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RISMEDIA, May 26, 2009-Don’t you just love all of the information that is available virtually instantaneously? We are so accustomed to this as a lifestyle that many of us, while sitting 3,000 miles away from our destination in an airport lounge can feel frustrated if it takes longer than three seconds to get the driving directions, the full menu and a picture of the restaurant we need to be at for a meeting once the plane lands.

All of that great information is brought to us by…well, us. Over the past few years, the border between public information and private information has become blurred – by our own collective choice as a wired, inter-connected society.

What I have found is that in today’s information-hungry world, there are three definable types of data: public data, publicly available data and non-public data.

Public data is information compiled by the government. Public data we are particularly familiar with includes DMV records, vital statistics, professional licenses, voter registration, assessor and recorder documents, UCC filings, and so on.

Publicly available information is data that is compiled from membership directories, websites, newspaper articles, telephone directories, etc.

Lastly, we have what is called non-public information or volunteered information. This is the information we give up everyday for one purpose or another. For instance, you have an unlisted telephone number and someone asks for your telephone number or it’s a required piece of data on a website. You give it up and guess what? Someone else now has your unlisted telephone number. And who knows what anyone does with that information. Also falling into this category is all of the volunteered information you offer up when you post anything at all on any social networking or other site that accepts User Generated Content (UGC), including blogs or article comments. Basically what I am saying here is that if you post anything on the Internet, including in the form of an email, it may be considered volunteered information and can be read by anyone anywhere on the planet.

In a recent case, a California Court of Appeals considered a case in which a young woman posted a rant about her home town of Coalinga and its residents on her MySpace page. The rant was copied and sent to a local newspaper. When the newspaper republished it without the author’s permission, the author and her family members were seriously damaged by the violent community reaction. They brought suit, and the courts were confronted with defining the boundaries between public and private online spaces. Because this was volunteered information, the court decided she had no reasonable expectation of privacy in her post. However, if the young woman had brought a suit for copyright infringement, she might have had a chance. And if she had used some of the available privacy settings on MySpace, she might have never gotten in this predicament.

This landmark case shows that managing your online reputation is of paramount importance and it is totally up to you as to how you handle it. Stay aware and alert regarding everything you post online and write in emails as they may become just as easily a bane as a blessing in your future.

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