The line between “online” and “IRL” (In Real Life) fades with each passing year. Our reputation is now a mix of both, which makes understanding how we protect our digital lives all the more pressing.
It’s worth taking the time to confirm that your personal information available online is accurate and up to date. It’s a valuable exercise to determine if certain social media posts or other online information are embarrassing, unflattering or even defamatory. Our digital lives and online personas have real impact. Employers search the social media profiles of prospective hires, universities take into consideration the social media posts of students as part of application evaluations, and even the new dating world includes online detectives digging into online databases and profiles.
Controlling what we share online and what information about us is readily available online is part of our right to privacy. Your online reputation is worth protecting. Here are five tips to help you protect it:
1. Take a proactive approach.
Limit what you share online in the first place. Social pressure may make it feel like oversharing is the norm, but you don’t have to be shy about being private. Make mindful and conscious choices about what you share, taking into consideration the context and the audience. Use a mantra like “because privacy” to avoid distractions and be present and aware before you share online.
2. Periodically curate your social media posts.
What’s published doesn’t always have to be permanent. Comfort levels change and calmer thinking often prevails. Many social media sites such as Twitter, Instagram, Vine, and Facebook allow you to delete posts, photos, and comments, and untag yourself from others’ photos. Take the Facebook Privacy Checkup to better understand how you can control how others see and interact with your profile.
3. Remove yourself from online “people search” directories.
Public records contain a wealth of information about you. Companies like Spokeo, PeopleSmart, MyLife, and Intelius have aggregated this information into online databases and charge people nominal fees to access the information. If you’re uncomfortable with how easy online services make this information to access, there are ways to remove yourself. This article from Techlicious includes instructions on the process of delisting yourself for each service.
4. Enlist an online reputation management service.
Wikipedia.com defines reputation management as “the process of tracking an entity’s actions and other entities’ opinions about those actions; reporting on those actions and opinions; and reacting to that report, creating a feedback loop.” Services such as Reputation.com and Profile Defenders offer services that assist with personal data removal, dealing with negative search results, and reducing online tracking. Reputation management services typically incur annual subscriptions.
5. Under 18? Take advantage of the “Eraser Law.”
A California law went into effect in January of 2015 designed to prevent youthful indiscretions from living forever on the Internet. Minors (or their parents) can contact websites and ask that information be removed. The law applies to website operators, online services, online applications, and mobile applications in California.
The scope is somewhat limited as it applies only to content posted by the minor making the removal request and doesn’t cover images or information posted by other users. While websites must remove embarrassing content from their public sites, it doesn’t require minors’ data to be deleted from servers. (Additional coverage of the law can be found on Huffington Post and Cnet.)
What About the Right to be Forgotten?
Currently, citizens of certain European countries have a “right to be forgotten” from search results. This means that users can request of Google (and other search engines) that search results which are “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed” be removed. This doesn’t mean the information is rendered completely inaccessible on the Internet or offline. European regulators have called for search de-listings on Google.com, not just on European sub-domains such as Google.co.uk —a recommendation that so far Google is disputing. And although controversial because of the impact on free speech, there is discussion that at some point, this ruling may be extended to users in the Unites States.
As the Latin writer Publilius Syrus said: “A good reputation is more valuable than money.”
Using the tips above, monitoring your online reputation can become part of your privacy practice. Taking responsibility for your privacy and online reputation is empowering and necessary in current times.