Managing Your Virtual Identity & Protecting Your Personal Information

By James Green ~ September 26th, 2013 11:18 PM MST

In a webinar hosted by CSID, Washington University professor of law said “You take time for your physical appearance, you should do the same for your online appearance.” Mr. Richards hit the nail on the head with that statement. It is important to know the risks involved with social media and how to avoid over-sharing.

Google-ing yourself is no longer a past time for celebrities. Everyone should be Google-ing themselves, Yahoo-ing themselves, and Bing-ing themselves. It is important to review your virtual identity and know what kind of personal information is publicly available. The modern world is interwoven with the virtual world; there is not an online world and an offline world, there is just life.

PROTECTING YOUR PERSONAL INFORMATION

Personal security is a major concern due to over sharing online, particularly on social media. A recent study conducted by PewInternet.org found that 72% of internet users use social media; that number increases to 89% for individuals under the age of 30. Cyber criminals can easily scan social media profiles for information that can be used to steal identities. Social media profiles contain answers to many common security questions such as your mother’s maiden name, your dog’s name, the city where you were born, your spouse’s birthday, etc. This seemingly harmless information shared on social media can be used to your detriment. According to CyberSafeID 54% of social media users have been targeted by identity thieves.

Securing online information is essential to protecting both your online and offline identity. Websites such as Spokeo.com or PeopleFinders.com allow you to search for yourself (or others) by name, email, phone number, etc to see what personal information is publicly available. If necessary, you can contact these websites to have information censored. In addition to finding out what information is publicly available you should also take the following steps to secure your information in the future.

  • Adjust social media privacy settings. Many websites privacy settings default to “Public.” It is better to change privacy settings to “Friends Only” or “Custom.”
  • No matter what the privacy settings are consider all information posted online to be public. Never post anything that you wouldn’t be willing to repeat in a professional situation.
  • Avoid posting your location on social media. Doing so allows others to track your movement and advertises to thieves that your home may be unattended.
  • Avoid sharing personal information such as your birthday, birth place, phone number, or email address. Also avoid sharing this information about others.
  • Avoid using applications or games that request access to your social media login credentials.
  • Don’t accept friend requests from strangers. There is no way to confirm a stranger is not attempting to harvest your personal information.
  • Always log off of social media accounts after you are finished with your session.

MANAGING YOUR PERSONAL & PROFESSIONAL ONLINE IDENTITY

Online interactions undoubtedly have an impact in real life. There are numerous accounts of people being fired for posting inappropriate or derogatory information online. There are even websites that are dedicated to tracking people who complain about their jobs online. Be smart with your online identity; don’t put your personal or professional relationships at risk.

In a recent study performed by Jobvite it was found that 93% of recruiters will review a candidate’s social media profile. The contents of your social media profile will directly impact your chances of being hired for the position.

Survey1

Of the recruiters surveyed, 42% said that they have reconsidered hiring a candidate based on what was found on the candidate’s social media profiles. All job-seekers should expect to have their social media accounts vetted. This applies to business contacts as well, the study by Jobvite also stated that “42% of people have scoped someone out on the Internet before doing business with them – and 45% of those have changed their minds about doing business based on something they discovered on the Internet.”

Take steps to find out what personal information is publicly available and manage your online identify. A good rule when developing an online identify is to promote yourself as if you are a business.

  • Google yourself, if you have a common name (ex. John Smith) include your location to narrow the search.
  • View the public version of your social media profiles to better understand what information is publicly displayed.
  • Make an effort to remove any “bad press” about yourself.
  • Register for Google Alerts to be notified if information about you is posted online.
  • Purchase your domain and create a personal website with a small bio.
  • If necessary, create professional versions of your social media accounts.
  • Connect with experts and other professionals in your field using social media.
  • Never post anything that you wouldn’t be willing to repeat in a professional situation (repeated, but especially important).

MANAGING YOUR ONLINE BUSINESS IDENTITY

Approximately 85% of consumers research products and services online before making a purchase. Managing your businesses identity, including consumer reviews, is vital to maintaining a positive online image. Websites like Yelp.com and AngiesList.com are used by consumers to post reviews of local businesses. Business owners should set up a business profile on these websites (and others like them) so that they can monitor customer feedback and address customer complaints. Businesses should also create social media profiles; if used correctly it can be an excellent marketing tool.

Using social media can be a fun way for companies to interact with their customers. This kind of interaction can be both entertaining and promote a good brand image. A well placed tweet can lead to major exposure; in the following example three tweets between Old Spice and Taco Bell resulted in 1000+ re-tweets. These re-tweets likely reached tens of thousands of consumers.

tacobell

Just as social media can be a great tool for businesses, it can also be a hindrance if used improperly. A particularly volatile misuse of social media was exhibited following an episode of Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares. Following an episode the public was openly critical of the restaurant owners via Facebook. Unfortunately, the owners did not respond well to the public criticism and verbally abused their critics. The social media disaster that ensued lead to an incredible amount of bad press and is well documented. This is a social media horror story and a cautionary tale.

Nightmare

Larger corporations are not immune to social media mishaps. Recently AT&T received a large amount of criticism for a Twitter post that many considered to be an exploitation of a national tragedy.

ATTNeverForget

The public outrage about AT&T’s September 11th tweet was centered around the idea of using a national tragedy in an advertising campaign. Many accused AT&T of exploiting the tragic death of thousands for financial profit. AT&T quickly deleted the tweet in response to the overwhelming criticism and issued an apology.

ATTApologize

Businesses should not avoid online activity; 90% of consumers say they are less likely to buy from a company that does not respond to posts, comments, or reviews. Instead, businesses should take an active role in managing their online image. A positive online reputation can lead to real world sales. Protect and promote your business’ online image by implementing the following tips.

  • Purchase a relevant domain name and build a professional website.
  • Establish a business page on popular customer review websites such as Yelp and AngiesList.
  • Address consumers’ complaints found online and attempt to resolve them quickly.
  • Establish social media accounts to promote your business and interact with customers.
  • Register for Google Alerts to receive notifications when your business is mentioned online.
  • Never post anything that you wouldn’t be willing to repeat in a professional situation (repeated x 3, cannot stress the importance enough).
  • Compare your online reputation to your competitors and attempt to surpass their reputation. ♦

James Green is a mobile security researcher who has worked in the Android security field for several years providing privacy and security advice to Android users. Email: James@ArmorforAndroid.com; Twitter: @James_AfA