Choosing How Much Personal Information to Share Online

Choosing how much to share with our cyber pals is an important decision.

I’m going to focus on sharing personal information in this post and on sharing writing-related news in the next.

I’d spent two years writing in isolation before I finaled in a contest and was “discovered” by a savvy blogger who donned her Nancy Drew hat. Almost overnight, I found myself an inhabitant of a whole new world known as cyberspace.

I’d been one of those people who was afraid to place an order online, so the thought of choosing to share personal information freaked me out.

What helped me over that hurdle?

Google!

I performed a Google search to see what my writer friend had found when she went in search of me. There weren’t much more than a couple dozen hits for my hubby’s British Car Club, for which I’d written newsletter articles. But there were a couple of links to directories such as White Pages.

When I followed those links and realized that anyone who typed my name in the Google search bar could find out where I lived now and in the past, who I’m related to, and even more, I was stunned.

Once the shock wore off, I decided that if there was already that much information out there without my knowledge, I needed to face the reality that the Information Age had arrived. Rather than panic or go into denial, I decided to take action.

Forming a plan for dealing with my online activities gave me a sense of control. My making some decisions, I could choose how much information would be available.

Four Choices We Can Make About How Much We Share Online

Our names – Do we want to write under our real name or a pseudonym? As an inspirational writer with a unique name (type “Keli Gwyn” in the Google search bar inside of quotation marks, and all the hits will be mine), a name I happen to love, I knew I wanted to use it, which I did from the outset.

Some people will need to have a pen name due to their families, day jobs, or other reasons. Choosing their alternate names as early in their writing journeys as possible will protect their real names and will help establish them under their pseudonyms.

Our family members – How comfortable are we about mentioning our family members? I’ve chosen not to refer to my husband and daughter by their first names. I’m not ashamed of what I write; my goal is simply to protect their privacy. At times they choose to comment on my Facebook page. Since we share the same last name, some of my friends know who they are. My usual practice, though, is to refer to my husband as Gwynly and our daughter as The Fashion Queen, names I use with their permission.

Our place of residence – Do we want people to know where we live? When I realized that anyone who plunks my name in the Google search bar could find out where I live, I decided I was OK with sharing the name of my town. However, as a teacher’s family, we’ve been good about protecting our street address, choosing to use a post office box. I rented a second box for my writing business, and that’s what I use on my website and correspondence. I believe that in today’s world where our whereabouts are known by many, renting a post office box is a wise move.

For those who are uncomfortable letting people know what town they live in, I suggest being more general. I live in Placerville, California, a town I love to call home. When I want to be less specific, though, I’ve said I live in the heart of California’s Gold Country, in the Sierra Foothills of California, in Northern California, or, when I want to be really vague, on the West Coast.

Our comings and goings – I’ve made a practice of not mentioning shopping trips, meetings, Taco Bell runs until I’m home. I don’t like people knowing when I’m gone, even though we have great neighbors who keep a watchful eye on our place when we’re not here.

If I’m going to be out-of-town for a writers conference and my husband will remain at home, I don’t have a problem sharing that information. If we’re both going to travel, then a mention of how thankful we are to have such great house sitters can serve to let people know our house isn’t vacant. (Yes, our skitty kitties would be home, but they run from strangers, so they’re no help. 🙂 )

* * *

How did you go about putting a plan for sharing personal information in place?

Have you ever shared too much personal information and regretted it?

What items would you suggest adding to the list?

 

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About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
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18 Responses to Choosing How Much Personal Information to Share Online

  1. Good thoughts, Keli. I have a unique name, too. We’ve taken many of the same online precautions. I tell people a regional locale for my location but sometimes my friends blurt out closer specifics online. That’s a good thought about using a PO Box.

  2. Sherrinda says:

    Great advice, Keli. Like you, I don’t share when my husband is out of town or when we go on vacation until after the fact. Just a safety issue for me, but it really eases my mind! I had a hard time not sharing that my husband was in Houston this past weekend for the Final Four Tournament!!!

  3. Wendy says:

    I’m really careful about sharing where I live. You’ll know why when I write my memoir someday. 😉

    I think it’s wise to think about all we put out there. I’d be a lot more apt to post on my personal struggles than I would to divulge something private about someone else or post something that might put me at risk.
    ~ Wendy

  4. Keli,
    I’ve never thought about the P.O. Box address. I never tell exactly where I’m from…that I can remember anyway. I never post about when we’re on vacation either. Some things are better left unsaid. Great post.

  5. Martina Bedregal Calderón says:

    I share a lot with friends and people on the net, for I have nothing to hide. But I have gone through things in my life I would not even tell my son . And some of them I can´t recall willingly, they only come back out by certain triggers. Only 3 very very good friends (among them my boyfriend) know all of it.

  6. I may have shared too much information. Google shows my blog, which is a good thing, I think. I have been less aware than I should have been about sharing facts. I will be more careful in the future. Great post, Keli…

  7. candidkerry says:

    I was just thinking about this! I think a PO box is a perfect idea for a published author.

    On FB I list the biggest city I live near as the city I live in (we’re in a suburb). Thankfully, I have a very common last name and semi-common first name, so there are many of me. 🙂

    I try to be careful about posting where I’m going, vacations, etc… but I do talk about my 65 lb, very loud dog on FB once in a while. 🙂

    Great thoughts and ideas on a relevant subject we all have to deal with.

  8. Jessica says:

    Wise advice, Keli. I’d like to get a po box someday. Right now I don’t mention my kids’ names and try to keep their pics to a minimum.

