Saturday, October 25, 2014

Online Privacy

Last week, an essay by young adult author Kathleen Hale was published in The Guardian, detailing a time when Hale stalked a woman who had posted a negative review of Hale's book on Goodreads. Since then, there has been much discussion online about what this means for book bloggers and privacy, so I thought I'd share some useful tips I've found about online privacy.

But first, let's talk about why it's important.

As evidenced by Kathleen Hale's situation, people can find out a lot about other people online. Once you have someone's address, it's really easy to plug that address in to something like Google Maps, and not only see where on the map that person is, but you can also see satellite pictures of the house. Now, there might not be much you can do about that, but this isn't the only reason online privacy matters.

It matters because any information you put online will never go away. You can delete a photo you posted to Facebook, remove a blog post you wrote, or delete something you Tweeted about, but that doesn't mean it's gone. Why? Because people can save things you post online. Pictures you post can be downloaded and saved. Things you Tweet can be saved as screenshots. And, as the website iKeepSafe points out, you never know what search engines have crawled your information and stored it.

And all of that matters because the details you share online can reveal information about you that you wouldn't otherwise want people to have: where you work, your habits, the places to which you travel.

So, what can you do?

Use a pseudonym

Many of the things I've been reading strongly recommend not using your real name, and instead using pseudonyms online. While this might work for you on Twitter or a blog, it might not work as well on Facebook. It's entirely a personal preference, but be aware that if you use your real name on your social networking sites, it makes it just a little easier to find you. Do a Google search for your name, putting your name in quotes (e.g., "John Doe"). You'd be surprised at what you might find.

Get a post office box

Depending on how you use social media, you might also want to get a post office box. For most of us, this probably isn't a concern, as we typically don't post our addresses online; however, as the Kathleen Hale situation shows us, it's sometimes beneficial to have a post office box that you can use online instead of your address, if you need to do online shopping, if you review products online that have to be mailed to you, etc.

Don't talk about where you are

Many of us love to talk about what we're doing. We use Facebook's check in feature, we post photos of our vacations, and we love to tell our social media followers what we're up to at any given time. And while this is okay for some things--say, if you're want to tell your followers about the amazing book you're reading--it's not as okay for other things.

If you want to talk about your amazing vacation or the day you had at the zoo, that's awesome; however, it might be best to not use Facebook's check in feature and to not post about where you are until you get home. While I've known that not posting online about being on vacation is a good idea, I had never considered not posting about being at the zoo while I'm actually at the zoo. It makes sense, though. If you're posting about your day at the zoo while you're there, guess what? It's now easier to find you. It also means people know you aren't home, so you've made your home vulnerable to break ins.

Disable your mobile device's geotagging feature

Here's another big one that I hadn't thought about before. If you use a smartphone or a tablet to take photos and upload them to social networking websites, make sure the geotagging is turned off. Geotagging embeds the location of where you took a photo into the photo itself, and people who view your photo can also view the embedded location information. Tech-Recipes has a great article on how to turn geotagging off of Androids, iPhones, and Blackberries.

I think, though, that most important thing about online privacy is talking about it: what it is, why it's important, and why it's a good idea to not reveal more information about yourself than you would if you were in a roomful of strangers.

If you have any other ideas on how to protect your online privacy, let us know in the comments!

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