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Privacy and blogging

By verylisa in Culture
Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 12:24:53 PM EST
Tags: Help! (Ask Kuro5hin) (all tags)
Help! (Ask Kuro5hin)

My baby daughter Eris cannot give her consent to having her life documented on my weblog/journal/thing. Am I invading her privacy by discussing her tantrums, bad habits, and intimate bodily functions with the world at large?

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comments (24)
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Okay, my weblog's audience comprises my family, my friends, and the occasional stranger who finds such things interesting. It doesn't have a huge audience, but it's publicly available for anyone to view.

Do I have a moral obligation to keep this record of my daughter's exploits private, at least until she's old enough to understand what I'm doing?

Am I endangering her by publishing personal information? Am I being paranoid to consider such a question?


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How would you feel if your parents had blogged about your exploits as a baby?
o Eh, so what? 31%
o Oooh, I get to read all about myself 13%
o Oooh, I get to be ever-so-moderately famous 10%
o There are things humans were not meant to know 19%
o Argh! Bastards! How could you? 24%

Votes: 82
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o weblog/jou rnal/thing
o Also by verylisa

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Privacy and blogging | 26 comments (25 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
ok now, but... (3.75 / 8) (#1)
by titus-g on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 04:05:01 AM EST

I think you should be prepared to stop when she grows a little older and more self aware.

The thing to consider is how it will impact her later on in life having this information in the public domain. Including how it will effect her relationship with you to know what you were thinking when you were bringing her up.

Endangering, probably not, or only in a billion to 1 way, unless you are going to analyse to death every little move you make then it's probably not worth worrying about.

--"Essentially madness is like charity, it begins at home" --

Call me paranoid . . . please (3.85 / 7) (#2)
by duxup on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 04:14:09 AM EST

I don't think I'd be pleased if I found that my early years were documented on the Inet. Then again I'm a very private person and I'm sure that is why I wouldn't like it. I just get this creepy feeling that tells me somehow that is wrong. Now granted I assume that I would have known this growing up so it's hard to quantify what exactly that would be like.

The first thing I wonder is why you would want to share such information on the inet for "the occasional stranger". That's sort of scary to me. I can't help but dream up some terrible ideas about kidnapping and such if an unstable person were to frequent the site.

I find the question of when to stop interesting. I figure (I'm not a lawyer) that you probably could keep up the documentation until she is 18. That's a pretty frightening idea to me. Hopefully that is nobody's intent.

In the end my personal choice would probably be to simply provide a private website asking for user authentication. You could keep it simple and provide all family/friends with a simple username and password and be reasonably sure that it is safe.

And on a final note, cute kid :-)

Ok, imagine a pedophile reading those comments (2.08 / 12) (#3)
by TuxNugget on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 04:35:42 AM EST

and he really likes *your* baby girl.

Still feel like posting?

It's icky, but doesn't affect me (3.00 / 1) (#21)
by verylisa on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 11:33:18 PM EST

If an online paedophile started making a nuisance of him- or herself, I'd get anxious. It doesn't seem likely. Possible, sure, but improbable. If a paedophile moved in next door or got a job at the local kindergarten, that would worry me.

[ Parent ]
Why on earth would it be a privacy invasion? (4.44 / 9) (#4)
by Miniluv on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 04:52:03 AM EST

If you intend to stop blogging it, also remember not to tell stories to relatives, around the water cooler, to your wife if she wasn't there for it, etc and so on. If yer sharing intimate information, you need to reconsider WHY you maintain a blog. But if it's cute stories about baby's first step and all that, who cares? People feel a need to share their lives at times, and if it's harmless information like how cute she looked when she first said "Daddy" I really don't see an issue. Obviously protect actually useful information, like full names, addresses, information that would allow her personal records to be accesses illegally but you should already be doing that with your own info too.

And can we for once stop bringing up pedophiles on the internet in a ridiculous light and instead focus on where they actually ARE a risk?

"Its like someone opened my mouth and stuck a fistful of herbs in it." - Tamio Kageyama, Iron Chef 'Battle Eggplant'

pedophiles go where the children are (3.00 / 3) (#7)
by TuxNugget on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 05:00:47 AM EST

just like any predator.

Of course, most won't be after babies, but younger children. I would suspect that these predators would head over to a child psych site, where parents discuss the emotional problems of their 10 and 12 year olds.

[ Parent ]

Again...why is this an issue? (4.00 / 3) (#9)
by Miniluv on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 05:07:19 AM EST

If you blindly reveal compromising personal information on the web you are too dumb to live. You wouldn't pin it up at the grocery store, so why would you on your webpage?

