This week in my Digital Media Literacy class, we learned about online privacy. I was appalled at how much of our personal data is captured and available online without our consent–as well as how difficult it can be to remove your information from all of those people search sites.
I’ve experienced cyberbullying, harassment, and threats of doxxing throughout my time online. Some were serious enough for me to take action, such as filing police reports and contacting the FBI Cyber Crimes division. Despite my best attempts at maintaining privacy and personal security, my information has still gotten out there on the internet. One of the articles we read this week was about how difficult it was to remove your personal information off of people lookup sites, so I went on an online adventure to see where I showed up and then removed as many as I could.
Some sites made it easy. They had opt-out links that stood out or were easy to find, a smooth, quick process, and assured my peace of mind. Others did not have an easily accessible way to remove a profile or information and made me jump through some hoops to take it all down. Some sites even attempted to have me buy a package to remove the information for me. Interesting, right? Thankfully I found that if you opt-out of the main ones, like BeenVerified, it removes you from other databases as well. There are also a few articles about how to remove your personal information online that you can go through.
I’ve seen threads on how to completely (or as much as possible) remove your presence online, and I’ve been tempted to go through a few of the steps just to keep myself safe. I honestly believe websites that collect personal information such as names, addresses, phone numbers, and other records should not exist, or at least be more regulated. People should be asked to opt-in instead of frantically trying to opt-out after receiving death threats from stalkers who found their address online after paying a small fee.
My current digital security
Currently, I try to remain as private as possible. I only use my full, real name for business purposes (sorry guys, my real name is not ‘Niki Fury’–as cool as it sounds!). I also avoid posting personal information regarding my address or where I live. I turn off location-related services as well and use VPNs on my devices. I also don’t post or give out my phone number.
That said, there are times when I have to fill out forms with this personal information, mostly when shopping online or scheduling an appointment. I hate it, and try to get away with putting as little information as possible. When I feel paranoid or curious, I google myself to see what comes up. If I find something I don’t like, I try to get it removed.
Part of my online safety plan is also avoiding certain social media platforms like Facebook. Even before the scandal where user data was leveraged for personal and political gain, I distrusted the platform. I kept my profile on private and rarely accepted friend requests unless I truly knew the person (this was done after accepting too many people who I had just recently met or barely knew and realizing I didn’t like what they posted or didn’t want them seeing what I posted). I had to keep some people blocked, didn’t like to comment on public posts, and constantly wrangled tags on images. Finally, after getting doxxed and harassed, I deactivated it entirely and never plan to return.
I use similar practices on other social networks; by either using an alias and avoiding posting personal information, or keeping a private account to share with trusted friends and family members.