You give out your personal information all the time.
Think about it: online shopping websites, customer rewards programs, apps of all kinds. They want your phone number, your email, your geographical location… Sometimes they want all of it! More often than not, it’s a mandatory step in a check-out or sign-up process.
Why do so many people want your private information, and what are they doing with it?
We get in the habit of assuming it’s normal to provide this information, that it’s no big deal to provide some small details. After all, what can Amazon possibly do with your phone number or email address? What’s wrong with telling that random Craigslist seller your first and last name? Why shouldn’t you tag your home location on your Instagram post?
A little personal information reveals a lot about you. Here’s what you can do to secure your online presence.
Why businesses want your personal information:
Mostly, businesses want your data so they can market products and services to you. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but it can feel intrusive when the information-capture is mandatory.
More importantly, when you share that information (whether it’s sharing your phone number with a business, tagging your location in a Facebook post, or giving your email out to a Craigslist seller) you are exposing your private details to the world. Think of each exposure, each piece of shared info, like a building block. With many of those stacked together, it’s possible to build a very accurate picture of who this person is.
So, do you stop buying things online and signing up for rewards cards? Do you stop using Tinder, Uber, subscription boxes, Netflix? Cut off all contact with the outside world in the name of privacy?
Of course not! Here’s how you can audit your existing online exposure and get things back on track to sate safe in a very public world.
The Privacy Audit
Social Media Checkup — Examine your privacy settings. This sounds simple, but many people disregard it. Make sure you are only providing information that is required. If you can avoid it, don’t provide optional details like birthdays, zip code or phone number.
Google Yourself – It’s not just for narcissists. Learn what information about you is easily accessible. What’s on the first page of hits when you type in your name? Is it your Instagram, your Twitter, or that ill-fated blog you started in high school and then abandoned? Once information is shared, it’s difficult to remove, but you can avoid giving out more in the future. Setting up a Google Alert for your name is a good place to start.
Fake it ’til you make it – Do you use a fake name when you order pizza? If you have a unique first name, you probably use “Joe” or “Jane” when you call Domino’s. That’s a good thing! That’s healthy privacy practice in action, and you can take it a step further with a “fake” email and phone number. Make a secondary email account using dummy information–not your real birthday or name. Use Hushed for iOS or Android to get a temporary phone number in your area code (or any other) for any one-off calls you don’t want to make from your own cell number.
Spam-proof your life – Unsubscribe from mailing lists, if you’ve already signed up with your real email. Companies will sell your data to the highest bidder, which is how you end up receiving myriad unwanted emails. If you live in a location that legislates “do not call” lists, you can request to have your number placed on such a list.
Don’t take the bait – Be skeptical of websites or apps the promise bonuses or rewards for providing your email address or phone number. They may be collecting your information for marketing, but they may also be selling it. We’d also advise you to avoid those “free” public WiFi networks which require your email or phone number to access.
Rethink your offline habits – When a cashier at your favorite store asks for your ZIP code or phone number, politely demur. They won’t take it personally! If you’re in the habit of giving out your details without thinking, train your brain to stop and consider the consequences: at best, you get bombarded with even more marketing promos. At worst? Identity theft is probably at the top of the list.
Now that you’ve gone through our privacy audit, you’re in better shape to protect yourself going forward. In an online world, it’s easy to forget how much your offline privacy matters. Don’t get exposed; get Hushed, and start protecting yourself today.