Have you ever thought of googling your name? Unless you are lucky enough to have a common name or a celebrity with the same name as yours, the majority of the results you will see online will be about you. You are very likely to see some of the work you’ve done, pages that you’ve liked, forums that you’ve been participating in and comments that you’ve left all over the internet.
While such information may not be revealing sensitive details about you, the Google results you will encounter will most likely contain links to detailed personal information such as your full name, address and phone number. This means that if someone knows merely your name, it will only take them couple minutes to know your current residential address, residence history, phone number and even the names of your relatives. If the person interested in your life is happy to fork out a small amount of cash, usually within the range of $10-$30, the stranger will have access to even more details of your life, such as how much payments you have left on your mortgage and your criminal records. All this information is just sitting there a few clicks away from anyone who wants to access it, i.e., a prankster colleague, a Russian hacker or anyone who has a crush on you.
Companies like White Pages even offer reverse lookup as a free tool readily available to everyone with a computer and an internet connection. You no longer have to know the name of the neighbor so that you can learn more about him or her, all you can do is use the free tool offered by White Pages and reverse lookup his or her address. You can reverse lookup using a phone number too. Once you have the name of the person, you can see where he or she works, and learn more about his or her hobbies, date of birth and favorite places to hang out.
The recent Equifax data breach does not make your life easier, the people trying to steal your identity no longer have to be hackers, anyone with a computer and an internet connection can learn everything about you. These databases are available online, and some of them are free to access – lawbreakers are using such readily accessible information for social engineering and identity theft.
Where does it end?
This is a simple question that requires a simple answer – it never does. We all need to adapt. This is only the tip of the iceberg. Net Neutrality is most likely going to be repealed by the current administration – google searches are being recorded and stored, and all your browsing history will be up for grabs for the highest bidder, including the sites you visit while you are in incognito mode.
What can you do to protect your online privacy?
There are a few things we advise you to do;
- Freeze your credit reports
You do not purchase a car, open a new credit line, or take loans every day. Send requests to the three main credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – and request a freeze. They will confirm the freeze by sending you a pin number – keep it somewhere safe and unlock your reports only when you need them. By doing so, no one else but you will be able to open a new credit line with your SSN.
If you see reports about you on websites such
- Take off your personal information from the internet
as TruthFinder and WhitePages, read through the terms and conditions and request the data to be taken down. They are legally obliged to remove your details should you not wish to have it online. It only takes a few minutes. And keep an eye on these websites as sometimes they end up uploading your details again. To be on the safe side, add a reminder to checkup Google for sensitive information every six months and act when you see something you don’t like.
- Protect all your devices
Having in mind here in the US we spend so much time on our cell phones, the likelihood of having sensitive information that should never be public on our phones is high. Make sure you have anti-virus software installed on every connected device you own to prevent hackers from being able to penetrate your personal space and information.
- Review social media privacy settings
Spend some time reviewing who has access to your social media profiles. Make sure your profiles are not publicly visible, or the content you share is well vetted. Never post anything on social media if you would not be happy to yell it through the window. If you value your privacy, review the terms and conditions on your favorite social media tools such as Instagram, Twitter, and Tinder and act if you are not happy with them. Make sure you understand who has access to the information you share on these profiles.
It’s great when the government has this information, but when third parties start compiling information they get from multiple sources into one giant database and make it easily accessible to third parties – you are no longer the person benefiting from the system, you are the product that is being sold. Online privacy may be a thing of the past, but bear in mind that governments are not here to spy on you, they are here to protect its citizens. So sharing with them might not be scary, but sharing with money hungry third-party companies ready to sell everything they know about you to others – this is something you may want to avoid.