Anonymity and You

August 06, 2011

With the way things are in the world today (see: photo identification, online security doesn’t exist), it’s your best bet to re-evaluate how much of your personal information is accessible online. Let’s get something straight before we get into the nitty gritty:

Personal information consists of any information that pertains to ‘YOU’. This could be your name, address, age, location, photos of you, etc. (The list goes on…)

Maintaining your identity on the internet can be a challenge, especially when companies are constantly introducing new changes to their privacy policy. Of course, the best way to stay up to date on privacy policies would be to read them every time a new change is made. Unfortunately, most of the time we are never made aware of these changes until something big happens and they end up in the news. Lo and behold, fear privacy policy changes no more- If you’d like to preserve (or restore) your anonymity on the internet, it’s as simple as limiting the information you share.

Now before we jump to big conclusions, lets test the waters. To do this, perform a quick Google search (web and image) on your name and see how many results show personal information. You might be surprised to see that several third party websites are allowing search engines to index the accounts you’ve linked from social media networks.

Instead of going on-and-on about risk factors, I’ve come up with a list of suggestions on how to wipe your internet identity nearly clean:

  • Stop contributing personal information to the internet- If you want to continue sharing, do so under an alias / screen name (they were popular in the 90’s).
  • If your name is currently your username on any website, change it! Some websites even have a field for your full name, so be sure to remove it or change it to something made up. (Search engines will re-index the pages over time and your name will disappear from search results).
  • If you are ever required to use your first and last name on a website (ie. social media)… then make one up! You’re probably safe using your real first name, but make up a last name! No one has to know it isn’t your real last name except you and your friends.
  • Delete any publicly available personal information from search results. For example: Google your name, visit each result, and remove any posts or data that links back to you.
  • If you come across any accounts you no longer access, try to gain access back into them and delete them. Many websites give you the option to deactivate or delete your account completely.
  • Search for your name and address under Whitepages and remove any listings with your information.
  • Create a new email for strictly personal use. You should only use this email for communication between people you know or trust. Use another email address for every newsletter you subscribe to or website you join. This alternative email should not have any personal information. (Tip! A first name is as personal as the internet should get.)
  • Explore the privacy settings and policies found on websites you frequent. Be sure to limit information to “Friends only” or “Circles only” and always opt out of indexing yourself in search results.

This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of basic anonymity. If you want to protect yourself even further, you’ll need to dig much deeper into the internet and scavenge your personal information.

Tom Beute

Written by Tom Beute– a Christian, barista, and software engineer.