When it comes to protecting your information online, a personal privacy audit can help. Seeing yourself as others see you online can help you limit how much of your personal information of yours is freely accessible on the web. It can also help tidy up your digital footprint.
Here’s How You Can Get Started:
A simple first step is to search your full name in quotation marks on Google or whatever search engine you use. You should also search any other name variations you’ve used in the past.
Use a private window or Google’s incognito mode to ensure that your results are neutral and not customized based on your location or browsing history. It is a good idea to conduct the same search on different search engines as they may surface slightly different results.
When scanning your Google results, pay special attention to the links on the first page (most people don’t scroll past this) and review any images that appear in the “Images” tab. This is an approximation of what others see when searching for you online.
Next you should search for other personal data about yourself. Data brokers like Spokeo and BeenVerified crawl the web for your personal information to sell as a packaged digital profile. Googling your past and current email addresses and phone numbers may reveal data brokers that have this information. Packaged profiles for resale may include your home address and other key information about you. While removing your information from data brokers is tedious, it is critical to keeping your personal information as private as possible.
It’s also a good idea to search your past and current social media account usernames. This can surface unexpected results, like photos from your profile that you thought were private, or information from accounts you have since deleted.
If you find information from a social media account that you control, you can login into the account to change your privacy settings or delete a post. If, for example, information or photos surface that you are no longer in control of, you can contact website administrators and request it be removed.
Why Are Personal Privacy Audits Important?
Conducting a personal privacy audit is important for several reasons. Companies often conduct online audits of job applicants, and it’s not uncommon for people to scan potential partners on the web before a first date. Scanning yourself first can help you shape your digital identity to positively affect your professional, academic, or personal life.
While the management of your online reputation is a personal choice, completing a personal privacy audit is essential to protect against both “real world” crime and cybercrimes.
The bottom line: plentiful, easily accessible information about you online can greatly increase your chances of becoming a target for identity theft. Sharing what high school you went to or your maiden name on Facebook can provide cybercriminals with the answers to security questions you may have set up on other accounts. In a similar vein, real-time photos of you on vacation paired with your ‘Googleable’ personal address can alert a burglar of where you live and that you are not home.
- Think of personal privacy audits as a part of your personal digital hygiene. Scan the web at least once a month and consider setting up a Google alert for yourself so you can be notified when your name appears online.
- Keep your social media accounts private to avoid the information you post surfacing on search engines.
- If you complete a personal privacy audit and are concerned with your results, take action by removing yourself from data broker sites, and contacting websites hosting your information directly to request removal.