Internet Safety and Privacy Tips

Rachel Kent

Blogger: Rachel Kent

In a world that is based more and more online, it’s easy to forget that privacy is increasingly harder to come by and is more important than ever. As we see with the celebrities, a glitch in privacy can quickly ruin your reputation. For example, Justin Bieber and his recent pot-smoking party picture and Scarlett Johansson with her leaked nude pictures.  You might not have hackers going after your pictures or paparazzi following you to try to capture you in a bad moment, but a post written by you without a lot of thought behind it could turn into something big and threaten your reputation. Once it’s online, it is out of your control.

Here are a few tips on privacy and security from me. I’d love for you to post some of your own privacy practices, too.

1) Think about who your audience is before you post. By “audience” I mean those who are able to see your posts. If you are posting on a blog, your “audience” is the entire world unless you have a subscriber-only blog. If you are posting on Facebook, assume that your friends and friends of your friends will see everything you post (based on a friends-only security setting). Tweets can typically be seen by everyone.

2) Never post anything online that, if leaked, is something you would desperately wish you could take back. Assuming that there is no security is the best way to go when posting online.

3) Change your email passwords frequently. We email SO much information back and forth. Remember the value of that information and make your passwords secure and hard to crack. (Try using a symbol or two.)

4) Be proactive with damage control. Google your name frequently to see what is being said about you and to see what other people see when they search for you. Being an author is about trying to be as public as possible, but you want the right kind of publicity. 🙂 The kind that leads to book sales instead of a mental breakdown. Do both a regular Google search and an image search too!

5) It can still help to take old posts down. If you regret putting something online, take it down now. You might not be able to erase it entirely, but you can at least start by removing the original source.

6) Remember that your posts can also endanger others and their reputations. Your family and friends are connected to you. Think about them before you post as well.

What tips do you have for us?

Have you ever run into an internet safety issue? How was it resolved?

63 Responses

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  1. Anne Love says:

    I just Googled myself. I hadn’t done that before. On Google images I’m crammed in between Anne Hathaway and Anne Shirley–I’m good with that! 🙂

  2. These are fabulous tips, Rachel. I Googled myself and am very happy about what I found! I didn’t realize there was so much associated with my name already. Sweet!

    I like what you said about thinking before putting something out there. That’s especially true with Facebook. Yes, we want to represent who we really are, but try to put out positive posts instead of ones that complain. Those that complain all the time turn me off, even if I agree with them sometimes. It’s not about being fake, but rather about using our words to encouraging and lift others up.

    • Rachel Kent says:

      Constant complaining really gets to me too. I guess I’m more of a “glass is half full” person. But I love that Facebook allows for sharing prayer requests easily with a large group of friends!

  3. Lisa says:

    Thank you for the good reminders. It’s really important to be careful 🙂 I was just reading an article about how tough this is for students. They don’t always realize what they are posting today, may not look so great to a potential employer when they are adults.

  4. Jill Kemerer says:

    I’m very private about my children. I don’t post any pictures on Facebook or my blog. However, I love seeing everyone else’s children! I use my Facebook personal profile as part of my author platform, so it isn’t private enough for me to share pictures.

    My husband is also very private, so I try not to say much about him or share pictures since I know it would bother him.

    These are great tips. I try not to whine too much online unless it’s about coffee, lack of chocolate, or other things women can totally relate to!

    • Rachel Kent says:

      Lol. I just ate a piece of Chocolate and I’m drinking a mocha. mmmm.

      I also think long and hard before posting anything about my family. I keep my Facebook account for people I have some sort of relationship with so that I know it’s as safe as possible.

  5. Jeanne T says:

    Rachel, these are great tips. Some things I do to protect my online image is what’s already been mentioned–share positive posts and comments. I tend to go with a “less spoken” on places like Facebook and Twitter rather than saying more, especially on the spur of the moment.

