Our now alumni Brett Schultz explains the importance of keeping ourselves safe in the internet, and how important it is to take charge of what we do, and say on it as well.
We keep our doors locked and our addresses shared on a need to know basis. I certainly wouldn’t advertise where I live and when I leave – so why stop being secure when it comes to the Internet? It’s good security smarts to monitor your internet presence. You never know who could be searching you right now. I will explain how to go about the daunting task of cleaning up your online presence.
You have an online presence, like it or not. At the very least, your name, age, address, family members, and phone numbers are listed on online directories like White Pages and Spokeo. Having online accounts, specifically social media, yields even more results. A simple search of your name can tell anyone more than what you probably want them to know. Hackers don’t sit at a computer and use crazy software programs and brute force hacking techniques. Hackers make a career out of simply searching the right phrases and learning a lot about you over a few days’ time to then penetrate your account or do some other malicious act like rob your house when you are away.
Your latest post is a picture of a sunset on the beach. Hmm. Vacation, I presume? A hacker may phone a robber with this information. Another scenario: employers will search your name to see if you have any inappropriate pictures or activities that may violate their code of conduct and will use this information to against you, regardless if it was from your account or your friends. Last, your data is being harvested and processed by supercomputers every day to analyze the latest marketing trends with the goal of making your shopping experience better, but if it falls into the wrong hands, such as Cambridge Analytica, it’s no longer being used for good.
In Europe, there is legislation requires all social media and online accounts with your information to include an option that allows you to delete the information. In America, there is no such legislation. American legislation is very far behind when it comes to the internet and will probably continue to remain this way for a long time.
Can we maintain a safe and minimal online presence?
The short answer: yes. The long answer is that it will take time. Let us use the example of Instagram. Your Instagram is currently open and anyone can see your posts. Even if your posts are clean, have you even given thought to who sees your profile? If you would not want a billboard of your post put up for the world to see – then lock down your account by making it private. To be honest, company’s social media accounts get more hits than billboards do, and this may be the same for you.
The first step is to simply keep track of all the social media accounts you have and used to have. How many accounts do you actively log into? How many accounts do you have that you no longer use? If you can, try logging into those used accounts and delete or deactivate them. If you still use accounts, be sure to look through the settings and make sure it is set to private mode, only friends can view your profile, and data sharing is turned off. Look through all the other settings as well and ensure that your email and phone are correct in case you need to recover your account due to a hack or forget your password. I recently covered how you can secure your Facebook account, and I would encourage you to start with Facebook because it is the most popular spot for data sharing.
The next step, after combing through all your accounts, is searching past usernames. Then search your name, starting with your first and last. Add your middle initial. Now your full middle name. Search your name followed by your state or past states you lived in. Change your state to your county. Then, last, change your county to your city. What do you find? If you are lucky, nothing exciting except for online people directories. If you want to disappear from the internet, and I would recommend doing so, you will need to contact each directory individually to remove your information. There is no easy way about doing so and each company decides how the removal process works. We’re not in Europe where it must be an automated feature the user can use.
In Europe, legislation called General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR allows all individuals the right control their personal data. Also known as “The Right to be Forgotten,” this legislation is a regulation that insures all business allow some method for the user to easily request that their data be deleted.
Keeping a clean online presence.
Say no to when people try to take your picture at parties. This can easily jeopardize your job. Frequently check pictures, comments and posts that you were tagged in. Even if that direct post is clean, is the profile of the poster? In other words, are the profiles around you also clean? The stronger your connection to another profile, the more likely it is going to come up in the “People you may know,” or “Suggested” areas. Many employers will look for everything they can. While this may seem unfair, would you want to work for a firm that has profiles of their workers doing inappropriate things?
Not only does this affect you, but the places you do business with as well. We all look at online reviews for business we have never used before, and it is perfectly natural to look at the “Staff” page of a business site and search names. You read a description of an employee who shares the same hobby of you, say, mountain biking. You want to know if they are a member of the same club as you are, and so you dig deeper. All you wanted was to develop an icebreaker with the person. But, your search leads you to a troubling discovery. You found their Instagram profile (it was easy, it had a mountain bike profile picture) but their latest post showed them chugging at a party like there was no tomorrow. You begin to have doubts about the competency and professionalism of the staff and decided to try another business. It happens more than you think. Google or profile search their name on Instagram. You see a mountain bike as the profile picture, but you also see a hard-core partier screaming at the TV during a football game with a red solo cup in his hand. You are turned off by this behavior and move on to other companies to do use. Preferably, ones that make you feel comfortable by maintaining a level of professionalism.
Not only does locking down your accounts prevent people from knowing everything you posted on there, you are also making yourself safe. Stalking is a real threat to everybody. With technology, stalkers or people with bad intentions can must more easily spend time in front of a computer and gain more information about you and your schedule than they could just sitting in a car on your street. All it takes is linear leaps of logic to hop around search results and
If you are having trouble cleaning up your online presence or have a request for a future technology article, send a message to FSJ@racc.edu, with a mention of your tech troubles in the subject.