Information is, by and large, the currency of the 21st century. Unlike dollars, euro, and yen, consumer data is a universal language that is highly coveted by corporations, governments, and individuals. And with the rise of mobile technology and social media, we often give this data out freely – sometimes without even knowing it. The difference between benign data collection – like that done by Google or Apple for the purposes of enhancing search results and improving the user experience – and malicious data farming lies in both the intended use and profit motives of the collectors.
But the most important thing to know is that once the data is collected, it isn’t going anywhere. And depending on what exists inside your digital footprint, it can affect you in almost every aspect of your life. So how do you protect yourself from the sinister, shady side of this data-driven world? Well, there are a few easy steps you can take to set yourself on the right path.
1) Discover What Already Exists
Knowing what’s already out there is a key element in managing your online reputation and securing your identity against everything from prying employers to spying hackers. You can certainly perform an analysis yourself of what data is already out there about you. Reviewing your social media (and the privacy settings associated with it) and even searching for yourself on major search engines (like Google or Bing) is a great first step.
From there, it’s a question of how much time (and money) you’re prepared to invest in the process. If the surface data you discover about yourself on the internet is mostly or entirely benign, it’s possible you have nothing to worry about. But if there are details about your past or present that you don’t want publicly available, then it may be time to enlist the help of a professional.
2) Hire A Pro To Do Discovery & Damage Control
If you don’t have the time, energy, or mental fortitude to dive into the rabbit hole of online data, it may be worth it to hire a reputation management firm to take care of everything for you. Managing your expectations is important – no one can completely wipe the internet clean – but it is possible to find a reputable company that can help keep your private life… well, private (as much as possible).
Finding a specific provider that meets your needs can be challenging – but at the end of the day, it’s a lot like hiring any other contractor. Seek out reviews, look for red flags, and ask for proof of performance – namely, how they’ve handled other cases similar to yours. Once you’ve found a provider that you feel is trustworthy and competent to meet your needs, engage their services to really dive into your digital footprint, provide security recommendations, and possibly to tackle damage control on any data you would prefer weren’t easily available.
3) Change Your Habits
Some people are just private by nature – they don’t confide in many people and keep their private life close to the vest. While it may take months just to get one of these private individuals to give up their Wifi password, most people tend to be a little less guarded. If you’re the type that posts a photo of every latte you’ve ever purchased, complete with geo-tag identifying your location, then you probably fit into the second group.
So the question is while you’re managing your digital footprint, what can you do to keep it from getting bigger? Well, for starters, you can ensure that your privacy settings are a little more restrictive. Limiting your Facebook profile to be viewable by “friends” or “friends of friends” only can drastically cut down on the number of people that can easily gain access to that window into your personal life.
Beyond ensuring that your digital privacy screens are well-established, it comes down to making changes to your online habits. Restraining yourself from posting every embarrassing photo from the company holiday party or broadcasting when you’ll be away on vacation, for how long, and the disarm code to your security system (yes, that’s an exaggeration, but you get the idea) can limit the information that’s available for data farmers to collect – and possibly use against you.