  9. There is only an illusion of privacy in today’s cyber world and it’s scary.

    I began blogging with a pseudonym, only to realize that if I was going to build a platform in preparation for publication, I would have to publish under that name or lose what visibility I had gained under it when I changed. It’s a trade-off. Only one other Carol Garvin comes up in a Google search… an artist in Florida… so I use my middle initial to distinguish us. I don’t think I’ve identified my city in my online exchanges, just my general locale, but I’m sure I could be located fairly easily, too.

    Like you, I don’t broadcast when I’m not going to be at home, but I also have good neighbours and an effective security system. When I realized how many people visit my blog and never comment, the possibility struck me that not every visitor might be interested in my writing. I chose a generic e-mail address to post there. It’s easy to link to my Facebook page but I chose not to allow unrestricted access because my family can be identified via my page, and some of the younger members are not discreet about the personal information they display. No amount of precaution, however, can protect us in every situation since hackers and identity thieves are everywhere. I just try and use common sense. I like my privacy, but when we enter the public eye a certain amount of visibility is inevitable, and desirable for success.

  10. Keli Gwyn says:

    Thanks for all of your comments. It’s evident you’re careful about revealing personal information, which is wise.

    In today’s wired world where information is available at the click of a mouse, though, it can be hard to control what others are posting. Thanks to a friend, my hubby and I found out recently that my father-in-law’s address information was still listed on a certain people finder site. What’s sad is that he died nearly ten years ago. It seems one lives on in cyberspace. Gwynly figured out how to delete that entry, but I wonder how many more are “out there.”

  11. I had a huge reality check in this arena when my book was released last fall. I have a fairly unique name as well. When I Googled myself a month or so after the release, I was shocked to find like six pages of stuff about me. Most of it was just a variety of book sellers who carry my book, but it was still a little scary. Like you, I’ve now grown used to it.

    Still, we must be careful. I think the tips you gave here are perfect.

    By the way Keli, on my blog today I linked to your “12 Weak Words” post. I thought it was fantastic and I wanted to share it with my readers. Thanks!

  12. Love these guidelines, Keli. One of the things I’ve been concerned with lately is how fast my Facebook is growing. I’ll get people from my hometown befriending me, and although we have 50 “friends” in common, I’m not sure I know the person. I soon become concerned about the photos I put on Facebook. What seemed personal in the beginning has become a huge social outlet on which to network, and I’m a little more personal on there. It’s just something I think about, and I’m guessing that if I’m thinking about it, I’m also putting up a safety barrier around what I truly want to reveal. Does that make sense? I try not to post anything that I wouldn’t show a stranger in the grocery store. I’m thinking of revamping my Facebook page in the near future and revising what’s available there.

  13. Jamie says:

    Such the time in which we live. Those with children need to remind them that their online activity will be tracked by potential colleges and employers — and mates. If you use your name –and if anyone is determined enough — they can find you. Fortuntately, for most of us that drama is the stuff of our fertile immaginations. But it is wise to think…

  14. I originally began my Twitter account with a stage name, but changed to my professional/real name after articles suggested it best for my profile. I do have a PO box, but I live in a small town where most people know me, so I can’t hide where I live too much. I try to mention my daughter only as “my 6-year old” but I like the Fashion Queen idea. Perhaps I’ll create something similar.
    I’ve avoided Facebook specifically for reasons of privacy, but know I’ll have to go there soon. It’s inevitable. Anyone have any advice about that?
    I am extraordinarily careful about junk email and spam and also about using my credit cards online. Paranoid, even. . . I read the accounts of teens in chatrooms with total dread.

  15. I’ve been active online under my own name for nine years, and though I’ve never stated the town I live in, I’m linked to it by various other online activities and forums if a person searched thoroughly enough. It can’t be helped. I’m currently using my employment post office box where I’m required legally to have a physical address.

    My kids are adults and active online as well, so I don’t hesitate to name them or link to them. My daughter has chosen not to use her one-year-old’s daughter’s name online, so I’ll honor her request. My grandbaby quickly became SweetPea to me as her nickname.

    Something else is not allowing FaceBook and Flickr to show the GPS locations of photos you take and upload, or ‘where you are right now’. That one seems scary to me.

    When we go away, I often talk about the fact that we live on a three generation farm and that our adult kids or my inlaws are farm-sitting.

  16. Hilary says:

    Because of my husband’s job, we’re trying to be very careful about what we share online. He’s tried to limit information about himself from being very accessible, but at the same time, I’m trying to build my social media contacts for my blog and writing career. It’s a tricky balance.

    In my blog, I never use my husband’s or children’s real names (Prince Charming, Big Brother and Little Sister) … but I do include them on my personal Facebook page. One of the features I’ve come to really appreciate about Facebook is the ability to choose my own privacy settings. Simply click on “Account” at the top of the page and then scroll down to “Privacy Settings.” From there, you can customize exactly who can and can’t access your information (everything from status updates to photos). I add mere acquaintances as a friendly gesture, but greatly limit the kind of information they can see.

    Thanks for the Post Office box idea! I’ll definitely use that.

  17. territiffany says:

    I’m like you– I don’t share too much but only what I have to. If we are both gone, I don’t say it until afterward etc. I know anyone can find anyone now days but we can at least try to be careful.

  18. Keli Gwyn says:

    I appreciate all the comments. Heather said something I second: “I try not to post anything that I wouldn’t show a stranger in the grocery store.” That’s my policy.

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