5 ways to disappear from the web like Katie Holmes during her divorce


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Katie Holmes is allegedly protecting her digital tracks during her hyper-public split from Tom Cruise to keep him from contacting her, using tactics like disposable phones.  But celebrities’ struggles for online privacy is nothing new:  Kim Kardashian had to change her phone number after her makeup artist accidentally tweeted it; Anna Kournikova has a stalker who inundates her with emails; Scarlett Johansson’s phone was hacked and her nude photos leaked.  Even if you’re not a celebrity, you might have good reasons to improve your online privacy.

Whether you want to hide from your ex or keep the paparazzi off your back, here are 5 celebrity secrets you can use to make yourself harder to find online.

1.  Stop broadcasting your geolocation

Lots of the apps and websites you use every day are sharing your location with the world.  If you want to go off the map, you have to stop them.  Some are obvious, like Foursquare and Facebook Places check-ins.  Also make sure that you’re turning off geotagging on Twitter:  go to Settings, then make sure to uncheck the box next to “Add a location to my Tweets.”  Be aware that some third-party apps can access your public social network checkins and literally put you on the radar, like the controversial Girls Around Me app did.Other uses of your location aren’t as obvious, like your smartphone recording the GPS location where you snapped a photo and appending it to that photo’s metadata.  Disabling this feature depends on your specific device (find steps for popular phones from the I Can Stalk U project), but one  general safety tip is to turn off your phone’s GPS connection when you don’t need it.

2.  Unlist yourself from the phonebooks of the Internet

More than 180 different companies, called data brokers, publicly post your family’s names, photos of your house, your estimated net worth, and more, and they’re selling this info to anyone who’s interested: your ex, stalkers, potential employers, anyone.  One example is the site Spokeo.com.  Take a second now to visit Spokeo and search for yourself; we’ll wait.  You’ll probably be shocked by what comes up.  The site actually lets you track celebrities in real time, like this info on where Katie Holmes has been by the hour:

Abine has a subscription service called DeleteMe that removes your information from the biggest sites like these for $99 a year, and posts do-it-yourself removal instructions.

3. Clean up your friends lists

It’s obvious, but I’ll say it anyway:  you shouldn’t be friends with anyone that you don’t want to have a real-time, personal look into your life.  Be aware that anyone could create a new account under a made-up persona just to keep tabs on you, so start being choosy about which friend requests you accept.

Limiting your privacy settings to “friends only” doesn’t mean much if you’ve accepted every friend request you’ve ever received.  In fact, sharing with “friends of friends” on Facebook exposes your info to an average of 150,000 people.  Make a rule about how you’ll organize your friends and stick to it as you go down the list.  Your rule could be “I’ll defriend the person if we’ve never met in public,” or “I’ll defriend if we haven’t spoken in the last 3 years.”

4.  Own your social network privacy settings

Privacy settings can be confusing, but it’s important to take advantage of them.  Check out 7 tips to go private on Facebook in 7 minutes.  The list recommends turning OFF tag suggestions, turning ON tag and profile review, and only sharing with friends when you use Facebook.  Anther tip is to protect your tweets by going to Settings, then check the box next to “Protect my Tweets.”

5.  Set up Google Alerts on your name

Even after you lock down your data with the steps above, you still may be leaking personal information from unexpected places.  Luckily, Google Alerts make it easy to stay on top of any references about you by emailing you whenever it discovers any new mentions of your name.

To set up alerts, go to http://www.google.com/alerts.  Type in the term that you want to monitor–most likely, it will be the name you use most often, along with any other terms that will help narrow down the results to you and not someone with a similar name (like “celebrity” or “teacher”).  Under “Result type,” select “Everything.”  Under “How often,” select “As it happens.”  This selection ensures you’ll see mentions when they happen, not after the fact.  Under “How many,” select “All results.”  Enter an email where you’d like your results delivered, hit “CREATE ALERT,” and you’re done.  Now you’ll know whenever you’re publicly mentioned online.

