The personal is political and available

The saying goes “the Personal is political” but with the growth of Internet usage mostly via broadband, the personal is becoming available and could be used politically and maliciously.

When you mix mySpace, blogs, Facebook, Faceparty, and even Gaydar (as one FF councillor found out) together you are handing your personal life over to anyone that can access Google and it’s begining to freak a lot of people out.


MySpace and Beebo are in the news a quite a bit lately and we hear quite a bit of noise from concerned parents that these sites are preying grounds for all sorts of evil people. People on MySpace have been abused, stalked, kidnapped and murdered. Naturally people worry that kids are sharing far too much information with these potential people who circle MySpace like vultures.

Fred Wilson has a very good launching pad post on MySpace which quotes a really good post from hip Mammy Gotham Girl:

Did parents freak when Elvis came on the scene? Did they freak when the Rolling Stones came on the scene? Did they freak when they grew their hair long and rebelled? Answers to all of the above and more is yes, yes yes. Think about what you did growing up that your parents were scared of. They were scared because they didn’t understand the space and weren’t sure how to teach you the tools to navigate the situation.

Fred also points to Chartreuse:

Now because of all the horrible things which can happen to a kid on a bike a huge industry was created. They sell helmets, kneepads, tracking systems, and the like to make bikes safer or parents feel more secure.

Despite all this stuff most parents still just give their kids some rules and let them ride.

MySpace is just the modern bike.

Lots of horrible things can happen to a kid on the internet. And the industry will continue to grow based around protecting children from all that horrible stuff or making parents feel more secure.

But the truth of the matter is that most parents will just give there child some rules and let them ride

So MySpace is the new rock and roll the new Elvis and if parents rebel against it and do their best to not understand it then it becomes more damaging. Two mothers pointing out that understanding MySpace and what your kids do on it is crucial and allows you to lay down ground rules. There are rules but there needs to be some basics learned too so the kids can watch out for the weirdos who are much harder to figure out online.

Do we have a guide in Ireland from the Government or the ISPAI advising parents on the rights and wrongs of the Internet which gets updated for sites like MySpace and Bebo? I would think it is certainly needed. There’s plenty of people warning about the dangers but are they doing anything to educate the parents? You might even see more parents going online if these educational packs contained the basics of going online too. Perhaps this should be done in schools and the parents as well as coming for parent teacher meetings should have to come along for Internet education classes. Seaghan Moriarty might have some views on this.

Governments, Companies and Organisations
Even the CIA has been caught by the ghoulies lately when simple search was able to reveal so much about their agents:

The Tribune story, published on Sunday, outlined its search of a commercial online data service. Through that service, the Tribune found information for internal agency numbers, supposed secret locations, and over 2,600 employees. An undisclosed number of the employees on the list were working covertly.

Gavin Sheridan had some fun with the Irish Government and thanks to their robots.txt file found information they didn’t want us to find. If you actually Google for .pdfs and .docs on many Government sites you’ll find documents you shouldn’t find. I found a map of the eircom FWA locations which ComReg refused to provide on the ComReg site. After I made it public they removed the map. Luckily backups were made. While this information per se wasn’t personal, many of the word documents you find contain the details of who wrote them and the notes and comments they made. There is a large chance that private personal communications can end up online.

One that probably scares the shit out of companies more is blogging. Google fired a new employee for what he blogged about them which is slightly ironic since it is Google that is delivering all the dirt on so many. It’s not just Google though. Delta fired an employee as did Friendster. It’s not as if employees ever got fired before for off the cuff remarks but with traditional media you had to be high up in order to get media attention and then make a gaff like Cheney did when he told Patrick Leahy to go fuck himself. One blog post from a lowly employee can generate a lot of attention. For companies I would think that they don’t mind the personal going online more than the professional. Talk about your cat and your yeast infection but please don’t talk about the way we look after you financially. Delta fired that lady for being naughty in some pictures where she wore her uniform.

Political parties on their members “interactions” online.

Malcolm Byrne while apparently out (as in not closeted) was outed as having a Gaydar profile recently, Gaydar being a gay dating website. A national non-issue was made of the issue and Malcolm did very well out of it by actually building up his profile. His poltical profile that is. Many think he was lucky enough to escape this in a positive light but this isn’t 1983 anymore. Does his party or any other party have a policy though for their members advising them how to behave online and what exactly search engines can find? Do they even have an email policy or any kind of electronic communications policy?

