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Using the internet is essentially throwing your internet into a wide-open, but hard to read sea of information. A lot of your data is encrypted–scrambled in ways that are hard to see, and you need a key to descramble it–but people can learn a lot about where your data goes and where it comes from.
More obviously, social media and personally-identifiable accounts are becoming more common. To learn more about protecting your privacy online in a world that is becoming increasingly public, here are a few personal security details.
Control, Curate, and Conceal Social Media
Social media is bigger than making fun posts on social media with your real name. Even if you’re against the idea of social media or prefer to be a private person, there may be times where having a public personal identity can be useful.
LinkedIn and job searches are two of the biggest reasons for anti-social media people to use social media. For many careers, it’s easier to create an online personality that shows your real name, face and some details about you.
This may sound like a risk since it creates an online personality–a representation or paper doll–that can be interacted with online, but aside from personal preference, most adults aren’t put at risk by having a public profile with curated personal information. The phrase “unless you have something to hide” is often used tongue-in-cheek to accuse people, but don’t take it that way with this concept: unless you have to hide your presence or risk immediate harm–not just the idea of annoying social contact–a LinkedIn account with your picture is fine.
There is a small tangent to have since there are times where discrimination happens if people can see your real face and allow their prejudices to take hold. Valid, but that only means avoiding a personal picture if you don’t want to use a picture. A social media profile with controlled content is still valid.
Control and curation are all about avoiding controversy. Avoid politics, religion, and other controversial topics on your professional profiles, since you don’t want to stoke any unnecessary arguments or pin statements to your actions that can be dug up later. If it sounds like censorship, it is; outside of activism or professional careers involved in controversial areas, LinkedIn and similar places aren’t for your personal opinions.
Personal opinions, offensive or “edgy” content, and other rough social media posts should be on either a personal account that doesn’t get in the way of researching your professional life or on a completely separate internet identity that has no personal information. Some people prefer to live their full public life–or troll in real life, as it were–without hiding who they really are. That’s fine if you’re aware of the risks, but at least consider organizing a professional profile to make it easier for your career value to be found. Point edgy employers to your edgy profiles later.
Social media unfortunately has some of the best organization, indexing, and other ways to find content on the internet today. Many people struggle with signing up for social media accounts such as Twitter since its participating in something they disagree with. If you simply don’t want to associate your real name with your potentially problematic interests, create burner accounts.
Being anonymous on the internet is how things used to be before social media. You create a username or handle that isn’t your real name. Some people create personally-identifiable handles, such as including their date of birth or something similar to their real name. Go completely out of your real-life and choose something unrelated to your name and common traits, such as staying connected to your interests.
How To Create And Use Burner Accounts
To get ready for burner account life, you need to know how people track you down. Here are a few common details you should never connect to burner accounts:
- Real name.
- Mailing address.
- Phone numbers attached to your real name or address.
- Email addresses attached to your real name or address.
- Credit or debit cards, bank accounts, or any payment methods attached to your real name or address.
- Social security number.
- IP address (one of the hardest to hide, but not impossible).
If you’re sharing information that you don’t want associated with your real name and public image, nothing should be personalized or identifiable. This can get tricky since there’s always a small way to trace information back to the source, but there’s several tiers of good enough depending on your level of risk.
If someone can look up your burner account sign up information and find your real info attached to it, it’s not a burner account. To make a basic burner account, follow these steps:
- Use a Virtual Private Network on a mobile device or laptop. While some may go the extra mile to purchase new devices using hard-to-track payment methods, this isn’t necessary for basic internet privacy.
- Visit a public place that isn’t near your home, workplace, or the home or workplace of family members. If you always use the internet at a specific cafe or business, visit a different business. This ensures that your IP address isn’t at your home location, work location, or other easily-identifiable IP addresses.
- Connect to the internet either with a professional, corporate chain (restaurants, department stores, etc) public wi-fi, mobile data (3G, 4G, 5G, etc). While public wi-fi can be dangerous for people who need to perfectly mask their activities, most people who just want an anonymous, hard-to-trace identity, using a VPN is enough protection. (Download VPN software)
- Visit the different social media sites, forums, and websites to create your accounts.
- Make up a fake first name and last name only if the sites require such information.
- Create a username that you can remember, but a name that isn’t easily connected to you. Avoid using your real name, job, birthday details, common catchphrases, and interests unless the site or social media is about those interests.
- Create a new password and don’t reuse it anywhere. Just as usernames can be researched, if a site is compromised, your password can be searched and linked to every other account that uses it. Even if someone else uses that password, it still narrows down a personal search to make it easier to find your real identity.
- Create a free phone number at a service that doesn’t ask for email addresses or payments.
- While anonymous payment methods aren’t necessary, this is where you can create an anonymous payment system with your new private details. There are multiple anonymous payment systems out there, and they ask for different details that you will need to check for any real-life connections.
If you’re not worried about IP address access, just use these burner accounts and avoid posting any personally-identifiable information. If being tracked to an IP address would put you at risk–such as using the burner account at home alerting others that your anonymous name is at a real person’s residence–only use public open access internet.
Some people need to avoid using their face or major personal information, but need to take pictures of the real world. Pictures can be used to guess a location without much use of technology, and most pictures include metadata–data about data, essentially details about a file–that could show where the picture was taken.
You’ll need to understand your risks when taking pictures or recording audio. Find a guide for removing metadata for photos for your specific computer, mobile device, or another type of computer, and test out the results to see if identifiable data can be found.
If you’re taking personal pictures such as nude photos, remember that anyone who has seen you nude may be able to identify you. Covering up blemishes or altering skin appearance with makeup can assist in hiding nude identities that don’t show the face–and watch out for reflections or background images.
Once something is posted on the internet, it’s hard to get rid of it. Especially if you become famous, someone will screenshot or save the information posted by your burner, anonymous, or partially-hidden accounts. There’s no debate about what could happen; whether it’s right or wrong, they have your information and can use it against you.
Before posting anything, be sure you have a plan for what to do if it becomes connected to your personal details. Know who to talk to, how to explain the content, or what you can do to deny the information. Having a plan to turn potentially bad information into an advantage is crucial, and if the details are big enough to make sensational waves that could affect your life, you’ve gained both risks and assets.
Essentially, you’ve entered the world of marketing.
While some exposing content could make you a controversial target that may make you difficult to work with, you also have verifiable experience on what it means to go viral on the internet. Companies want that kind of experience and can train you into making a career out of marketing and digital posting techniques. If your content makes you a social pariah, lay low for a few months, contact a reputation firm, and start searching for businesses that want mass-market content professionals.
For more details on how people can dig through your identity, along with ways to protect that identity–or if you want to know what level of “good enough” is right for your personal security–contact a personal tech security expert.