The Vanity Search

Image by Tumisu via Pixabay

I recommend that you do a vanity search. Actually, many privacy experts also recommend it. A vanity search means to search one’s own name on Internet search engines. Yes, engines plural. On Google and even the ones you might not use (Bing, Baidu, Yahoo!, Yandex,, and DuckDuckGo. Put your name in quotes and search. Try variations on your name.

Why? Well, the vanity part is to see that you have an online presence. Sometimes a nice ego boost. But there is also the bad side, such as finding out things you don’t want online are online, including photos (yes, image searches are part of this as well as blogs, news, etc.) comments and reviews you left on sites.

I do this regularly. I find little things – a comment about a T.S. Eliot poem on a blog and one about inner journeys.

Sometimes I find that someone has legitimately reposted something I wrote. With this one, I found a new virtual friend with similar interests. (We even share a mantra.) I have also found reposts that I don’t endorse – like someone who duplicates this entire blog on another site in Russia.

Image searches also turn up photos of mine being reused – with proper attribution – like my little Buddha on the website, and one of my beach photos, a little bit of Miss America in Atlantic City, and one of my many photos of windows – this one is of Edgar Allen Poe’s dorm room (probably) at UVA.

Poe's room
Room No. 13 on West Range of UVA’s main campus. I doubt that Ed had a raven statue in his room.

I even discovered that several sad little “blogs” that I started back in the day still exist. The Internet never forgets. Maybe I should delete it? Instead, I added something new to this little poetry thing.

I don’t use guest posts by other people on my blogs but I have been asked to write or add content to other people’s blogs.  I forgot about this guest post I did in 2016 where I was asked to write about Skills That Will Help You Find Life After Teaching.

I think I may have too much of an online presence. I don’t remember doing this webinar on podcasting but apparently, I even got paid for doing it.

I found a bunch of legitimate articles I have written. This was for a journal in 2013 when I was working at NJIT and really doing a lot with MOOCs. (those are Massive Open Online Courses) I found another presentation I did on “MOOCs For Pre-College Career Exploration.”

I found lots of people simply linking to things I’ve done, like this research guide at a university linking to my Endangered New Jersey blog.

I find an assortment of photos and bios of me. Here is one from the Tiferet journal that has published several of my poems.

I don’t count the things I find in a search that I already know are there. I have been posting poetry writing prompts and poems that poets have submitted on my Poets Online website. What is more interesting is when I find that someone has reused one of the prompts and one of my poems. In this case, they didn’t ask to use it (not that I recall) but at least there is a link back to my website.

I always find something new about myself when I do a vanity search. I haven’t shared any bad or unpleasant ones, but that is out there too for all of us. Make sure you check out yourself.

The State of Surveillance Revisited

camerasA surveillance state is a country where the government engages in pervasive surveillance of large numbers of its citizens and visitors. Do we live in a surveillance state? Some would argue that we do, but it’s not like living in Russia or China. But do YOU live in a state of surveillance?

I wrote about this topic here last year and the topic continues to be in the news. Surveillance is often pushed as necessary to fight terrorism. That’s the big one right now, but it is also touted as a way to prevent crime.

droneIn the worst surveillance states, it is used to control the population, especially when there are protests and social unrest. Even in the best states, surveillance on a massive scale threatens privacy rights, civil and political rights and freedoms.

Thankfully, it seems that the worst of surveillance hasn’t hit America yet because there are legal, constitutional protections.

In 2013, Edward Snowden’s global surveillance disclosure freaked a lot of people out on both sides of the issue – those shocked by what was being done to them and those shocked that the secrets were being made public.

My earlier post had been inspired by an interview with Andrew Ferguson (author of The Rise of Big Data Policing) that points out that Amazon and other companies have “allowed” us to create a surveillance state around our lives and, as Ferguson says, “somehow as consumers we seem okay with giving up this information to a private company.”

That is the part that is really frightening to me. We are creating our own surveillance state. We are giving up our privacy voluntarily  – although companies and the government are quite willing to help.

We should watch what is happening in China as a cautionary story.  Their city surveillance systems scan facial features of people on the streets and match this information against scanned faces of “suspects” in government databases.

China is not unique. Many countries have added thousands of surveillance cameras, especially in urban areas. That includes the U.S.  The ACLU said back in 2017 that we are “in danger of tipping into a genuine surveillance society.”

Clearview has been working with law enforcement agencies to match photos of unknown faces to people’s online social media photos which it is legally collecting…



The Surveillance State

If you wanted to build a surveillance state, what would you do?

…you would have wiretap in your home listen to your conversations. You’d have cameras on every door seeing who is coming in and have a  network of neighbors spying on you… facial recognition capabilities… a system knowing what you read and watch and buy.
When you think about it, that’s what Amazon offers you. Alexa in our homes is listening. Rings on our door watch and the neighbors’ app is telling on each other. They know what you read through Kindle and what you buy through Amazon and they’re pretty good about predictive analytics, so in some ways Amazon is building a very effective surveillance state that we would be offended if the government tried to mandate, but somehow as consumers we seem okay with giving up this information to a private company.

– Andrew Ferguson, author of The Rise of Big Data Policing: Surveillance, Race, and the Future of Law Enforcement from an interview on Marketplace Tech

Your Right to Be Forgotten

   The Past (forgotten-swallowed) by Alfred Kubin, 1901, via, Public Domain

I don’t think the vast majority of us want to be forgotten.

We do a lot of things to try to be remembered: take photos; post things on the Internet; have a headstone with our name. But there is this idea that what we do online never goes away, and some people would like that part of their life to be forgotten.

The Internet is forever. Maybe. Many people have posted things they regret. They delete it but somehow it still exists. Celebrities and politicians have learned that by the time you delete that stupid tweet the damage is done and other people have already copied and taken screenshots of it.

For younger people who have grown up with the internet and social media, the possibility of stupid/embarrassing/incriminating content is much higher since the filters in their brains had not matured.

A friend who deleted her Facebook profile recently discovered that friends were getting friend requests from her and that in a search her Facebook profile link still shows up.

Plus, there is “public information” about you online: phone numbers, addresses where you have lived and currently live, that DUI you got, and that political candidate donation you made.

Do we have a right to be forgotten online?

The “right to be forgotten” is something that is taken more seriously outside the U.S. It has been put into practice in the European Union.

It’s not an easy issue to decide. Your first thought might be that, of course, we should have the right to delete our own posts online. And what about content about us posted by others? There are immediate collisions between the right to freedom of expression and how it crosses with the right to privacy. Do you want politicians to be able to scrub their online history of things they said and regret,  or views they once had and have altered? Would a right to be forgotten diminish the quality of the Internet through censorship and revisionist history?

That is the focus of a Radiolab episode that looks at a group of journalists who are experimenting with being forgotten. They are unpublishing content – articles, photographs, names, entire articles – on a monthly basis.

As the Radiolab website says, this is a story about “time and memory; mistakes and second chances; and society as we know it.”