Online privacy is hard to achieve – and impossible when you don’t think about it enough ahead of time. Anyone can see just about anything you ever wrote online. That includes webpages, blogs, discussion forums, social sites and email. Recruiters routinely check these sources before making hiring decisions. They are also increasingly popular with investigators. Anyone wanting to look into your background can find a wealth of information online.

There is little true anonymity on the internet. Some sites use passwords to limit the number of people who can access information but passwords are routinely compromised. Other sites allow you to use a pseudonym rather than edit under your real name. With a little bit of work (sometimes very little work), almost everything you wrote can be traced back to you.

Many believe that the vastness of the internet protects them. With millions of pages created every day, how would a hacker ever find my little blog or my email where I admit to some personal detail? In a paper-world, correlating all those sources was impossible. Now, we have powerful search engines and intelligent programs that can match details across multiple pages. They are incredible research tools and make the internet far more useful to all of us but they also can be used to create astonishingly complete profiles of you and your family.

None of it really goes away, either. Even if you removed the webpage, deleted your MySpace account and purged all your email, cached versions may still exist scattered all over the internet. Think twice about what you write and how you write it. Once you post something, you must forever live with the consequences.

When posting online, always assume that someone who you can’t even guess at today will find and use the information. If you want the information to be private or restricted to a small group of people, the internet is probably not the best way to communicate. Remember too that even if you’ve never published anything online, you probably have a nephew or distant cousin who is working on a family history and including details about your life. Keeping your private details private takes work and vigilance.

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