even thought about the fact that you shouldn't post about events you are going to! Very good point.