If there is one positive thing that the recent Facebook privacy changes have brought, it is a raised awareness about the fact that we ourselves are the best guardians of our information. People have begun realizing that it is better to remove some information from their various social-networking accounts and blogs that can be tied to them.
There is one problem, though. We might have not thought about it when we first started using these networks, but by now it has become obvious that once you put something online, it will usually stay there indefinitely. Yes, you can take down pages and deactivate accounts, but search engines (and especially search engines that look for people, like Pipl and snitch.name) have an uncanny ability to spit out information that you don’t even remember putting online.
And sometimes, the problem is not about what you put on the Internet, but what somebody else publishes about you. There are services out there that can help you manage your online reputation, but your first step towards damage control should definitely be to use the search engines to your advantage and search far and wide for your name and its variations. What you will do next depends on what you find, but you must definitely look into the possibility to take down every piece of information that can come back and haunt you.
Also, from now on, it is a smart move to read user agreements and privacy statements whenever you are asked to fork over sensitive information because you are applying for something you want. Granted that – as we have witnessed in the Facebook case – these statements are liable to change over time, so keeping an eye on the company’s announcements is definitely in order.
Tony Bradley also suggests that you should delete any account you no longer use. Sometimes this can be a more difficult process than it should, but it can be done. Just don’t expect the data to instantly disappear from the Internet just because you decided it should. Use the Google Dashboard to check and remove various information that Google’s services keep about you. Google also gives you the option to remove pages or sites from its search results.
WhitePages.com also allows you to change information connected to you. Twitter allows you to delete tweets you deem unsuitable, and there are tools out there – such as TwitWipe – that can delete your entire tweet history in one fell swoop.
If you want some information to be deleted and you can’t do it yourself, ask the site or the service that put it online to delete it. If they refuse, try to enlist the help of privacy watchdog groups such as the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation). And while you’re at it, start using the private browsing features some browsers offer.
Yes, the time has come when being a little paranoid is actually a good thing, and you must start taking responsibility for the things you do or put online.