    As far as specific protections, because of my husband’s line of work, I say very little about him or my kids. I try not to even mention their sex, though people seeing pics will know this part. I don’t post a lot of pics of them or my honey. I change out my passwords of important online places every 2-3 months, and like you said, use some symbols. I also use one e-mail for public accounts–business, FB, Twitter, and keep our personal one personal. I put the state we live in on official information but I try not to share too much about the actual city–pics or in writing. And I don’t usually click on links that get sent to me if I don’t know the sender well.

    Okay, I guess I’ve rambled enough now. 🙂 Thanks for your suggestions, Rachel!

  6. Great tips, Rachel! I’ve talked at length with my husband, a computer science professor whose master’s thesis was about security, and he agrees that we all need to be careful. But he did make the point that if someone wants information, they can find it. Easily. Comforting, isn’t it? 🙂 My standard with my blog posts has typically been to share only those things I might with a casual acquaintance after church on Sunday.

    There was an interesting thread going through the ACFW email loop a week or so ago. It was news to me, but it seems that some authors use pen names because of security. How common is that and what do publishers think? Is it really that big of a concern? I’m building my platform based on my real name, so I would think that publishing under a pen name would erase all my platform-building efforts.

  7. Important info, Rachel. Thanks. I’d add…
    1. Never divulge exact location information — address, phone, etc. Don’t fill those blanks on FB, not even your home town.
    2. Also, turn off location services on your iPhone camera. Otherwise, every pic you take, including your Thanksgiving meal, will have an exact, mappable location embedded in its metadata.
    3. Be careful about advertising that your home will be empty when you go on trips. I rarely advertise trips ahead of time, and when I do, I’m careful about how I do it.
    4. My kids’ names and faces did not appear on social media when they were young. Just a thing I have.
    5. Use a PO box in a neighboring town if you must post a mailing address.
    The reality is that most of your info is already online, whether you access it or not. Still, no need to make things easier for the creepy trolls out there!

    • Rachel Kent says:

      Oh, my! iPhones really do that? That is quite creepy.

      And I’ve thought about the trips one too. Even saying that you’re heading out to the grocery store allows for an intruder to know you’ll be gone for at least an hour. Best to avoid that.

  8. Michelle Ule says:

    Or, lie about your birthday when asked to give it– you can then track where the info comes from.

    Also, put unusual spots in your FB locations. My daughter’s friend asked her just the other day, “is your mom really in Germany?”

    Make up aliases for family members: Stargazer is my third child, for example

  9. Tari Faris says:

    I have google myself before and it still seems I am the only “Tari Faris” living in the USA. The odd thing for me is when it comes to images I also sell stock photography through istockphoto and it pulls all those photos. Don’t worry none are embarrassing or questionable. Just a lot of kids. It also pulled pics from any blog I ever commented on, pins from pintrist, and any photo I was tagged in on Facebook. Just something to keep in mind.

    I thought your tips were great!!! Thanks for the post.

  10. Heidi Chiavaroli says:

    Great tips Rachel! My twitter account got spammed some time back. What a horrible feeling to have something attached to your name that doesn’t represent you.

    Thanks for the post!

  11. AHHHHHHHHHHHH!!! Now I know why I get flagged at every single airport!! I may faint…there’s a Jennifer Lynne Major, also a redhead, who smuggles cocaine and marijuana!!!
    I am laughing hysterically as I type this.

    Oh my word. No wonder I had that pat down in Bolivia, the body scan in Halifax AND the well…need I go on?

    Add the Facebook hacking last month, and I just might change my name to Yoshiko MacTavish.

  12. Thank you, Rachel, for this reminder and the great tips. As I said above, I was hacked recently on Facebook–twice within less than a week. I don’t think I’ve ever put anything online that I would be embarrassed for the whole world to know, but it was horrifying when the hacker sent out insulting and obscene messages with my name attached to them. Of course my friends knew these messages were out of character, but as I’m trying to build a following, I have Facebook friends who don’t know me well enough to know I would never do such a thing. What was perhaps worse was that some of the messages seemed innocent enough (“LOL! Check this out” or “Isn’t this cute”) but by clicking the link, my friends then got hacked too. It was more than a headache to resolve this issue and, in all honesty, I still don’t feel secure on FB.

