Controlling your online data and privacy

In the wake of the ‘Facebook data scandal‘ it seems a pertinent time to write a blog post I’ve been thinking about for a while – sharing my tips and experiences for controlling my online data and privacy.

Some people may not have thought much about this until the news broke that Facebook had shared and used people’s data in some dubious ways (shock horror!), however, many librarians and people in the information services industries have been harping on about these risks for years.

So, if you haven’t already, what are some simple things you can do to get on top of your data and maintain your privacy online?

If you’re like me, you don’t necessarily want to jump on the #deletefacebook bandwagon. I find Facebook a really useful tool for keeping in touch with international friends, and organising invitations to events. I don’t post much and with a few tweaks I’m not too concerned about the data Facebook has on me (you can actually download the data to see what has been collected since you signed up if you are curious).

So here’s some of my tips for personal social media pages:

  1. Don’t use your real name. Don’t even use one that is close to your real name. Using first name and middle name still isn’t anonymous enough for me! This means people can’t Google you and find your Facebook profile. And any data that is collected can’t be linked to you as a specific individual.
  2. Don’t add any unnecessary info. Facebook (and other sites) will ask for your phone number, your date of birth, your workplace, links to your family members profile and more. Don’t give away this personal information! It uniquely identifies who you are and gives away all sorts of information for advertisers etc.
  3. If you really want to stay anonymous, don’t have your face in any profile or cover pictures. Unlike photo’s you are ‘tagged’ in, which usually only friends (or friends of friends) can see, these pictures are public and anyone can see them. No point having a fake name and then having your face right there showing off who you are!
  4. Don’t use the ‘login using Facebook’ on other websites – create an actual account in their system. This stops all your Facebook data being accessible by these third parties.
  5. Get into the settings and turn EVERYTHING OFF! Turn of location, turn off apps, turn off search engines finding your profile, turn it all off!! Here’s some step by step instructions for doing so, as written in The Conversation. Don’t stop there, look through all the settings, there are some on what information is shared with advertisers – OFF! Systematically go through each section and turn it all off. Un-sync everything. Go into your phone settings and turn it all off for all your apps. Turn off apps accessing your contacts and microphone and photos and location. I can tell you, I don’t link any of my online profiles (other than professional profiles where I WANT my info out there to get employed, see below), never synced anything with ‘iCloud’, and only very rarely share my location (i.e. with Maps app when I’m using it), and it has not made my life one bit more difficult. You don’t need these companies to control all your data for you, it’s not that hard to DIY!
  6. Keep your personal and professional social media seperate. Use your real name in your professional accounts and only post about professional things. For example, you could create a professional Twitter and link it to your professional LinkedIn account. Only put in information that you WANT to be publicly found so you look great to employers. Don’t put in any unnecessary personal information.

Ok, so now you’re a bit more in control. There’s one more thing to do. Get control of your passwords. Most people use the same password for everything (I was guilty of this too, who can remember more than one?!), but this is a nightmare if something gets hacked. With almost every aspect of your life being online, don’t risk someone getting access to your bank accounts or stealing your identity.

There is a simple way to solve this problem. Get a password manager. Many are free, I use LastPass. You make one very strong (but easy to remember) password, make sure you have ‘two-factor authentication’ on (i.e. texts to your mobile phone), and store all the complex passwords in this program. It will auto-generate these passwords for you and save them as you go. It takes a little while to set-up the first time but once it’s done, you can feel a lot more secure. The Checkout did a great video explaining these Password Managers:

Now sit back and enjoy, feels good to be in control doesn’t it?

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