Friday, January 15, 2016

Bloggiesta Mini-Challenge: Protect Your Privacy Online

"Graffiti in Shoreditch, London - Zabou, Privacy" Photo by KylaBorg via Flickr.

As bloggers, we want to share stuff over the internet: our posts, first of all, plus cute cat videos, pictures of our dogs, our favorite TV shows, Benedict Cumberbatch doing anything, selfies, the list goes on.

But there's some stuff you DON'T want to share, and for very good reasons. Simple personal information like your name, address, phone, and birthday can leave you vulnerable to anything from harassment and stalking to hacking and identity theft. You don't need to be Mark Zuckerberg or a member of Anonymous to hack someone:

Neither of these hackers were trained specialists, they just used Google to get the information they needed, then followed the daisy chain of connected accounts and information to break the online lives of their victims wide open.

The good news is, you can still share what you want while keeping what you don't want to be known private. Rather than hurting your blog, this can help keep you safe from people online who want to stop you from posting your opinions and sharing your experiences–people like Kathleen Hale, who stalked and visited the home of a Goodreads reviewer; or, more recently, Richard Brittain, who went to the workplace of a teenage girl who left a one-star review of his book and physically attacked her.

Will these reviewers ever feel safe sharing things online again? Maybe-probably not. Should you feel safe? ABSOLUTELY YES, and you can do so by taking some relatively simple steps.

For this Bloggiesta Mini-Challenge, complete these nine steps to start protecting your privacy online. If you want, feel free to post about your results here or on your own blog.

1. The first step is awareness. Find out what information is available about yourself by googling your name, telephone number, home address, and social security number in quotes. Reverse image search recent photos of yourself. If you own domain name[s], do a Whois search on ICANN to make sure your name and address isn't public.

2. Lock your computer and all your devices with a password. Make sure your hard drive is encrypted.

3. View your Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ profiles as someone else to see what information a stranger can get access to. Then adjust the privacy settings to what you're comfortable with.

4. Tape over your webcam. The NSA aren't the only ones who can turn on your webcam and watch you without your knowing; there are programs anyone can download that will remotely operate someone's webcam. (Needless to say, this is particularly important for young girls with computers in their bedrooms. There is a huge black market online for photos from these hacked webcams.)

5. Install anti-tracking plug-ins on your web browser[s], like AdBlock Plus and Ghostery. Use more than one!!

6. Sign up for a free online VoIP, aka wifi-based phone number. Great for dating, Craigslist ads, and companies that require your number when you don't want to give it to them. I use Talkatone, but there are a ton available, including Google Voice.

7. Use different passwords on all your accounts. Edward Snowden casually mentioned in Citizenfour that the NSA can track a person based on their passwords (if you're like most people, you probably only use three or four). Well, guess what? This is another thing not just the NSA can do. Anyone with an internet connection can track and find you based on your passwords.

I know it's a HUGE pain in the ass, but passwords are one of the lynchpins of privacy, and in the long run using different, strong passwords for all your accounts is a safety measure that's worth it. Fortunately, password managers like 1Password and LastPass make it slightly easier to deal with, so check them out.

8. And speaking of accounts, if you have different blogs, use a different email address for each (you can have all your email forwarded to just one address). Another, slight pain in the ass that will prevent people from wiping out all your blogs in one go if they wish (see: Mat Honan, above). NEVER use "one email to rule them all." Multiplicity is your friend.

9. Think about getting a PO Box (you'll understand why when you Google your name and address). If you need to accept packages from services that don't ship to PO Boxes, companies like PostNet also provide mailbox services and accept packages from FedEx and UPS. It'll cost some money, but it will also go a long way towards preventing identity theft, RL stalking, and hacking.

There's a lot more you can do, of course, but these are the first and simplest steps.

Further information:

  • The Smart Girl's Guide to Privacy: A Practical Guide for Staying Safe Online by Violet Blue: This book is a must-read, whether you're a "girl" or not. Blue covers how to get your personal information removed from websites, what to do if someone hacks or doxxes you, how to fight back against revenge porn and identity theft, and a ton more ways to protect your privacy.
  • In this interview, Edward Snowden suggests some tools to keep your online activity private. They're all fairly simple to download and use, even if I've found Tor Browser to be impractical for everyday internetting (it is fascinating to see exactly what websites will and won't work on it, though).
  • How Much Does Google Really Know About You? [Infographic] I guarantee you'll be shocked by how many pies Google has its fingers in. I still use Google, of course, but now I'm more aware of what I use it for and what information they have.

Questions? Tips? Please share them in the comments.

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