The internet. A place where you can be you. Anonymous and safe. Not!
Don’t be deceived by the perception that everything you do online appears to be rather unreal or “in game”. All your traces will lead back to you. In the worst case scenario, people you least wish to spot your faults and failures will discover your “other side”. Read on if you’re worried or want to avoid mistakes in the future.
Why you should worry!
Every person with access to the internet knows search engines (e.g. Google) and search engines know you. Search engines naturally collect all the data they can get a hold of. And everyone who knows you may be interested in finding out more about you.
For example your boss or the company you would like to work for or your girlfriend or that stalker who has a crush on you. What are the things they should rather not know about you? Signing up for a dating website for example is harmless, unless your significant other finds out about it. Worried, yet?
How bad is it?
Ever googled your name or your eMail address? Instead of Google you may also try Spock, the people search engine. At Spock you can claim your own results, edit or improve your profile and monitor new information coming in.
So what do these searches reveal? Anything your family or a potential employer may find disturbing? Hopefully not!
What can you do to protect your privacy?
Set up an alternative disposable eMail address and use fake name generator to browse incognito. That way you can more or less anonymously engage in private activities that should not be discovered by the wrong people.
Obviously, if you’re using a public computer, make sure you erase all your traces, like cookies, browsing history, passwords, cache etc.
Don’t post intimidating pictures on social networks or anywhere else for that matter, you don’t know who may find them.
Generally, the safest way to stay out of trouble is to avoid trouble. Simply act like the sympathetic and professional person you wish to be perceived as. At least when you’re using your vital data.
Rather than be completely under the radar and remove all personal information about yourself from the web, you should remain searchable! Because what would be more suspicious than fishy information? No information at all!
Take advantage of the system and do use your real name and your main eMail address in the right places. Make sure people will easily find good things when searching for you and don’t make them dig deep.
For example register a domain or sign up with a career website like Xing or LinkedIn. On these sites you can create the profile you want others to see. Feed it with honest facts about yourself and make connections that matter. Don’t be afraid to mention your private online projects, like websites, forums or blogs, if they are safe and may be relevant for a future career.
What to do when it’s too late?
If information has leaked into the World Wide Web that you would have liked to conceal, it’s almost too late. But you may be able to partially revert the leak and hide it. Is your eMail address pointing to an ugly forum? Go there and change your eMail address. Simply go ahead and tackle the search results one after the other and see what data you can change or remove.
Finally, hope that none of the details were cached. If it’s really bad you may want to hire professionals to help remove information from servers and databases.
Just in case your searches have revealed that someone writes libelous things about you, Ryan recently published a great article about How to Remove False Information about Yourself on the Internet. Good luck!