We hope our tips put you well on your way to managing your own personal paparazzi!

12 Replies to “5 ways to disappear from the web like Katie Holmes during her divorce”

  1. Lisa Ostella says:

    >>>More than 180 different companies, called data brokers, publicly post your family’s names, photos of your house, your estimated net worth, and more, and they’re selling this info to anyone who’s interested: your ex, stalkers, potential employers, anyone.

    Why isn’t that treated as identity theft? Do we own our own identity?

    • Sarah Downey says:

      It’s technically public record information and isn’t classified as sensitive. All of that information is available through your local records offices, and it’s legal. Our problem with people search databases is that they compile a lot more info than we’ve seen before, a lot of it’s inaccurate, and the context of public records has changed a lot since the 1980s when these laws were enacted.

  2. Lisa Ostella says:

    I respectfully disagree. Where is the public record from renting? The address(es) where a person lived as a minor? Unlisted phone numbers? Birth certificates with a person’s birth name vs. their legal name?

    The information is being taken from public and nonpublic information and compiled into identity reports. That is a persons identity that is being sold. It is almost like fencing.

    Where is the public interest in doing this to private citizens? And since the data brokers don’t know what everyone’s situtation is, it could be said it is offensive to a reasonable person because of crimes like stalking and threats.

    Is there any chance that Abine will be adding a webpage with attorneys that are privacy experts? State bars don’t list their specialties. And these situtations often cross licensing jurisdictions.


  3. Winston Smith says:

    I don’t do social networking. Never had a Facebook or Twitter or Foursquare. Does that make me relatively safer online?

    • Sarah Downey says:

      It does, actually. A lot of sites scrape information from social networks to sell to third parties like advertisers, so by not having profiles, you’re limiting the amount of data that others can find out about you.

      • Winston Smith says:

        I don’t do social networking, but I’m on the Internet A LOT. Just wondering if I’m still at risk. Wouldn’t it be even creepier if I’m not on Facebook or Twitter, and they STILL find out a lot of stuff about me? Is that even possible?

        • Sarah Downey says:

          Unfortunately, your data is collected through many different methods: social networks are just one. There are sources you can’t really control, like your driver’s license, birth certificate, utility bills, and real estate documents; those are combined with info you voluntarily give out, but might not know is collected by data brokers and third party companies, like rebates, warranties, supermarket rewards cards, and signups for online accounts. Then there are data sources you probably weren’t even aware of, like the hundreds of different companies that follow and track your every move online, from clicks to purchases to site visits. We made our DoNotTrackPlus add-on to block those. In sum, companies are picking up your digital trail wherever you go, whether or not you’re using social networks.

  4. well winsson says:

    there are 99 Winston Smith in usa so with a name like yours it’s harder to track than some.
    But go to spokeo.com put your street .and you can find everone that has ever lived at your add.I put in mine and it even said I have pets??? wtf? super spooky.

  5. Roy says:

    Relative to what? I suppose you’re “relatively” safer than someone else who uses the exact same OS, browser, add-ons, plug-ins, extensions & security software as you do who do uses Facebook, etc.

    A lot also depends on what you consider “safe.”

    I use Firefox because it works well with various privacy apps such as Abine Privacy Suite and I make sure my OS (Windows XP SP3) and browsers are always up to date. I also use one anti-virus program in real time (AVG) and have a backup AV program (MalwareBytes) that I run once a wk or so because no 2 AV programs have exactly the same virus library. I also use a password manager (Keepass Password Safe) and try to avoid using Google’s search engine whenever possible, I usually use Startpage or Ixquick although Google still seems to be the best overall search engine.

    I also test my firewall occasionally to make sure all the major ports are in stealth mode.

  6. Harvey says:

    If a website’s policy is, they won’t take down slanderous material posted about you by others unless they have a court order. And civil courts can and do take years, what are the options to have that material removed?

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