    I, like others who’ve already commented, don’t pinpoint a city. For a long time, I didn’t even say I was in the U.S. Also for a long time, I didn’t mention a gender and went with the neutral Chris for a name.

    The security issue feels like a Catch 22. If I were simply a private person, I would put very little online, but as an unpublished writer trying to build a platform, I have to connect with people I don’t know. While my experience has been that most people are not only well-meaning but wonderful, I’m also highly aware that the more I reach out and connect, the more vulnerable I become–not even so much to negative publicity, but to identity theft.

    In regards to googling myself, I started doing that on occasion a while back to see how hard it was to find my blogs. To my surprise and delight, my blogs came up fairly quickly in the search list. That part is exciting!

    Blessings! 🙂

    • Rachel Kent says:

      It’s scary how easily a hacker can get into our accounts. One mistaken click and who knows what info has been transferred.

      Glad you were able to gain back the control!

      • Laura Moe says:

        I checked my email on my iPhone at an open source and immediately my mail was hacked. Scary. Thousands of people got some freaky link from “me.” Now I only use my phone as , well, a phone.

  13. I used to keep my Facebook posts “public” in order to build my platform/following, but after a recent scare, I’ve locked down privacy to “friends only” on anything regarding my children, especially photos. If I talk about my kids, I use vague terms like “the ten-year-old” or “my son”, etc.

    • Jan Thompson says:

      Regarding FB, you probably already knew this, but here it is anyway in case others might like the idea (or not):

      A possible solution to FB privacy is to separate your private life from your professional writing life by using Pages. You could keep your family FB page private (only friends can see it), and your public life can be for your tribe/audience to see.

      You can create as many Pages as you want — one for each series/genre/business/whatever. I don’t recommend too many Pages since you have to juggle them all. But I think that just a couple are reasonable: one for your family/friends, and the other for your author/publishing life.

      That way you can manage your author platform/branding without all those ultra-personal writings on your wall by your brothers and sisters and long lost second cousins twice removed — you never know what uncensored language they’re going to use when they post to your wall LOL.

      I keep all my FB pages rated PG 🙂

      • Rachel Kent says:

        Haha! I know exactly what you mean about family and friends posting unprofessional things. lol. I’ve experienced that!

  14. Great tips, Rachel. This is why social media is so challenging for me. I’m not an overly private person, but I don’t feel the need to share a lot of stuff. The types of things I would feel comfortable posting are those I doubt most people would care about. Yes, the occasional photo of the girls makes it onto my blog of Facebook, but I’m leary of that. I’ve created online names for my kids–even our 25-year-old son–so that when I do chat about them online, I’m not giving too much information away.

    • Rachel Kent says:

      It’s important to think about it, for sure! Creating online names for your kids is a great idea if you are posting about them in a public setting.

  15. Rick Barry says:

    This isn’t about the Internet, but it’s a good chance for me to warn my female colleagues: Please limit how much information you include on business cards. At a writers conference I swapped business cards with a sister in Christ as my dinner table. What I saw on hers stunned me: a head & shoulders photo worthy of Glamour Shots PLUS her home street address PLUS her home telephone number.

    Sisters, just as with blog postings, you can’t control who gets to see your business cards. What if a demented janitor finds one while emptying a trash can and decides to come visit (i.e., stalk) you? When I warned this particular writer, she blinked and said she never thought of it that way. Her husband had actually approved. Err on the side of caution, please.

  16. Navdeep Kaur says:

    Though it seems that my name would be uncommon, a Google search reveals that it’s quite common. There are doctors and actors/actresses with my name.

