For online privacy, why use a pseudonym online? The answer’s simple: I’m guarding my online privacy and prevent identity theft protection. My husband works as a sheriff’s deputy, meaning he comes into contact every day with society’s ne’er do wells – armed robbers, rapists, the occasional murder suspect… you get my point. My husband and I protect our personal information not only online, but also by having an unlisted phone number, using my maiden name (nope, still not Balke) when we register our children for extracurricular activities, even routing our mail through a post office box.
Our extreme caution stands in stark contrast to the relatively minor practices employed by my good friend, Tammy. Tammy launched her blog in 2010, hoping to become the next MckMama. But she made one critical flaw: Tammy created a domain name that uses her actual name, first and last. Tammy does try to maintain her family’s privacy online, using her children’s first initials instead of their names. I’ve argued that it’s a moot point, since she’s already done her children the disservice of broadcasting their last name and their pictures online – and let’s be honest, how many names for a girl can you think of that start with the letter “Z”?
As my online presence has expanded over the past few years, however, I’ve had to step up my Internet safety measures, beyond using the right anti-virus software on a secure network. Here are the security essentials I use to ensure identity theft protection, and would encourage the Tammy’s of the world adopt as well.
Forbes estimated the Internet was home to 156 million blogs in 2011 – that means that one out of every 50 people on the planet is using Blogger, WordPress, Tumblr, or one of the dozens of other sites that gives regular Joes like you and me the ability to spout off online and identity theft protection. My guess is that most of those bloggers aren’t doing enough to protect their personal information online.
- Read the terms of service, regardless of which platform you publish on, paid web hosting or free website. You can’t know what information you’re sharing if you don’t bother to read the fine print. Know your legal rights as a blogger as well – check out the legal guide for bloggers at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
- Sign up for another email address specifically for your blog. When you register this email address, don’t use any of your personal information. Not only will this keep your personal inbox clear of blog-related mail, it’ll also add an additional layer of Internet safety. Use this email address for everything related to your blog, including registering for your domain name, which will keep your real name out of the WHOIS registry.
- If you want to publicize your blog, but still want to maintain online privacy, consider using a third-party website to edit your blog. Websites like Tor use something called overlay network to keep your IP address private for online privacy.
- Employ ping servers to broadcast your latest posts. These services get your blog post out quickly while maintaining your privacy – great for spreading news but not necessarily your name. Joe The Web Guy has a great list of ping servers on his website.
- Don’t let search engines find your blog or domain name. Google can’t search blogs embedded with Robots Text Files, or robots.txt. This isn’t a fool proof way to keep your blog off a search engine’s listings, but it’s a good start for online privacy.
My cousin, Angel (nope, that’s not her real name either), made a lot of bad decisions when she was in college – including posting pictures of her drinking and doing recreational drugs on Facebook. (A side note here: Facebook’s official policy says it won’t publish pictures of illegal activities, like drug use, or nudity; but due to the amount of information uploaded on to the site by Facebook’s nearly billion users, the site’s had a hard time keeping up with this policy – my cousin’s account proves that if someone doesn’t report the indecent material, it will appear on a profile.) Now, post-graduation, she’s learning the hard way that sharing too muchpersonal information can keep you from getting a job down the road.
- Facebook requires you to use your real name when you sign up for your account. That said, you can get around this by using variations of your true name, or changing your display name once you’ve completed the registration process. Other social networking sites like Twitter and Pinterest don’t require you to use your full name – so don’t.
- Limit your interaction with third-party advertisers and applications. While Facebook operates under one set of privacy rules, the web developers who create these applications often operate under a different set. When you connect with these apps, you’re giving them permission to access and – in some cases – share your personal information.
- This should go without saying, but if my own skin and blood can be so stupid to forget this rule, I’m sure others could: DON’T POST PICTURES OR INFORMATION YOU WOULDN’T WANT YOUR GRANDMOTHER TO SEE. Or your boss. Or your child’s preschool teacher.
It goes without saying that you need to have a strong password for your email account; I use Hotmail for my personal email, and take advantage of the service’s automatic reminder forcing me to change my password every two months or so. Another one of my obvious security essentials is double checking to whom you’re sending an email before you click send – after all, you don’t want to reply to all when making a snide comment about your sister-in-law… not that I’ve made that mistake…
- It took me three years of sending personal emails from my company email account to realize that – aha! – my employer was allowed to access and read my messages. Employer-owned email systems are legally allowed to view your messages. In some cases, your Internet Service Provider, or ISP, can do the same. Know who can view your messages before pressing the send button.
- Be aware of phishing scams. These days, everyone seems to know about Nigerian scams, but these can come in all shapes and sizes. A scam can be as obvious as an email from “your bank” – rife with misspellings and a sender’s email address that doesn’t match the company’s domain name – but sometimes scammers are sneaky. When it doubt, call the company for verification.
- Don’t click on suspicious links for online privacy. These can be as insidious as a message from a friend’s personal email account including a malicious link. I always ask the sender if they intended to send me the unexpected link – and if they don’t, I avoid it! Same rule applies for attachments.
- Avoid sharing your email address online. Hackers and scammers troll websites looking for email addresses and accounts to attack. If you must share your email address, write it like this: sampleemailaddress (at) gmail (dot) com. This prevents these trollers from recognizing it as an email address.
These are just a few of my go-to steps to maintain my privacy online – but there are countless other steps you can take to protect your personal information online.