Building a strong reputation online means opening up: creating blog posts, commenting, connecting on social media, and getting involved online. But it doesn’t have to mean that you allow others to exploit your personal privacy. Data scrapers, job search scams, identity thieves, spammers, and other unscrupulous online characters are hoping that you’re not vigilant with your online privacy, but with these resources, you can be. With these tips, tools, and resources, you can stay private online — while still building a great reputation for yourself.
Tips for Protecting Your Privacy Online
How can you stay private — but still connected — on social media, use secure connections, and avoid sharing personal information online? Follow these tips for online privacy in the age of information.
- Watch out for job search scams: Job hunters are often targeted by scammers seeking personal information. You may be given a job offer — only to be asked for your bank information in the very next breath. Learn more on FTC.gov.
- Avoid filling out your social media profile with sensitive information: While it’s important to share your work background, interests, and other information employers and other connections may be interested in, private information is another story. Is there really anyone who doesn’t know your birth date that needs to? Time recommends keeping this and other sensitive information like your email address and phone number off of social networks.
- Turn on connection encryption: Many online services like Facebook and Gmail offer encrypted connections to users. With an encrypted connection, your information is encoded so that only those with access to it can read it.
- Keep your resume private if you’re still employed: If you’d rather your boss not find your resume online, make sure that it’s marked as private. Otherwise, you may find yourself with no job at all!
- Set up Google alerts: This isn’t just a tried and true reputation management tactic: Google alerts are useful for privacy as well. Find out when and where you’re being talked about online — and who might be sharing your information by using Google Alerts.
- Don’t leave private data in the cloud: PC World points out that while cloud services including Google Drive and Dropbox are handy, using them means that your files may be accessed by law enforcement or hackers.
- Check your social network privacy settings: Make sure that you know exactly what others can see on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks by checking in on privacy settings. Techlicious offers an excellent guide to both Facebook and Twitter settings.
- Always assume that what you post is public: Even if you’ve locked down your security settings on social networks, mistakes and leaks can and will happen. Your photos or posts can be screen shot, or privacy settings may be updated and leave your posts vulnerable to the public. Every post should be made with the assumption that someone — anyone — may see what you’ve shared.
- Think before you post: Again, keep in mind that anything you post can be leaked, even from a private page. That’s why it’s important to consider what you could be sharing with a worldwide audience. Would you want your grandmother, boss, or a hacker halfway across the world to know what you’re about to put on the Internet?
- Untag yourself: When others upload photos of you on social networking sites, they may be given the option to tag you, but you don’t have to keep them. Change your settings so that tagging is only by permission, and carefully consider which photos of yourself you want to share, if any.
- Lock or log off of your computer: Remember that passwords only work to keep others out if you’re not already logged in. If you’ve logged in at a public computer, shared device, or even have your computer in a place where others may have access to it, know that your information can be accessed. Lock your computer, log off, and don’t allow your browser to save usernames and passwords.
- Don’t share your location: Many social media sites will allow you to check in or share your location in photos and other posts. For your personal safety, this is not a good idea. Doing so could inform stalkers, thieves, and other ne’er-do-wells of where you are, or that your house is empty. Similarly, don’t share when you’ll be out of town.
- Never accept friend requests from people you don’t know: Bots and spammers commonly pretend to be real people in order to gain access to information that’s behind a friend wall on social media.
- Lock your phone’s screen with a password: You never want to imagine that you might lose your phone, but it can happen. And if your phone isn’t locked down, a thief can easily access sensitive information in your emails, social media apps, and more. Always keep your home screen locked with a password in case your phone falls into the wrong hands.
- Don’t give away information for a prize: Sweepstakes or contests are often just information mills in disguise. They’ll gather your information for direct marketing purposes and sell them to other marketers — who may also continue to tell them to others. This is a good way to get your email, address, and phone number clogged up with junk messages, and it may even put your identity at risk if you share too much information.
- Investigate mobile apps before downloading: Some apps may take pretty far-reaching liberties with access to your phone or mobile device. Always review privacy policies and access agreements before you download.
- Log into social websites directly: Using apps or third party services to log in to Facebook, Twitter, or other social media websites can leave your account vulnerable. Play it safe by only dealing with websites directly.
- Turn on two-factor authentication: Keep your accounts more secure by turning on two-factor authentication for services that offer it, including Google, PayPal and Facebook. This extra security step requires entering a code in addition to your password and can keep hackers out of your account.
- Disconnect from Google: Prevent Google from tracking searches and logging your browsing history. The Art of Manliness explains how you can opt out of Google tracking.
- Don’t reply to spammers: If you get an email that is clearly spam, don’t reply with remove or use unsubscribe instructions. Doing so will only tell the spammers that your email address is live and being used by a real person — and make it that much more valuable to sell to other spammers. It’s also a good idea to turn off images in your email by default, as image loads may also tip spammers off to a live email address. Simply mark spam messages as such in with your email provider to send them to your junk box automatically in the future.
- Protect your offline identity: Remember to shred mail, secure account numbers and your social security card, and more.
- Don’t send sensitive emails from work: Chances are your IT department has the ability and permission to intercept and monitor any kind of communication you send on a work connection, whether you’re using work email or not. Keep private things private by sending sensitive messages on your own time and connection. It’s also a good idea to avoid logging into bank accounts, social media, and other sensitive websites from work.
Privacy Learning Resources
Learn from the experts how you can protect your privacy and keep your personal information safe online.
- How to Keep Your Personal Information Secure: The Federal Trade Commission shares how you can stay private online and reduce your risk of identity theft. They explain how you can know who you share information with, store and dispose of personal information securely, ask questions before sharing information, and maintain security on any connected device.
- Stay Safe Online: Protect Your Personal Information: Stay Safe Online’s guide to protecting your personal information explains how you can keep your information private online, avoiding ID theft and fraud by securing your accounts, practicing caution when online shopping, and using strong passwords.
- EFF’s Top 12 Ways to Protect Your Online Privacy: Though this guide is from 2002, more than a decade later its advice still rings true. Check out these tips from the Electronic Frontier Foundation to find out how you can effectively protect your online privacy.
- 10 Tips to Protect Your Personal Information and Identity: McAfee’s security advice offers 10 solid tips for protecting your personal information online. Learn how you can access the Internet from a firewall, watch out for scams, and more.
- Online Privacy: How to Control Your Personal Data: Mashable offers an excellent resource for protecting your personal information online. It explains how you can cut off data brokers, control data sources, and more.
- Stay Safe Online: Social Networks: Stay Safe Online shares how you can share on social networks — without sharing too much.
Tools for Protecting Your Privacy Online
These privacy tools make it easy to keep your privacy and personal information under wraps online.
- HTTPS Everywhere: Using the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s browser extension, you’ll be able to automatically turn on encryption on any website that offers it.
- DoNotTrackMe: Download this browser add-on to stop companies like Facebook and Google Analytics from recording, profiling, or sharing your online activity for uses like targeted advertising and user testing.
- AVG PrivacyFix: Using the AVG PrivacyFix family of apps, you can control online data on Facebook, Google, and more, as well as find out about any privacy issues that may pop up as you surf the web.
- DuckDuckGo: Use this anonymous search engine that doesn’t save your search history, track you, or filter your search engine results.
- Disconnect: Stop trackers, protect your privacy, reduce your risk of identity theft and understand privacy policies with the Disconnect tool.
- SafeShepherd.com: Clean up your identity trail using SafeShepherd.com, a tool that will scan data harvesting websites and people search engines to show you where your information is available online.
For more recommendations on privacy tools, visit the Electronic Privacy Information Center.