Web users know that their information is floating around on the Internet because they intentionally share certain things–when they make purchases or use Google, for example–but most people don’t know the extent of what’s available about them or how to protect it.
Facebook has every friend request you’ve ever sent or received (or denied…awkward!), every conversation you’ve had in chats or messages, every video you’ve watched in your news feed, a database of your facial information, and every graph search you’ve ever done. It’s a massive amount of personal information that’s tough to put into perspective.
All this information amounts to a “virtual you” based on the sum of your online activities. Decisions are increasingly being made based on this virtual you, decisions like insurance rates, credit scores, and even employment opportunities. The consequences of doing nothing are growing and real.
The consequences of doing nothing are growing and real. We’ve seen things as benign as embarrassment to as real as loss of employment opportunities or becoming the victim of identity theft.
If you want to take action, there are a few simple things you can do today to improve your online privacy:
1. Guard your information.
Just because a website asks for your information doesn’t mean you have to share it. If you wouldn’t give out your phone number when you buy a shirt at the mall, then don’t give it out when you buy one online! If you absolutely must give it out, use an alias with sites you don’t trust. Start a separate email account for shopping and signing up for new accounts; don’t mix it with the address you use with friends and others you trust. And never, ever give Facebook your real phone number or email address: that’s how the connect the dots between what you do online and offline.
2. Stop secret tracking.
Each one of us is stalked by more than 630 tracking technologies and 200 companies that follow our every move online. But you can stop them! Our free privacy tool called Blur that blocks this kind of tracking and shows you who’s trying to track you on each site you visit.
3. Take back social control.
Facebook lets you set privacy settings, so take advantage of them. We specifically recommend turning OFF tag suggestions, turning ON tag and profile review, and only sharing with friends (here’s how to do all of these things). If you’re sharing with friends of friends, more than 150,000 people on average can see your info. And unless you’re Lady Gaga, let’s face it–you don’t have that many friends.
4. Delete what’s out there.
More than 200 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: stalkers, potential employers, anyone. We have a subscription service called DeleteMe that removes your information from the biggest sites like these for $129 a year, or you can do it yourself with our instructions.
5. If you don’t like it, speak up.