Damien Blake (who is scarily the image of someone I used to know very well) and Liz McManus are two of a growing list of politicians who blog. It’s great to see them blogging and I wonder how much oversight their central offices have on their blogs? Do their parties have blogging policies which include what to blog and what to avoid blogging about as well as commenting on other websites? I’m pretty sure that Damien and Liz are well schooled in what to say and what not to say so the gaffs per blog are probably bordering zero but I would think a blogging policy is needed which would actually encourage the idea of blogging at the same time and give tips on how to blog best.

Your employer is watching you.
On the flipside to this are companies looking for information on employees and prospective employees. Michelle Conlin wrote an excellent piece in BusinessWeek online about all our personal details showing up online. She tells us how useful Google is for getting all the lowdowns on us that we ourselves (mostly) have put up:

Google is an end run around discrimination laws, inasmuch as employers can find out all manner of information — some of it for a nominal fee — that is legally off limits in interviews: your age, your martial status, the value of your house (along with an aerial photograph of it), the average net worth of your neighbors, fraternity pranks, stuff you wrote in college, liens, bankruptcies, political affiliations, and the names and ages of your children

Perhaps a little bit should be added to the Labour laws forbidding companies from Googling their employees or prospective employees but sometimes googling someone might turn up the odd axe murderer. Maybe a balance can be found?

So we should have guides for parents being given out by the Governments and ISPs and maybe thought in schools, we should have guides by political parties on how to behave and interact online and we should have guides for the general populace on how your new employer knows way more about you than you think, thanks to the Internet.

For all the stupid, and silly crap we did when we were “web juveniles” should there be some kind of record sealing of web history like they have for juvenile offenders or family law cases? You can have Google remove content from their database *only* if you own the website in question. They may take down other content but that involves getting a lawyer and probably some DMCA issues. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a guide on how to remove silly things you said or how to restrict what search engines could hoover up from your site?

The personal becomes available and uncomfortable

Coming up to the Blog Awards there was a vigorous discussion about personal blogging and anonymity with
Dermod, RedMum, Steven and the not so anonymous That Girl discussing it. I don’t blog too much very personal things, I let tidbits out now and then but when I do write online I generally use my own name and don’t remain anonymous. Even on webforums generally my username is damien or damien.m or dm or my surname backwards. There are lots of people who are allowed to be more creative and more “real” by being anonymous and this too should be catered for. Perhaps the Blogger Academy can create some guides for blogging anonymously and staying that way?

Teach a person to fish/blog/interact…

The greatest thing to understand about your data is that once it is out there it can never be reeled back in. That is the beauty and the horror of the Internet. If we teach those around us and coming online how much of what they say will forever remain on the net and how best to manage their private data and public data then we might have less fear filled statements about the evil Internet and more people and organisations can embrace it fully.

6 Responses to “The personal is political and available”

  1. Damien says:

    Damnit. Apologies to the people who left comments on this post and the next. I mass deleted a load of comments to beat a spammer and killed off some good ones too.

  2. that girl says:

    Great post Damien – prompted some thinking of my own too

  3. EWI says:

    (Jeez, Mulley!)

    What I had said was that “the Internet” is irrelevant to the CIA story (the personal information companies just happen to be available online). As mentioned over on FI Fie Foe Fum, the real story was about the abysmal state of data protection in the US (viva la “free” markets!).

  4. […] What that girl, Piaras Kelly and Damien Mulley’s discussion boils down to is what degree of control a person can have over how they are depicted. […]

  5. Damien Blake says:


    I’ve been in Japan and Korea for the last few weeks, so haven’t been as connected as I should. Just getting around to checking my referrers (mint’s acting up recently) and found a link from this article.

    Just to clarify, and to make it emphatically clear, FF HQ have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with my blog. I have never, ever received any media coaching from FF, and the party has no oversight in any way over what I say on the site. I have never sought any approval from the party over it, nor has anyone asked me to remove anything from it.

    Even today, I have a post against FF party policy (regarding organising in the North- which I’m also featured on the front of Daily Ireland about).

    Anything I want to say on the blog is said on the blog, plain and simple. As you say, there’s very few gaffs, that’s probably because I tend to steer away from more contentious issues and try to focus on items of interest locally.

    On your main point, I am very aware that everything I say online is going to be available for an eternity online. I’ve been building websites for over ten years now, and there is still alot archived online from my earlier interests (Playstation Games, Football etc). I like to think I can either stand by everything I’ve said on the website, or jusify my change of mind.

  6. […] Surprisingly enough there wasn’t much of a fuss made last week when the Irish Minister for Justice, Michael MacDowell said that he wants our police force to carry cameras to take photographs of suspects (subscription required), especially in light of other discussions centering around peoples images been taken and used without their permission online. (Here, here, here, here, here and here.) […]