11 Ways to Protect Your Private Information and Personal Reputation Online in 2011

By simply typing your name into any one of the thousands of search engines in existence, a complete stranger could easily discover some rather private information about you. In this well-developed age of internet-based social networking, in which the intimate details of many are widely accessible, this fact might not be alarming. But did you know that employers are now commonly scouring the web for details regarding potential new hires? And when they type in your name and find a compromising picture of you on that ‘Pimps and Hoes’ themed bar crawl from your university days, they are assuredly going to draw their own, unfavorable conclusions. As a result of such discoveries, your reputation, both online and off, can be irreparably tarnished. A picture says a thousand words? Not all of

them kind. In the business world, the continued vitality of your business or career is dependent on your good name. Are you also aware that one seemingly meager piece of private information can give criminals valuable ammunition to use against you? Securing your personal information is not simply a privacy-related issue, it is also vital to preventing identify theft.

How do you prevent these assaults to your reputation, livelihood, and personal safety via the internet? And, more to the point, how do you protect yourself if the damage has already been done and some image, comment or other bit of information has reached the masses via a social networking site, blog, website, forum, or other source? Sadly, there isno way to completely shield yourself from the many threats that exist to your personal information and reputation online, but there are valuable and proactive actions you can take to minimise this danger. Once something is on the internet, it pretty much exists there forever in some form, as search engines keep cached copies of web pages – effectively your footprint – and many sites archive them so even content that’s been removed can sometimes still be retrieved.

1. Begin by Discovering and Monitoring Every Use of Your Name, Information, and Image Online

People Search Engines like kgbPeople perform a comprehensive search of the web for any and all information about a particular person, using search engines, social networks, and other picture and video sites to develop a comprehensive list of all mentions. The results are then gathered instantaneously and listed before your very eyes. This will get the ball rolling when it comes to monitoring and managing your online reputation, as well as the information being divulged to the masses. However, tracking should never be a one time event. If you want to effectively manage the information about you out there on the web, monitoring and management should become a habitual part of your online routine.

2. Identify Troublesome Information on Your Social Networking Profiles and Modify Accordingly

There are many personal details you should completely avoid disclosing on social networking sites, the most common of which being Facebook. This can help protect you and your loved ones from severe violations to privacy, and even threats to your financial safety. After reviewing your results on a people search engine like kgbPeople, carefully consider what information you are comfortable making very, very public. In fact, you may be unwittingly giving your profile publicity by inputting common information about school and work histories, contact information, friends, groups, and networks. As a general rule, you should never reveal your complete birth date. Under no circumstances should you ever give out your phone numbers or home address. Consider halting use of your full name, and instead abbreviate your last name, create a pen name, or develop an alternative screen name. Also consider altering your full, or professional, name so that there is now a middle initial or middle name in use. Delete any descriptions of your participation, or even remote affiliation, in illegal or distasteful behaviour. Do not state opinions or information about yourself that could be in any way used against you. Refrain from shouting political views and religious affiliations from the rooftops, as these can often be polarising. Remove comments posted by others that could become troublesome. Too much specificity in your profile can also serve as an invitation to potential identity thieves and other criminals. With regard to Twitter, you may want to alter your user name to something unassociated with your name or identity and, of course, protect your tweets unless you want to allow the unfollowing world access to everything you say.

3. Try the Old-Fashioned, Nice Approach to Rectifying Issues

The most troublesome information on the web is often put there by those beyond your control. In this case, the simplest approach may just turn out to be the best approach. When people search engines post the results of your search, you can then view the origin of every reference to you and your personal information. When you find something defamatory, incorrect or in any way harmful to you, your reputation, your finances, or your career, contact that particular person or source and ask them to remove the content at issue. In many cases, the culprit is nothing more than a family member or friend who, in a blasé fashion, failed to realise what damage could be incurred by unflattering content. Do not contact the search engines. They will simply reject your request, as their business is to report what exists on the internet at large, and not to make subjective decisions about what is appropriate or damaging.

4. Address the Criticisms of Others

If the negative content is legitimate, attempt to mitigate or even apologise on whatever site the criticism originally appeared. Also, give others a forum to voice their criticisms or other input. Your willingness to address ‘bad press’ may actually reflect well on you. In other circumstances, you may want to approach your problem directly and offline. However, refrain from being aggressive or threatening and instead be constructive and suggest realistic solutions or changes.

5. Bury the Bad Stuff with the Good

Tragically, there is no ‘delete’ button to control the information populating the web. Instead, try rebuilding your online reputation by developing the image you want to project to the watching world. Do not allow the negative commentary to be all that anyone sees when they search your name or business online. Consider obtaining all online property with your name, and set up accounts on all popular social networking sites and other web-related sources. Then, build profiles for yourself or your business. Start a blog specifically related to your career, posting information regarding your industry, upcoming events, charity affiliations, and other newsletter-type content. Find supporters who will advertise your positive attributes online via blog mentions, links, and the like. Actively work to earn a quality reputation in your field by producing articles and blogging for various respected online publications. Join mailing lists that are frequently indexed on search engines such as Google, and join websites that will also index your name. Sign up for alumni pages and other professional networks. All of these activities will effectively bury the negative stuff deep down the search results page, and quite frankly, not many people look beyond the first few pages.