That issue aside, why is it a threat to telling cute and amusing anecdotes? Even if some pedophile is jacking off to his monitor as he reads about the author's baby, why is this an issue?

"Its like someone opened my mouth and stuck a fistful of herbs in it." - Tamio Kageyama, Iron Chef 'Battle Eggplant'
[ Parent ]

because they can be called up later (3.00 / 3) (#10)
by TuxNugget on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 05:21:34 AM EST

Ok, so now this girl is 15, and she is kinda sensitive about all that shit her parents put on the web about her baby years. Her parents think it is just so cute, so it never does get removed. Plus even if it did, it would stay in Google's cache for a few more years.

After telling some popular school jerk no for a date, the URL for her projectile vomiting and bedwetting problem finds its way to the wall of the guys locker room, and from there, some other person copies the pages, adds additional material of his own design, and the new URL is snuck into the school yearbook. Of course, some student is suspended for a week for getting it put into there, but hey, the damage was done. Small price to pay.

Of course, some would say that childhood growing pains make us mature people, while others want to try to spare their children of at least some of the BS that will occur.

[ Parent ]

Wow...what a sudden change of tack... (5.00 / 1) (#22)
by Miniluv on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 11:45:55 PM EST

No offense, but yer all over the map on this one. First it's pedophiles now it's horrible high school phenomena?

The fact of the matter is that you're proposing a massive hypothetical hinging on multiple unlikely criteria. Besides which, those embarassing stories really are merely that, embarassing. I don't know that it builds character, but it certainly isn't the end of the world. Ultimately, I just don't see a "risk" here.

"Its like someone opened my mouth and stuck a fistful of herbs in it." - Tamio Kageyama, Iron Chef 'Battle Eggplant'
[ Parent ]

nitpick (4.00 / 6) (#8)
by vsync on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 05:05:59 AM EST

Obviously protect actually useful information, like full names, addresses, information that would allow her personal records to be accesses illegally

Um, if verylisa publishes that information, then it's not illegally obtained. Most public records are legally available, if you have the slightest clue what you're looking for. So what records were you talking about?

As a side-note, it annoys me that the concept of "illegal information" even exists. If it frightens you that people can obtain government records concerning you, then you should perhaps be more frightened that the government possesses such records.

"The problem I had with the story, before I even finished reading, was the copious attribution of thoughts and ideas to vsync. What made it worse was the ones attributed to him were the only ones that made any sense whatsoever."
[ Parent ]

How can you do this. (1.70 / 10) (#5)
by garethwi on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 04:56:48 AM EST

I really can't understand what sort of parent would want to do this. This is your daughter, for Gods sake!

The net is not a conversation (3.90 / 10) (#6)
by TuxNugget on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 04:57:52 AM EST

Articles like this one, and other articles about online privacy, collection of demographics, etc. increasingly lead me to the conclusion that posting on the net is not at all like having a conversation, nor is reading the net the solitary bedroom activity that so many privacy advocates hope that it can be. Technologically, it is different, and social conventions will not change that.

Everything you are doing can be, and therefore eventually will be, recorded. Not by the CIA, or by an evil global megacorp, but by useful services like Yahoo, google, and dejanews. Even kuro5hin has a search feature that could be used to "dig up some dirt" on a member.

Recently, I heard of an IRC archive and search engine. This means that IRC and similar instant chat systems are also not immune. Things you say can be called up 5 years later, in exact detail, but will probably be lacking the context that an outside observer will need to know to judge your words. You were mad at someone, or an idea, and were obnoxious about it online. Do you think someone, or even you, will understand those words of anger years later?

Most people believe that they can defend their statements, but they may never get a chance. The links a potential future employer or investigative service finds online and attributes to you might not even be read, but counted in categories like goofing off on the job, political/hate group, kooks, and pron. You may never know who is reading, or have a chance to rebut misunderstandings.

The use of email for job recruiting could make such an investigation fairly trivial, since you've already given them an email address. You don't use the same email address for job hunting and for goofing off, do you? You do? Oh, well.

So to address your question, I think the answer has to be no. I would not put my children's baby years online, unless I could control who could see that information and whether it would be indexed by search engines. Since it sounds like you are using some kind of ASP, you might have very little control over what happens to the information.

See Some Others (3.50 / 2) (#11)
by greyrat on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 08:21:04 AM EST

Go see one of my favorite sites on the planet: lileks.com, particularly the bleats.

Since he had his first kid (late summer this year), there's lots of gurgle and poop. I don't think that it detracts from the site at all.

Of course, he's got piles of other stuff on the site too.

So chill out, have fun, and wait for the lawsuit when she turns 18! #8^D
~ ~ ~
Did I actually read the article? No. No I didn't.
"Watch out for me nobbystyles, Gromit!"

