Call me paranoid.
The insecurity of the internet is nothing new.
I first cast off on the Sea of the Worldwide Web back in '98. At the time, it occurred to me that it was a good idea to use a handle, much as CB-ers did (do). It never crossed my mind to put my phone number (at that point in time, I had an unlisted one), my address (what, and let the crazies know where to find me?), my bank account (hey, anyone willing to pay those bounced-check fees probably would've been welcomed), or anything else personal.
If anything, I was scrupulous about NOT broadcasting such information, just as a matter of practice.
I went on to serendipitously meet Hubby #2* on an IM system (I don't know if it even exists anymore; I asked him if he ever uses it, and like me, he hasn't in years) and... well, as many of you know, it's one of those There-I-Wuz stories turned into a Here-I-Am story.
*Note, it wasn't a dating website, a singles social network, whatever - just a penpal site. Neither of us was looking. Density... I mean, destiny, took a hand, is all. If you want to read the how-it-happened story, try this link: intranet.sparkpeo
Point being, I'd like to think I know when and how to take my chances.
Further point being, I have no qualms about taking a chance on Spark.
Recently, I've had occasion to mention to several people that SP is - at least for me - a lifesaver. Literally.
You know I'm not an all-or-nothing kind of gal. I don't preach to the choir (or at least I try not to) and I don't believe in blindly following My Passion Of The Moment. I'm not a cheerleader.
Having said that, beyond my appreciation to 'SparkGuy' and the other staff is a huge appreciation and genuine gratitude to my fellow Sparkers.
I love browsing pages and blogs and suggestions. I find inspiring stories, and wonderful quotations, and personal stories that leave me humbled.
I try to cheer on those who seem overpowered by their problems, who are struggling to get - or keep - on track. I reach out (not often enough, I fear) to others here who are working so hard and are so afraid that they will fail yet again.
We all do that. We all try to nudge that little Spark (!) that will make the difference for someone between giving up and keeping on, between despair and hope. And we're all heartened when we get a goodie or a note from someone supporting us in our efforts.
I'm not the voice of reason crying in the wilderness.
It's too bad, really. I'd LIKE to be that voice of reason. Unfortunately, my nature tends to be less reason and more Chicken Little: alarmist, frantic, contributing mightily to panic and chaos in times of crisis.
Come to think of it, more like Chicken Little magnified. Think of the headless chicken.
Equally, I can only keep quiet for so long, then I have to pipe up. Before I (you should pardon the pun) weigh in with my two cents' worth, though, keep in mind it's strictly IMHO, right?
The 'OMG, I'm out there on the internet!' wildfire that's currently happening on SP is what I'm addressing.
Ordinarily, I'd be right in the midst of it, running around ala CL and shouting about the sky falling in, posting warnings on team message boards and sending alerts to all and sundry.
But... this time? Not so much.
I mean, I don't go to any great lengths to 'hide' on the 'net - I'm not in a witness-protection program or anything - but equally, I don't advertise what I do or where I go.
What's that you say? 'Yeh, but Kasey, you post photos 'n' stuff.' True. But I don't post 'em with links. I don't believe in links, y'see.
I spoke up back when SP first touted linking with FB. At that time I said I didn't think it was a good idea. I was shrugged off, and scores of Sparkers went right ahead and got the extra points for linking.
A year or so farther down the road, and Spark decides to put a toolbar at the bottom of the pages. No, I don't use it - and what crossed my mind is 'Another tracking method.' Don't kid yourself, it is. But like the advertisers and sponsors, it's the kind of feedback that keeps SP free, so I don't do anything with it, or complain about it. I just ignore it and choose not to click on it.
Another year or so farther down the road, and Spark decides to put a toolbar of click-buttons at the top of blog posts. Did anyone seriously think it was merely a convenience? Of course it's a way to promote SP, and no doubt to get some usage numbers to show advertisers that their dollars would be well-spent here, especially for advertisers who also promote on Facebook or other networks and could benefit from the crossover and extra exposure.
Keep in mind, of the health / lifestyle / diet / fitness websites out there, the ones before SP have mostly either died on the vine or resorted to 'exclusive to paying subscribers only' membership. Other current free ones are tracking just as assiduously as Spark and aren't nearly as comprehensive and feature-loaded.
[I'm not going to get into SP's recent foray into the world of paid membership. Bottom line is, I couldn't afford it, even at half the price they're charging. When eDiets started out, oh, ten years or more ago, I joined. It was pretty useful, but after a year or so, they went to a 'paid subscription only' network, and thereby shut me out. AllRecipes had a sister site focused on personal nutrition and menus, but they went from free to paid, too, and I had to opt out. I think that one's defunct now. I sincerely hope Spark doesn't end up going with a paid-only site.]
You pays yer money (or opts for the freebie) and takes yer choice.
With this latest spate of chatter re the blog-share buttons, we are on the verge of Spark changing forever, and it's down to what started as a tiny snowball turning into an avalanche.
There seems to be a lot of huffing and puffing about 'We should've been consulted!' About what? About having your information show up on the internet? That was happening long before SP's little 'share' buttons. For that matter, it was happening long before Spark.
What we 'pay' for Spark isn't in cash. It's in supporting advertisers and sponsors. It's in promoting the website. It's in buying - when we can, if we can - fitness DVDs and merchandise and books that are issued through Spark.
What we owe, what we really pay with, are our contributions: our stories, our experiences, our ups and downs, our hopes and sorrows, our successes and failures.
These contributions are priceless. And it's those very contributions from the rest of you that mean so much to me, that stoke my motivation and keep me from giving up.
It's all well and good to say 'Thank you, SP, for removing that dreaded toolbar!' As if that would solve the problem of you being 'findable' on the internet, or of strangers reading about your holiday weight-gain.
It's all well and good to set your page to 'private,' though if you seriously believe that keeps you hidden, you are kidding yourself.
Spark has disclaimers all over its site, advising people they should protect their privacy. Click on 'Edit My SparkPage' on your own page, and at the bottom appears this message:
"Please choose carefully the information you post, and that you provide to other members on SparkPeople.com. Information in your member page, profile, and message board posts is available to anyone with internet access."
Posted information - and that includes every blog - is available without special tabs, buttons, links, toolbars, or anything else. If you really want to protest about exposure of your personal details, write to The Powers That Be at Facebook and other social networking sites - they are even less secure and have even more identifiable info, especially if you've linked your mobile phone number, your employer's name / address, your school, your birthday.
In short, there's no need to panic and privatize your SparkPage or close your Spark account. What you need to do - what you should do in every case - is be smart. Be safe. Be secure.
1) Don't use your full name as your Username. Not on Spark, not on any website.
2) Do consider changing your name on SP or any other website. Check with their formatting first to make sure you won't lose any of the features you want to retain.
3) Don't jump on all those 'link with us' invitations you get - they're proliferating, and the more crossover info that's out there, the more easily you can be tracked.
4) Do be aware that every link, every button, every cookie, every click, every bookmark is attached to something or another; your 'net usage is being tracked, but usually for very benign purposes.
5) Don't be an ostrich. What's the use of putting your head in the sand and believing you're protected, when all you've done is (again you should pardon the expression) make yourself vulnerable to an attack from the rear?
Knowledge is power, and now you know. Let's quell the scaremongering and use common sense.
There's no such thing as a free lunch - or a free website. You just need to think carefully and make smart decisions about how to pay for the freebies.