Protecting Your Online Privacy

Reporters and the media ask me this question all the time. By building a people search engine over the past 2 years, I learned quite a lot about how people information is handled on the web and how you can protect your Online Identity and Personal Privacy.

Your personal information is online and getting more accessible every day. So how can you manage your online reputation and privacy in this cyber world where walls don’t exist?

Here are five ways in which Internet users can ensure that their online identity is correctly positioned and that their personal information is protected:

1. Take Responsibility for Your Online Actions
Most people believe that what they post on a blog or upload will stay hidden behind a wall and never be seen anywhere else on the web – This is false. Always make sure to read the terms of service on websites and social networks and assess their privacy control options. With over 500,000 people joining a social network every day, the number of people who post content about themselves on the web is increasing rapidly and so is the need for them to understand how the web works. If you post a picture of yourself on a public website, it’s as if you posted that picture on a billboard in Time Square. It becomes public content for anyone to see and copy. You really don’t want that recruiter to see your online party photos. So be careful of what you post and do online.

2. Track Your Online Profile
Search for your name – If you find something you do not like, then you can reach out to search engines like Spock, Google, Yahoo and MSN to remove that content from their index. But bear in mind that even if these search engines remove the content in question, it is most likely that that information was crawled by other services that might not have the same respect for personal privacy. Go to the source of the content itself and either remove it yourself (your public social network pages, blog posts) or ask the website administrators to assist you.

3. What Do You Do When Your Personal Information is Out There
Background checking is a billion dollar industry. There are dozens of companies out there that buy your personal data from phone companies, banks, even from your local county records office and sell it online to anyone willing to pay for the data. Once I did a search for myself on Google and to my surprise my former home address was indexed – This had been taken from a third party site. Not cool! At Spock we have a clear policy for people search to only display data that exists on the public web – We never show personally identifiable information (address, phone number, email, and so on) even if it is on public sites. These are steps I would recommend if you find yourself in the same predicament:

Contact your bank, phone service provider, and your county records office – Be very clear to them that you do not want your private information sold to a third-party.

Contact the site where you found your information and ask them to remove it immediately. Most of these companies do not want to deal with legal action and thus are fairly responsive in removing such data.

Make it very clear to these sites that you do not want them to display your private information ever again.

4. Be Wary of Uncertified Websites
Too many people trust unknown websites and give them personal information for a “Free iPhone” and similar freebies. If you see an offer like this online from an uncertified site, then don’t fill out the form – Unless you want to get a lot of spam, phone calls, and random letters in the mail from cyber salesmen.

5. Even Passwords Need to be Protected
An area that many people tend to overlook is the passwords they use on websites. When choosing a password, these are my recommendations:

Don’t use a password that contains any combination of your birthday, social security number, or phone number. There are too many websites out there with poor security protocols which can easily be hacked.

Never use the same password twice. A common trick of hackers is to fool people into giving them their password – Ever get one of those phishing emails asking you to reset your password for Paypal? The best way to protect yourself against identity theft is to use different passwords for different services.
Change your passwords every six months.

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