Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How to keep your online presence private

Privacy on the web can be difficult. Once you post a book review, or upload a photo, or join a social network, the information will likely be stored and be available to anyone for years to come.

Here is a lengthy article on web privacy: The Web Means the End of Forgetting (New York Times)

These are some ways to keep your privacy on the web.

1) Create a separate email account
You already have an email account.  Give it to family and friends.  Now create another one.  The new email address will be used when you sign up at a website or need to give an email address when you will be downloading some software.  This email account will probably start filling up with spam after a while and you can simply stop using it at some point and create a new email account to use.

2) Give false personal information when signing up
When you need to sign up at a site for a one-time experience, such as downloading a piece of software, give them a false name and address.  Nearly all signups are completely automated, and no person actually sees the information besides you.  They don't go thru their database of thousands or millions of users and see the name Fred Flintstone and cut off your account.  Choose a name and address that you will always use to make it easier to remember.  If you try to use just random letters and numbers, some forms will not let you sign up.  So come up with something you will remember.  Fred Flintstone, 123 Stoney Lane, Bedrock, AZ, 92345.

3) Use a second credit card for online purchases
Don't use your main credit card for online purchases.  If someone gets your information and you have to cancel your account, you won't have a credit card available until your credit card company sends a new card with a new account number or you open a new account.  Get a second card that will only be used for online purchases.  If something goes wrong, you can cancel that card and still have your off-line card to use.

4) Use 'private mode' when surfing the internet
Most modern browers have a 'private mode' that prevents web sites from doing things like setting cookies for long-term use.  You can see what information is available to sites by visiting this link:

These are the top ideas for preserving your privacy while on the internet.  If you do the four items listed above, you will save most of your private information from becoming available.

This site will give you an exhaustive list of privacy areas and what you can do to prevent your data from becoming public.  Online Privacy: Using the Internet Safely (Privacy Rights Clearinghouse)

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