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Practicing safe blogging
Personal Web blogs are hugely popular. They're also landing some people in a heap of trouble.
April 8, 2005: 12:57 PM EDT
By Krysten Crawford, CNN/Money staff writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Add blogging to the list of extracurricular activities in need of some protection.

As many as 40,000 personal Web diaries -- dubbed "blogs" -- crop up each day, reports Technorati, a San Francisco startup that tracks Web logs.

Overall, there are just over 8.5 million virtual diaries, up from 100,000 two years ago, as Average Joes, CEOs and political foes turn to blogs opine on everything from Pope John Paul II's death and "First Twin" Jenna Bush to the Red Sox and housing costs.

Blogs are shaking up the Internet but they're also raising a lot of alarms -- and, in some cases, landing their authors in hot water.

A Google employee lost his job after gabbing on a blog about internal goings-on at the Internet search engine giant. Last month, Apple Computer won a court order seeking the identities of bloggers who revealed on-line confidential information about a company product in development.

Families too have been known to find out on a blog more information than they ever wanted to know about a relative's uncensored sex life.

Clearly there's a need for a few rules of the "blogosphere" road.

On Thursday the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco digital rights group that wants to protect bloggers, released a guide to help virtual diarists avoid the wrath of Mom, the boss or just about anyone else.

"If you blog, there are no guarantees you'll attract a readership of thousands," states the manual. "But at least a few readers will find your blog, and they may be people you'd least want to expect....And there may be consequences."

Below, a few tips from "How to Blog Safely (About Work and Anything Else)":

  • A is for Anonymous First, the "no duh" warning: don't post any pictures, reveal your name or even confess you work for, say, an unnamed weekly newspaper in Seattle. "(I)t's clear that you work in one of two places," cautions the guide. Posting using a pseudonym is smart but, if you think using "Leanne" when your name is Annalee is a good idea, think again.
  • Technology as Alibi Superficial disguises go only so far when every wannabe pundit also has a unique -- and, unfortunately, traceable -- Internet address. The good news is, there are services like Invisiblog.com, Anonymizer.com and Tor that specialize in helping you keep your address and your identity under wraps.
  • Be Exclusive You don't have to let the whole world watch. You can set up a blog that is password-protected. Blogging services such as LiveJournal let you decide who gets to see all or parts of your blog. Turns out, you can also block Google and other major search engines from listing your blog in Internet search results. To do so, you need to create a special file called a "Robots Text File."
  • Have a Blog and Keep Your Job Mark Jen, the fired Google worker, isn't the only blogger to land on the unemployment lines. Delta Air Lines, Microsoft and Friendster, the on-line social networking service, have all allegedly canned hired help for blogging. Countless other employers are taking steps to prevent loose-lipped workers from disclosing company information on the Internet.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the First Amendment protects against censorship by the government, not employers or any other private party. In most states, employment is considered "at will," which means that employees can quit and employers can fire anytime and for any reason.

And no states have laws to protect bloggers from job or any other discrimination, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

There is some good news, but not much. Most states specifically protect workers' political activities and opinions. Using a blog as a unionizing tool is also protected.

Workers who blow the whistle on illegal activities by their employers also enjoy certain safeguards, but should "notify somebody in authority about the sludge (their) company is dumping in the wetlands first, then blog about it," the guide states.

And, of course, government workers are free to carp all they want online as long as they don't reveal classified or confidential information.

  • The Safest Way of All This isn't in the how-to blog guide, but remember the old days of paper and pen diaries? True, the audience is limited to the authors themselves and maybe a snooping sibling or two. Ones with a lock and key work best.
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