When is sharing your life online with others crossing over into  TMI  (Too Much Information) territory?

Like it or not, we make judgments about people based on the integral of all we know about them.  The baseball player who bets on sports in Vegas is assumed to have a vested interest in tailoring his own play to affect his financial bets, whether or not anyone can prove that that’s true.  We assume Tiger Woods credibility as a spokesperson for various corporations is called into question because of what he has done, or hasn’t done in his personal life.  Bill Clinton apparently had a long reputation of “being a dog that was hard to keep on the porch”, but somehow, he still manages to be a brilliant guy and a pretty great president, overall.

We learn about friends and family these days, not just by our own experience, but by the deluge of information available about them on the web.  Before I meet with a client or speak to a group, I do a Google search to find out a bit about them in advance.  It helps me feel prepared, have a sense of who I think they are, and a chance on meeting in person, to match that preconceived notion, based on web data, with what I see in person.

This is why I try to teach my kids and constantly remind myself that everything I say or do online is the most public of records.  The DM’s I get on twitter, the text messages sent to my phone, my email- all of that- has an illusion of privacy, but it is still discoverable by others, in some way, at some point in the future, legally or illegally.

If you note the recent media discussions about controlled leaks from Apple about the upcoming tablet computer, and rumors of similar controlled leaks in government, you’ll note that these conversations all occur over the phone or preferably in person, aren’t taped or recorded, and provide both parties with plausible deniability because there’s no documented paper trail.

The clear lesson here is that if you want to have a private conversation, clearly don’t leave a voicemail message and don’t put any of it in writing- don’t leave a web or digital or actual paper trail.

This brings me to the point of this post, which is a new service called Blippy, where you can share your recent purchases (and the amount spent) on various sites, including Amazon.com, Netflix, Threadless and iTunes.  You can link a credit card as well, so every time you make a purchase at the convenience store, that, too, is posted to this social network.

Here’s a list of the accounts you can link to Blippy:

I_tunes iTunes Amazon Amazon Zappos Zappos Audible Audible
Groupon GroupOn Threadless Threadless Stub_hub StubHub Go_daddy GoDaddy
Netflix Netflix Blockbuster Blockbuster Seamless_web SeamlessWeb Wine LibraryWine_library
Credit_card Credit card (Visa, MasterCard, AMEX), debit card, or bank account

I am all for living life out loud.  I know people can find almost an infinite set of information out about me- but this crosses the line into kind of stalker-ish territory.  It’s one thing to get pointed to cool apps , books, and music that your friends are buying.  In fact, when looking around Blippy, I found a bunch of great things my friends had purchased, especially books and iphone apps,  that makes it almost certain I will purchase the same, which I am sure is Blippy’s whole marketing attempt.  After all, if you can find out, passively, what your friends are up to and what they’re getting, what better way to keep up with the digital Joneses?  Or even better, find out what your friends are into when it comes to birthday times, or for marketers doing blogger outreach?

However, it’s another thing to be updated every time they buy milk or cigarettes at the convenience store.

And let’s talk about the judgments people make about our private spending habits.

Say I get an account and share with my friends and co-workers.  How long before my boss finds out I rent weird films from Blockbuster?  Or am ordering books on how to develop a side career on Amazon?  How long before a health insurance company figures out you never did quit smoking like you swore you did on those forms?  What if they never see me paying for a gym membership?  What happens if you are buying books on how to make a career transition or how to pad your resume?  What if you ordered books about medical issues?  Or your bill from Wine Library TV seems to indicate you have a serious drinking problem?

Yeah, I don’t much care if all my friends learn I have an old school Tretorn addiction and Zappos is my favorite supplier, but does my husband need to know every single penny I spent there?  What if he gets notifications of things meant as gifts for him?

While it’s great all this information can be aggregated in one spot and I can see it being useful even for companies to track what employees are spending on Company credit cards, this is the first social network in a long time asking us to share information that has long been isolated in your credit card bills, email accounts and the sanctity of your ipod and cell phones.  (I’ve long thought you can learn a ton about someone by seeing the contents of their ipod alone- often leading me to be a bit cautious about giving mine to friends and seeing the plethora of various kid tunes (What? an addiction to Trout Fishing in America?  Really?), my secret like of old school hip-hop, and other music that leads to raised eyebrows in some social circles).

After only a few minutes of poking around, I’m getting more information than I planned about my friends.    Not only did I find out about a great analytics app, but the same person also downloaded the  Playboy app as well.  Clearly  information I probably didn’t need, even if it’s clearly nothing to be prudish about.  Likewise, a recent troll through the people my friends are following led me to Leo Leporte’s account, and the multiple $1,500 purchases he made in a short period of time at the Renaissance in Vegas.   People commented on the site about whether he was paying for his team’s hotel rooms or having a bad night at gaming tables,  but is this information everyone should have? Should Leo have to justify what he was buying to everyone on the internet, or his sponsors?   Likewise, Ev Williams bought a Pregnancy Tracker app for his iPhone.  Does that mean I should offer my husband’s services as an OB-GYN?  Should I start knitting a baby present?  I don’t think so, and that’s why I think Blippy, while a marketer’s dream, is a privacy nightmare.

Feel free to make your own conclusions, but for now, for better or for worse, I think I’ll be keeping my purchases to myself.