Can you believe it, I didn’t learn how to use a computer until 1993! My engineer cousin let me borrow his and I did my very best to goof up all his settings and document margins without knowing what the heck I was doing. Well, I’ve learned a few things since then. Hopefully these tips will help you stay safer online and more aware of internet security issues.
You May Not be Interested in the Internet, but it’s Definitely Interested in You!
Did you know, websites scrape the Internet for information about you, then will sell it to anyone who wants to learn more about you. They pull it from your social media profiles (where you publish Facebook posts as “public”), public records, census info, etc. Some of it they surmise, like ethnic or religious affiliations based on your name.
Got a few minutes? Just for fun, enter your name(s) into a search engine, then start scrolling down. Go way beyond the first page. You may find you are listed on sites like FamilyTreeNow, TruePeopleSearch, InstantCheckmate, Spokeo, MyLife, etc.
You can find more of these sites by searching on this phrase: “sites that compile your personal information.” Some of them are connected and owned by one parent company.
How to Remove Your Name from Data Collection Sites
It’s not hard to have your profile (or dossier!) removed. They usually have an “opt-out” page where you can put in some of your information, find your record, then hit the remove/opt-out button. They’re pretty quick. Your profile is usually gone within 24-48 hours.
Click here to read a recent Consumer Reports article with more specifics on how to remove yourself.
And here is another good one from the ReputationDefender website.
Like most situations where you want to block something or be removed from a list, websites have sprung up which, FOR A FEE, will do it for you. A few articles I found about how to get off the grid are actually sales pitches with offers embedded to entice you to sign up for their services.
You don’t need to spend money to remove yourself from personal data collection sites or remove outdated content on the Internet. Yes, it will take some time and it’s tedious, but you could always hire a tekkie friend you trust to do it for you.
How to Remove Outdated Online Content
The second thing to do is remove outdated information (links, photos, etc.) that search engines still show about you. They might be photos under Google or Bing images, links to old Tweets, Facebook posts and website pages that may no longer exist.
If you have a Google account, login and use their “remove outdated content” service by copying the link of the outdated content and paste it into their form. They too are pretty quick, usually removing the link from search results within a few days. This takes time if you’ve had a pretty active online presence.
Other Online Safety and Common Sense Tips
Being safer online (no one can ever be 100% safe) has taken on a whole new perspective given the proliferation of image-sharing sites and video. I’m no security expert, and I certainly don’t want to come across as paranoid, but here are a few common sense tips for yourself and those you care about:
- Before you post any photos, check the photo file name. Did you put the full name(s) of the subject(s) in the name of your image?
- Are you posting photos of children standing in front of their school or a house with the street address showing in the background?
- Are you shooting video in your house (or someone else’s), near your computer desktop where sticky notes reflect personal info or where the background of your webcam can pick up private or potentially embarrassing images?
- Do you regularly “check in” on social media sites or post about your whereabouts, in the moment? This provides a pattern of behavior that the bad guys can take advantage of.
- Are you posting about your upcoming “annual” vacation? Even if you share details about it after the fact, just mentioning it’s an annual vacation you take every July may be enough information to set you up for a burglary.
- Do you use public wifi to do your online banking or other shopping transactions? Unless you have signed up for a Virtual Private Network Client (VPN) for your devices, you may want to do your online shopping/banking at home. Click here to read a useful article from Wired on this topic.
- If you have a website, do your visitors/readers/customers a favor and spend the bucks to set your site up with an SSL certificate. You will know it by the HTTPS at the beginning of the URL (domain name) and little padlock in the URL versus HTTP. It amazes me how many website owners haven’t yet converted their sites. The cost is less than $75/year.
- Create a junk email account so you can subscribe to online offers, answer surveys, etc. without giving away your personal email.
- Please, please, please, do NOT send an email out to a ton of friends, colleagues or businesses and have everyone’s email address showing up in the “TO” field. Put YOUR email address in the “TO” field and put everyone else in the “BCC” field to protect their identity. Occasionally, someone in the group will decide they need to add everyone to their marketing/fundraising/political update list and before you know it, you’ll be getting all kinds of cr*p.
I love the publishing opportunities that come with the online world. For little or no money, we can promote our companies and causes, share ideas and useful information, make a living and make friends. But just like most things these days, it’s wise to think ahead to how information and images could be put to use, for better or worse. So, let’s be safe out there!