    Privacy is really big for me even though I have a public Facebook page. It’s important to remember that even though we might just want to share something with friends, not everybody online is going to be a friend. I go through the profiles of every like I get and if the person seems inappropriate or fishy in any way, I do block them. One must be very careful about associations online as well–your friends and acquaintances do have the potential to shape your brand.

  17. Great tips. Thank you, Rachel! I do have Google Alerts that helps a lot as well. I have heard that even if you post anonymous it somehow tracks you with the IP address. So most definitely think twice about what you are posting. No regrets.

  18. It’s good to think about our image, not only online, but in all public places. I try to be consistent wherever I’m at – and that includes inside my home. If my children and husband don’t think I’m a nice person – then it will show in public! 🙂 It’s not always easy, or fool-proof, but it’s something I strive for.

    This made me giggle a little, because I thought of something I did just yesterday. I came across a picture of my cousin and I when we were 8 or 9 years old. We had both dressed up like clowns and my mom took a picture (yes, captured the glory of that moment). I shared it on Facebook yesterday and tagged my cousin. About three minutes later I went in and made the picture private for just he and I to see, because it dawned on me that my cousin is now a big, burly police officer and it might ruin his image if others saw it. 🙂 It might be a little thing, but I don’t want to take chances for his sake.

    • Jeanne T says:

      I’m with you on how I represent myself in and out of my home. I try to be as kind to my kids and hubby as I am to people outside our four walls. Loved the story about yours and your cousin’s picture. 🙂

    • Rachel Kent says:

      Good thinking! It might not be a problem to post pics of other people, but it is always best to let friends make that choice for themselves. Now if your cousin wants to share that picture publicly he can but it should be his choice.

    • Good move on the private photo tagging! Good thinking, Gabrielle!

  19. I also don’t use my children’s names or post pictures of them. If I want family to see pics, then I do a custom album on Facebook and only tag the people I want to see it.

    I’ve heard marketing gurus talk about how social media has changed the way authors and their fans interact. They advocate being real in your online presence and to an extent I agree with that. Since I have a heart for women, I want to be open and honest about the struggles and joys I face, within reason. I try not to be one of those people who whines constantly, or even worse, boasts about the gourmet meals they cook every day.

    I think you can be honest and real without giving away too much information, but security is always in my mind when I post online.

    • Rachel Kent says:

      Haha! Boasting about the food is annoying! I don’t mind hearing every so often, but it does get old if one person is always posting pics of each meal. Also, I always hope my hubby doesn’t see because I am not the best cook!

  20. Great reminder, Rachel! And great tips everyone!

    Like Rick suggested, I made my business cards with a small photo of me but only with my website/blog addresses and my professional email address on it. No phone number, no address…

    On my website/blog and on other sites, I tend to only mention that I’m from Louisiana and don’t name my city.

    When I create a Facebook Author Page, I think I will make my Facebook personal account private, so that will help with security.

    I was pleased when I googled my name. I secure the whole first page (minus one link) and majority of the next ones too. 🙂

  21. Miranda says:

    First thing I did after reading this post was to google myself. Shocked doesn’t begin to describe how I feel. Found ten pages worth of my history. It’s like a database of my virtual life. Although I’ve always taken online commenting very serious, now more than ever I know it’s no joke.

    P.S. This very comment will appear on google too!

  22. I’ve never posted anything about my family on any social networking sites except for the adult daughter of a former foster son who asked that I list her as my granddaughter on Facebook. And I only list the nearest big city as my place of residence.

  23. I used to own a family history research company and we did a lot of work with private detectives. From that experience, I can say it is shockingly easy to get personal details on just about anyone regardless of what precautions you take. For example, go to Type in your name. Without even having to pay for the information, you can see a list of associated persons from public records (lots of sites provide this). Even if you personally are protecting your information, a person could use a site like this to search for a relative and find your information through THAT person’s Facebook account, etc. I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t take precautions, but if someone really wants to find out about you, it takes only a few minutes in most cases to track down details.

    This only applies to certain privacy issues, of course, like trying to protect your kids’ identities, or where you live, etc.