Many of us not only do our socializing online, but we also work online as well. Whether we’re employed in the creative arts as artists, writers, or musicians, or we’re self-employed (plumbers, landscapers, babysitters) there’s a Internet site to promote our services. While web-savvy businesses have been working online for years, even more traditional companies are adding blogs to their business websites. We live our lives in a broader public than ever before.
“Technology has rendered the conventional definition of personally identifiable information obsolete,” said Maneesha Mithal, associate director of the Federal Trade Commission’s privacy division. “You can find out who an individual is without it.” via The New York Times
Spammers search for our personal information all of the time, in order to trick people into handing over money or financial information. Companies commonly “mine” our data, logging it and selling it to other companies. You may have seen news articles about how Highlight, a free phone app, could enable predators to stalk, manipulate, or even harm unsuspecting victims. How do you protect yourself when not being online isn’t an option?
- Disable cookies in your Internet browser. This means you’ll have to enter your password more often, but it also means that your passwords aren’t being saved somewhere they can be stolen from you.
- Don’t put your full date of birth on your public profiles. You can go into your account settings on Facebook, for example, and set it to just display the day and month. That way people can still celebrate your birthday, and you get the added bonus of not having to reveal your age.
- Don’t use Facebook apps from outside of the United States. All of those games and social apps that seem like they’re being built into Facebook come from outside companies, and the ones which operate outside of the US don’t have to follow the same laws regarding your personal data. It’s best to avoid them entirely.
- Make your Facebook account private. At the very least, make your profile “friends only”. You can even create custom settings to further separate which of your friends gets to know which information. You can find these settings at http://www.facebook.com/settings/?tab=privacy
- Google yourself. Find out what people can find online. Is your email address, date of birth, or even phone number posted on the Internet? Once you know what’s there, you can take steps to get it removed.
- Clear your Google search history. Go to https://www.google.com/history/ to clear your history and also turn off “Web History”. Until you do it, Google will automatically track your online searches.
- Close old accounts. Do you still have a Livejournal account you’re not using, or a Myspace account? What about music surfing sites like Pandora? If you’re not using it, shut it down.
- Create an email address for junk. These days so many sites require you to give an email address when you log in. When you Google yourself, chances are good you’ll find your email address shows up. If you create a junk mail address, and use that for anything that isn’t important, you’ll find that most of your spam email will get directed there instead.
- Create a Google Voice account to have your non-personal calls sent to. If you’re self-employed and trying to grow your business without giving out your cell phone number online, try a Google Voice account. It’s a free service that lets you direct customers to a new number that still rings your phone of choice.
- Let your boss know that you’re concerned about what appears on your company website. You can ask that photos only be tagged with first names, or that company party pictures aren’t posted. You can opt out of any “what I did this weekend” emails that might get sent around.
- Be vague. I have a twitter account but under the setting for location, I don’t have anything listed. Sure, my friends know where I live, but at the moment I don’t feel the need to share that with the world. I know people who list the name of the largest nearby town instead of their little village, so that they can still connect with people who might have common interests without pointing people right to their house. You can talk about the kind of work you do without revealing the name of your employer, or say you “ate lunch at a nearby burger joint” without telling people you ate at Five Guys at 12:24 pm. Simply put, don’t put anything on the Internet that you don’t want strangers to know. Even when you think it’s protected by privacy settings, it’s still on the web. Gossip still exists in the digital age, and information can be passed along by friendly acquaintances who share your news to people you didn’t intend to know about it.