Loved the Lileks site (none / 0) (#25)
by verylisa on Fri Dec 15, 2000 at 06:50:56 PM EST

I've spent way too much time there in the past couple of days. Lots of good content. Had to read all the baby-related entries, of course -- his daughter is about the same age as mine, and it's instructive to compare similarities and differences. Hey, if I call it "instructive", I don't feel so much like I'm goofing off.

(I wish there weren't so many broken links, but guessing the next URL in the sequence usually worked.)

[ Parent ]
Christopher Robin (3.50 / 4) (#12)
by davidduncanscott on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 09:23:56 AM EST

Ask Christopher Milne about this. He was, of course, the original Christopher Robin, and carried some resentment for years that his father had "sold his childhood".

It's a delicate thing. I have kids too, and I've tried not to spread embarrassing anecdotes about them, but it's awfully hard to keep some things to yourself (like when my younger daughter threw up on Santa -- now THAT'S funny). One criterion, useful only in retrospect, is that they tell the same stories to their friends (so they're not just getting it out before I do).

On the upside, you're keeping a record for her as well. Keep copies on paper (this Web thing may have blown over by the time she's an adult). I deeply regret not keeping a journal for my daughters.

Oh, and it's true about diapers being much worse when the baby's weaned. Still not a real big deal though. People make far too much of it. Idle question: here in the States it's only been in the last decade or so that most public men's rooms have had changing facilities -- is the UK ahead or behind on that?

You do good work -- she's a keeper.

Thanks, Dad (none / 0) (#19)
by deadgrotty on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 10:04:11 PM EST

Yes, thank you dad - I'm now famous .. or infamous as the case may be. Yeah, I'm his offspring .. he reproduced, scary ain't it?

[ Parent ]
Australian rest rooms (public toilets) (none / 0) (#20)
by verylisa on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 11:22:35 PM EST

I don't know much about public toilets in the UK, and I don't know much about men's public toilets anywhere. :)

Here in Australia, it's a relief to find a women's public toilet with decent change facilities. The other day, I breastfed Eris standing up in an 'orrible windowless room with a waist-high bench, a toilet bowl and a tiny sink, which was one shopping centre's excuse for a baby-change room. I should've given up and plonked myself down to feed her on a seat in the middle of the main thorougfare.

[ Parent ]

Rest Rooms Around the World (none / 0) (#23)
by davidduncanscott on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 08:55:58 AM EST

Sounds like a National Geographic special, doesn't it?

Sorry, somehow I got "UK" in my head. Don't really know why, except that you seemed to be surrounded by rugby players with names like "Ian" and "Jon" drinking quality beer and bounding about vigorously, and I immediately jumped to the wrong conclusion.

I didn't figure you'd know about men's rooms, but I thought Eris' Dad might, and it certainly has a bearing on the division of labor. When Kate was tiny, I often had to beg off simply for lack of a place to work. Later, when minding our grand-daughter (Kate has an older sister), we were able to split things up much more evenly.

Breast feeding in even the cleanest bathroom is barbaric. I wouldn't eat there either. Certainly plonk yourself down in the main hall -- drape a towel if there's an issue (or a draft). You may find it awkward on your own account (I can't speak from a woman's perspective, obviously, but I can imagine some reluctance to expose oneself), but passers-by can simply, well, pass by. I had hoped prudishness about mothers breast-feeding was a peculiarly American affliction.

[ Parent ]

I've been wondering the same thing... (2.50 / 2) (#14)
by dlc on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 10:59:24 AM EST

As the father of a 15 month old, this is an issue that concerns me as well. My wife is adamantly opposed to putting pictures of our son on a web site, even one that is password protected and whose address is unpublished. I myself am undecided on the issue...


Choice: obfuscation or openness? (3.80 / 5) (#15)
by domesticat on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 02:02:30 PM EST

My original inclination was to say, "Sure, why not?"

But the more I think carefully about this subject, I'm inclined to suggest that you make some modifications to your site. You may find that these precautions are just enough, too much, or not enough. My assessment is that there is no absolute right answer, but as an online journaler, let me make some suggestions.
  • Remove items that can easily identify you. Your surname, for instance, is a very good place to start.
  • All links to email you about the site should go to a dropbox whose address does not give any indication of what your real email address might be.
  • Be a bit obtuse about where you live. State and region? Sure. City - maybe, if it's large enough. Neighborhood and street address? Bad idea.
As you say, most of the people who read your site already know you. They would already know who you are, how to contact you, and where you are. You're looking to control outsiders' access to your personal information.

Keep in mind, though, that absolute privacy for the average 'net user is impossible. I think you fall in that category. What you're looking to do is draw a veil of obfuscation around your identity and location, so as to provide yourself a bit of protection. You are not being paranoid about your daughter's safety and well-being - you're being a responsible parent.

