NCSAM Tip #9: Anonymity Online — Profile Management for Personal Safety

October 13, 2011 - 0 Comments

Social networking sites like Facebook are great tools for connecting with friends and keeping up-to-date with the good and bad things that are going on in your social circles. Unfortunately, the kind and amount of personal information that makes for great social networking can be used by people with bad intentions to cause real, physical harm. Sound far-fetched? After a referee made a controversial call in a baseball game, someone with his same name received threats meant for the ref. Today’s security awareness tip is about profile management: developing habits that help you to stay in control of the information that’s available about you online, to keep you safe in the real world.

You have probably already heard good tips from the news about profile management and not even known it at the time. Tips like “don’t post about your vacation until you get back” are simple ways to stay in control of how many people know when your house will be empty, or your belongings unprotected. This is the same kind of advice that my mom gave me when she was teaching me to answer the telephone, back when I was first old enough to be home alone: “Don’t tell callers that I’m not home; just say ‘Mom is unavailable; may I take a message?'”

The unfortunate thing about profile management is that it must be practiced in advance in order for it to be effective for the emergencies when you need it most. Here are some things you can think about doing now, or in the future, to lower your profile and hopefully avoid some unintended consequences:

  • Keep things separate: Don’t use your real name or address if you don’t have to; use different account names at different sites. Software password managers can help keep things straight, securely.
  • Be as general as you can be: Information stored on the Internet isn’t likely to go away, ever. Every time you’re more detailed than you need to be, you add another piece to the puzzle.
  • Know what you’re sharing: When you post photos or videos from your phone, GPS information might be included, and even a point-and-shoot camera adds information about itself to your pictures

We live in a society and an era when “always-on, always-connected” is becoming the norm. But at times, things that we do and say may need to be more private, more circumspect. Managing a low profile in advance can make it easier to reach out electronically if you want to seek help about sensitive topics; it can help you to avoid retribution for potentially unpopular opinions; or it can simply protect you from being harassed if you are mistaken for someone else.

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