6. Improve and Customise Your Privacy Settings

After reviewing the results of your personal search online, you may be alarmed by just how freely sites are publishing your private information. Even if you maintain fairly impersonal and sanitised social networking profiles, be certain to utilise all available privacy settings in order to block strangers, and even some ‘friends’, from easily accessing your personal information. That ‘limited profile’ option is there for a reason. Take the time to thoroughly examine each social networking website’s privacy policy, including their information sharing practices with regard to advertisers and third parties. Determine what information each site will share by default and with whom, and then actively use those controls to better protect yourself and your private information. For instance, Facebook’s defaults generally share almost everything included in your profile. If you have never addressed your privacy settings, then your Facebook profile is unfortunately being shared with everyone in every network to which you belong. Thankfully, Facebook offers a wide variety of privacy control settings to address the information you share on your profile, the information people see when they search for you, your interactions with others, and your application usage. Set your profile so that only friends, or select friends, can view it. Allow no-one to see your contact email address and adjust your wall posting visibility to control who can view wall postings made by your friends, as well as who can post to your wall. Simply go to the ‘Privacy Settings’ section on your profile page and adjust accordingly. To avoid the intricacies of the privacy settings, simply set your profile to ‘No Networks’ so that many of the settings will remain inactive. You can make yourself unsearchable to search engines and opt out of all social networking site-specific search results. If you uncheck the option referencing your public search listing, then you will entirely shut down this practice. With regards to MySpace, the privacy controls are much less extensive, so you should be wary of all information you share there. This also applies to a LinkedIn profile, as the site defaults allow your entire profile to be viewed by all. However, there are ways to limit this unfettered sharing on LinkedIn. You can turn off your public profile so that no one outside of your network can view your information. Also, under the ‘Profile Views’ section, you can set limits for what will be shown to other users after you view their profiles. However, no matter how many privacy settings you utilise, always assume that savvy internet users will be able to access your information to some degree.

7. Closely Manage Your Photos and Albums

One bad photo can severely damage your career and your personal relationships. A cursory review of your photographic timeline could also give criminals valuable insight into your life. At the very least, you may suffer some traumatic personal embarrassment. Most people search engines will provide image results that are associated with your name. Quite possibly the most troublesome part of this freewheeling photo exchange is the practice of tagging on Facebook. Change your settings so that only you, or a select number of people, can view your tagged photographs. Also, the photographs and albums that you post can be limited in terms of friend access. However, you must address these concerns on an album-by-album basis.

8. Modify Your Friend Lists

Take full advantage of your ability to create private groupings of friends based on personal preferences. Beyond the fact that these separate lists allow you to quickly view friends and send messages by category, they can also have specific and separate privacy policies applied to each of them. That way, your friends can see your wild party photos from last weekend, while your parents cannot. Also, this gives you the opportunity to limit the access of mere acquaintances to some very private information that could be used against you. Configure these customised friend lists by visiting the ‘Friends’ section of Facebook. Categorising your friends will also help you stay up-to-date on your privacy control needs.
9. Reevaluate Your Decision to Associate Your Personal Profile With Work
Seemingly everyone networks online to some extent, but you risk some serious trouble when you enter your more personal sentiments into the same equation. When you start entering into conversations on diverse, and sometimes controversial or stigmatising subjects, you will want to strongly consider whether your company name and/or reputation could become intertwined with these opinions. You also risk introducing your business associates to your after-work-hours drama. You may want to consider separating your social networking profiles, maintaining separate ones for work and for leisure. Also, avoid utilising the same email address for both personal and professional functions.

10. Become Wary of Who You ‘Friend’ or Associate With Online

There are people out there who pride themselves on having, literally, thousands of friends. But realistically, no one can possibly have that many personal relationships. As a consequence, this allows your profile and information to become entangled with morepeople and networks than it ever should, many of those people being virtual strangers to the person who befriended them to begin with. This puts your personal safety, financial security, and reputation into jeopardy.

11. Think Before You Post

By heightening your self-consciousness and policing your online lifestyle, you can help ensure that embarrassing or otherwise damaging posts, photos, gossip, or other information does not emerge. Step outside of yourself and think carefully about the many ways within the realm of possibility that any post, photo, or blog entry could be construed negatively. Think before you post, and make certain to never post a status update that you may later regret. Never freely give out personal information that could then be utilised by the criminal fraternity, especially in light of the fact that identity theft continues to be a worldwide issue. Beyond the fact that this could become detrimental to your very livelihood, this information could also undermine your professional standing and put you into direct conflict with business associates and others. After all, it is now common practice for Facebook pages to be used as part of the general background check process for employers, universities, clubs, and more.

Try checking up on your own profile by typing your name into the box below:

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