I’m trying to find the balance between privacy and “publicity” (for lack of a better single-word antonym to “privacy”) on the web.  I like having a personal web site and a blog.  They make it easy for family and friends around the world to stay connected with us, to see what we’re doing, to see pictures of us and our kids.  And they help those “long lost” friends I haven’t heard from in years to discover that we’re living down the street from them (as happened earlier this summer with a schoolmate from boarding school).

But then I hear of the dark side of the web.  Of identity theft.  Of pedophiles.  I hear that you shouldn’t be putting personally identifiable information on the web, letting some sick person connect those cute pictures and cute stories with a real person, a school, a phone number, an address.  Should we really be doing this blog?  Should I throw my computer out?  Should the blog and/or our web site be password-protected?  Should we use pseudonyms?

I realised as I thought about it that part of the problem was I didn’t even know what I was trying to defend myself (and my family) against.  I can think of a million worst-case scenarios, but I don’t know the likelihood of any of them happening.  So I started a journey of research.  I don’t have the final answer yet but I’ll share some of what I’ve learned.  If this is something any of you have thought about, I’d really like to hear your take on it too.  Leave a comment!

The first helpful resource I stumbled across was WiredSafety.  This site has a tonne of information, mainly for parents wanting to keep their children safe online.  It’s aimed at parents, educators, and kids who are online, have web sites, IM, blogs, all that.  Actually the parent section seems to reflect the reality that most kids know more about the ‘net than their parents, so a lot of it is educating parents about what’s actually out there.

The really positive thing about WiredSafety is that they don’t advocate getting rid of your computer, or restricting your child’s use of it.  If your kid can’t use your home computer, she’ll be using the one at school where you have NO idea what’s happening.  Instead it encourages parents to talk with their children about computers, keeping the communication channels open, so that the parents learn about computers, the children learn about security and learn that their parents really do care, and so when the child does think something’s happening that shouldn’t be, they’re not afraid to talk to their parents about it.

I found WiredSafety (and other sites) lacking in the area of parents whose children are not yet online.  What can I do now to keep my kids safe?  What are the risks?  Are there some simple things I can be aware of?  Not finding answers to these questions, I emailed Parry Aftab, WiredSafety’s Executive Director.

True to form, her first response was, “the trick is balance.”  But the most useful thing she explained was this:

The real risk is with people agreeing to meet someone,not having someone stalk you down. (Many misunderstand that)

For me whose kids are not yet able to correspond online beyond IM’ing me at work with “AAAJJQQRPP   888IDSK”, that was a relief.  I’ll still avoid putting too much personal information on this blog, just in case the blog is still around in a couple of years when Shana’s getting more active online, but it’s not a major faux-pas if our last name shows up here or a credit card number or something.  Okay, maybe not the credit card…

I’m going to play it somewhat safe.  We won’t (intentionally) use our last names for now.  I didn’t mention our church by name, and if the kids end up going to a regular school we likely won’t mention it either.  I haven’t linked this blog to our home page, nor vice-versa, since it has (a bit) more personal information on it.  But for the next year or two at least, I don’t think we need to be too concerned.  And by that time your computer will automatically sample your DNA and only exact family member matches will be allowed to read this blog.