Now, as to the embarrassment issue. It's really going to depend on the child. I think your best answer will come when you evaluate how you lead your everyday life. Is the information you're making available over the web more detailed than what you're telling to family, friends, and co-workers? If you're normally open about the minutiae of your (and your child's) life, then a blog is just another aspect, and is not an aberration.

However, if you're normally somewhat private, except that you're letting it all hang out in the blog, so to speak, then I think you're going to be in a bit of trouble in the future. If this is more like how you live your life, then what you've posted here is probably going to be a bit uncomfortable for your child in the future.

So, let me make a suggestion. What you might want to look at implementing is a different way of implementing this. Both involve control over the information you're disseminating. The first idea is to password-protect your blog, so that you can write freely but still have control over who sees your site.

The second is to switch from an online blog to an emailed one. Offer a few details on the site and provide a sample entry. Then have an online signup form so that people can sign up to receive your updates over email and then do NOT make those entries available on the web.

These are issues I have had to think through very carefully after creating my online journal. I've done several of the things that I'm suggesting you do. For example, my full name is not available on my site, but is available elsewhere on pages I do not control and thus can be found if a curious person looks hard enough. All emails go to a dropbox that is very different from my real email address. I admit to the city and state that I live in, but it's a fairly decent-sized city and thus we've got a bit of privacy that way.

But the hardest part was when I started considering my spouse. I do write about him, but I have chosen to censor some of what I say. He doesn't have a choice about whether or not I write, but the choice to make it public is mine. While the journal is mine, I feel much more comfortable working on it when I know that what I say will not cause him discomfort or embarrassment. Thus I hold some things back out of courtesy and respect for his privacy.

Your daughter isn't able to speak for herself at this point. I'd really suggest that you consider those points, and perhaps doing the same for her. If you feel you absolutely must document everything, I would do so with a private journal that the world doesn't see.

[ boring .sig here ]
Is age of consent violation of privacy? (2.33 / 3) (#16)
by balls001 on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 02:19:23 PM EST

You "own" your kids (or whoever you are legally responsible for) until they're 18 (and are thus considered to be fit to make their own decisions)..

Even if the kid were 15 and VERY opinionated, you still have the ability to consent on their behalf, so go hog wild. Just don't say or do anything that might draw attention from child welfare workers =)

You own 'em (4.20 / 5) (#17)
by metachimp on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 04:31:54 PM EST

Essentially, you own 'em until their 18, they're gonna hate you when they're 13 no matter what you do, so you might as well have a laugh at their expense before they're old enough to figure out what you've been doing.

The Golden Rule (3.00 / 1) (#18)
by psicE on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 09:28:25 PM EST

Think about it for a second. Assume that someone was documenting your entire life from age 0 to 13, also assuming that around age 13 you realized what was happening/happened and demanded it taken off. Would you be happy? I know I wouldn't.

Public vs. Private (none / 0) (#24)
by micco on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 10:43:27 AM EST

I think there's a middle ground between public and ultra-private. Personally, I'm not comfortable putting much personal info about myself up on the web, so I don't inflict the same on my kid. On the other hand, I've got far-flung relatives who want pics, and it's silly to go to the effort and expense to send hard-copy prints by post when I can easily put them on the web.

My solution has been a password-protected and non-linked space on one of my servers. I post pics and commentary there and it's relatively secure from the outside world. The htaccess password protection makes it fairly password-secure and the robots.txt file excludes well-behaved spiders (redundant...). I occassionally provide the username/password to someone not so close who wants to see pics, but then I can just change the password and send an email to the list of close relatives who get regular updates. Changing the password now and then keeps it from propogating too far.

IMO, there's no difference between this solution and the conventional mailing and phone call discussions of what's going on with the kid. However, if it was open to the world, I'd be very uncomfortable with it. There's no reason you shouldn't use the web to communicate with family, but IMO, not everything should be completely public.

Thanks! (5.00 / 1) (#26)
by verylisa on Fri Dec 15, 2000 at 07:02:01 PM EST

I appreciate all the comments, and I'm considering some modifications to my site. After reading through the discussion, my overall feeling is that the site is okay, but there might be a few good ways to tweak it. To be honest, I feel like the danger is miniscule compared to that of going for a drive in a car. Also, I'm not a particularly private person in any aspect of my life -- not just blogging. I believe there is strength in honesty and openness, and I'm not particularly afraid of stuff coming back to haunt me. I've lived openly all my adult life without negative consequences. I think this is something worth sharing with Eris.

Privacy and blogging | 26 comments (25 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
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