Friday, March 26, 2021

Protecting Your Privacy as a Streamer

Streaming is a very public activity. You’re putting yourself in front of people, sharing the things you love, talking about your day, and hearing from others in the same way. This is an amazing aspect of what we do. It allows us to meet people from around the world, see things from other perspectives, and have all kinds of unique experiences. But for all its benefits, this act of putting yourself in the spotlight comes with concerns as well. Namely, when people are able to see everything you’re doing while on the air, it becomes easy to accidentally show things you’d rather not share. I think it’s important to say a few words here about protecting your privacy as a streamer. 


The first step when thinking about any kind of privacy concern is to do a bit of planning. What would you be okay with sharing on your broadcasts? Is there some information you’d rather not let everyone know? In the past entry Setting Limits For Your Streams, I touched a bit on this topic: “Do you talk about what you do for a living? Do you talk about your love life or relationship issues? How specific are you about where you live? Some streamers are completely transparent about all of these topics, and others would be mortified to go near them. Just because there is no wrong answer doesn't mean you shouldn't have a plan for how many answers you're willing to give.”

Snake is all about privacy. That's why he's
always sneaking around!

Maybe take a few minutes to write down each of the major subjects that are important to you, and how much you’re willing to share. Do you want people to know your full first and last name? Do you want them to know your personal email address? Do you want them to know where you live? Everyone has different comfort levels when dealing with these things, and as long as you know what you’re okay with, you can start coming up with solutions for how to address each concern. Many streamers allow viewers to send them gifts, either from an Amazon wishlist, or directly by mail. Some will even allow these to be shipped directly to their homes. But if you’re uncomfortable with strangers knowing your address, you can use a post office PO Box or similar service as an intermediate. Or, if you don’t even want people to know the general area where you live, you could make it so viewers can only gift digital goods rather than physical ones. There’s not necessarily any wrong answer, but make sure you think things through. For example, if you put your address out there when you have only a few followers, it’s possible that this can come back to bite once you’ve reached the tens of thousands. Anything put onto the internet, even a fleeting Twitch broadcast, has a potentially very long tail and should be treated as permanent. Other streamers I know who work at game studios make sure to disclose where they work for ethical purposes, and make it clear that their streams are unaffiliated and their views don’t represent those of their company. Even showing your full name might be a point of concern for various reasons, and in that case you may want to scrub through your Steam, Xbox Live, PlayStation, Spotify, Discord, and any other accounts you use adjacent to your streams to make sure your full name isn’t visible. 

As the saying goes, you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. Revealing something early in the process can still have an effect once you’ve grown as a streamer. So if you’re not sure whether or not to share a particular piece of info, it’s best to err on the side of more privacy. 


Once you’ve gotten in tune with your own sense of privacy values, you’ll start to realize other areas where you might want to tighten things up. Similar to tidying up your home before people come to dinner, you may want to tidy up your stream so personal info isn’t just lying around. This might involve those tax forms you keep on your desktop, the tabs or bookmarks visible in Chrome, or the ‘recent folders’ in Windows Explorer. 

Don't forget to tidy up. 

On my own channel, when I started to livestream the editing process of my YouTube videos, I had to sit down just like I’m describing here, to really think through the implications of such an undertaking. Because I work on video editing projects professionally, I knew I wouldn’t want to open Adobe Premiere and accidentally show something confidential that I’ve been working on for a client, or pull up the import menu (which shows the most recent folder accessed) only to reveal a logo or image from something that could break the terms of a non-disclosure contract. So, knowing that I had to be absolutely sure that nothing unwanted ever appeared on these broadcasts, I came up with a pretty handy catch-all solution. I created a separate user account on my PC called ‘Stream Editing,’ which would be the only place where I’d ever edit the projects I make on stream. This would guarantee that all the ‘recent places’ in my editing software, Windows Explorer, and everywhere else would only show the things I’ve been working on during the broadcasts. And because I took that little bit of time to come up with a solution, I’ve done over 300 of those video editing shows without incident. 


As long as you think things through, you can prevent a lot of headaches going forward. And these kinds of preparations don’t need to petrify you or prevent your shows from going live in the first place- all it takes is a little applied thought and common sense. Even now, I of course have no way of predicting everything that might show up on one of my streams, but I can at least control what kinds of situations I put myself into. If I need to enter a password or make a purchase, it could be as easy as doing it on my phone rather than visible on my monitor, in case certain fields autofill without warning. For some things, I’ll simply send the show into a short break, displaying a “We’ll be right back” screen while I do something that feels risky to display on the air. Don’t ignore these simple but important steps. As long as you’re thinking things through, there are plenty of options for you to protect your privacy as a streamer. 

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