Thursday, March 20, 2014

Privacy on the Internet (and How to Protect Yourself)

Y'all like my creepy edit? Haha, don't worry, I didn't black bar three strangers. It's me with a couple of friends!
I've had my dumb share of actions on the internet before. Like my previous story of being a victim of money embezzlement, I shared my e-mail, home address and contact info to complete strangers in Russia. And honestly, I've probably shared my home address to third party marketers when signing up for shit that was too good to be true.

Admit, we've all done it; some may have given out more information, and some maybe haven't. But, as a young adult with hopes of a successful career, I got extremely paranoid about my online footprints.

Yes, I was one of those that shared all my social network accounts and registered accounts with my full name on the bio and as an username. Needless to say, if I didn't change my online footprints, a Google search with my full name will give you access to my Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, you name it. And it's open for the public to just browse around (except for Facebook).

Creepy, eh?

The reason why I'm talking about online profiles and privacy (AGAIN), is because I can't stress this enough, and I want people to be more aware of their online presence. I thought that my Twitter account and my old blog isn't "popular" enough for creepers to creep on me, but put it this way, if you're on the internet, you're on the internet.

I see bloggers and Instagramers sharing their full name(s) on their profiles. I see teenagers (less than 16 years old) sharing their full name and location, alongside with dozens of selfies and all I'm thinking about is... STOP THAT. DELETE YOUR LAST NAME! Even if there are 10 billion other people with the same name, it's not hard to narrow it down.

People with domains, don't cheap out and skip out on WhoIs protection ($10/year, some offer for free!). Many of my favourite bloggers don't have WhoIs protection and a quick search on their URL gave me EVERYTHING a stalker can ever want - full name, contact number, address, etc. It's scary, and I'm no creep, I only searched them up to make a point for this entry, but imagine what a creep CAN and WILL do for information. The world may be big but you can't assume the best for yourself.

I haven't read any stories about crazy stalkers from the Internet, but I can guarantee you, it's probably happening somewhere right now on this planet. If it's not stalking, the most common case is having a full Google CV of your social networks available for friends, family, and future employers/academics available for them to click through and "get to know you".

I chose to keep my blog private because I'm not ready (or ever will be) to share it. I chose to use 'Jess' and 'Claire' for most usernames and bio names. Now, whenever I Google myself (and I do it a lot), only my LinkedIn profile appears and that's all I want. Nothing else, and God forbid, no Google images.

So, how can you protect yourself?
  • For starters, don't use your surname, no matter how common it is. Use your first name, or a combination of your first and middle. Hell, even pick a fake name! Most of my profiles now just states my name as Jess, and some Jess Claire (like my Twitter). A lot of people seem to like to use their full names on popular social medias. I can also understand that your account may be private, but believe it or not, some companies pay Facebook to have "corporate" access and can view personal data. I'd rather have my boss assume I don't have an Instagram account.
  • Pick a new username. This might be hard for some but I chose to let go for my Twitter and Instagram username because it was just my full name. A Google search provided links to those two media outlets and I didn't like it. Sure, I could have private them but I enjoy sharing my Tweets and pictures with readers and strangers (ironic, eh?). Come up with a fun username, for example, I chose 'finnandfriendsgoldfishes', named after the Goldfish crackers.
  • Delete unwanted social media accounts*. I stopped using Flickr, Vine, umm... Springform, etc. Why keep a history of your foolish actions and remarks on a site you don't even use anymore? 
  • Delete your meta info from photos. I don't do this enough but sure, it's fun to geotag your photos but a news segment showed how easily it is to get the exact location of where that photo was taken. Sort of like your photo was a GPS. This is mostly a concern for parents. 
  • If you're under the age of 16, don't share your age. It makes me feel so, I don't know, concerned, to see bloggers saying, "Hi, my name is Lucy and I'm 13 years old!" Substiute your age by saying you're a teenager, or a high-schooler. Many bloggers now just say "20-something". 
  • Google yourself, and Google often. I don't care how narcissist that sounds, but I do it whenever I'm bored. I need to keep myself updated on whether or not professionals employers/schools can find me. The only thing that should show up on your Google search is LinkedIn or perhaps, your online portfolio, etc.
  • Purchase WhoIs Protection. It's usually $10 from most domain/hosting services. Some even offer it for free or discounted. Under Canadian regulations, any personal .CA domain actually comes with a free WhoIs protection! Whoooo! And for those who don't know what a WhoIs protection is, it's a service where you pay to have your personal information hidden from anyone that looks up your URL. With WhoIs, instead of your name and personal data appearing, it'll show viewers the service provider of your domain/hosting service. For example, if you look up my domain, it'll list only CanSpace information, and not mines.
  • Create a new e-mail for your blog. It's great to have readers e-mail to you, but always, always, create a new e-mail that you intend to share to the world. I've seen bloggers that shared their personal e-mails as a contact method and if you're comfortable with that, it's fine, but personally, I'd like to separate mines. I already got dozens of spam e-mails on my Blogger e-mail because it's out there on the web.
Yes, in a way, I am a bit hypocritical about protecting myself while sharing my photos and personal experiences so openly, but I'm comfortable with that. I'm 20 years old, and my readers and Instagrammers knows I live in Vancouver. That's about it. Unless you've followed me from 5 years ago, you'll know my full name. But otherwise, no one else does, and if I can, no one else will. Sharing photos is acceptable, but sharing your personal information that can leave a negative impact is something I'm not down with. I'd rather have my surname protected, address protected, and employers looking at my LinkedIn page instead of how many beers I chugged last weekend.

Ya, diggin?

*Had too many accounts and can't remember all of them? Google all your possible username(s) and you'll be surprised. I nearly forgot I had half of these accounts if I didn't Google about three usernames that I would've used. Most, if not, all sites will give you the option to delete or suspend your account. If you can't find the option, e-mail their support team and let them know you want the account cancelled. I've done that a few times and support desks are more than happy to make you satisfied.

6 comments:

  1. I've never heard of WhoIs protection but the rest I definitely follow; particularly because I don't have a common last name. I don't want my blog, Instagram or Twitter to be found if I'm googled, so none of those are linked to my full name. Great advice!


    Although, I am curious about the URL search you did on your friends. I wonder how I can do that on me..

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  2. .us and .in domains are not supported by WHOIS protection, sadly, but when I used to have .net and .org domains, I did have WHOIS protection from them.

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  3. Great tips. =)

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  4. I didn't know a few domains aren't supported, I always thought it was a universal coverage. Are .us/.in domains a bit cheaper? I'd be too paranoid to not have my data protected even though probably nobody looks up my URL :P

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  5. Oops, I didn't clarify that WhoIs is for domains, sorry! You're safe because you have a Blogger domain but if you ever purchase your own domain (from GoDaddy, Namecheap, etc), that's where WhoIs would come to play!

    If you're curious about it, head over to http://who.is/ and enter a domain (eg. dailymail.co.uk) into the search bar and you can see if any of your friends are protected or not. It's such a creepy tool if you're a personal blogger that's unprotected. I guess it wouldn't matter for corporations to have their info on the site.

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