A complete guide to web, Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus privacy and security!

The digital landscape has changed dramatically in the last few years. The Web 2.0 revolution brought with it the ability for everyone to create content on the web at rates I can’t imagine anyone ever thought possible.

So what does all of this mean?

We all have a digital footprint – a permanent record of where we have been and what we have done on the interwebs.

It is a good idea to regularly do a health check of that digital footprint. So here is a list, as short as could be and still remain thorough, that should help ensure everything is on the up and up.

This is especially important for educators and other professionals that have others “googling” them to learn more about them.

Prefer to download as a PDF?

There is also a printable version of this post, complete with a one-page checklist overview!

Web Privacy and Safety

Start With A Google Search

googleBefore digging into specific sites and applications, we’ll turn to our favorite search engine (most likely Google but could be something like Bing).

If something comes up that you didn’t know about, or want to remove, try looking for contact information on the site and put in a request.

If you really find something you don’t like and can’t find contact information for a site, try visiting whois.net to see who owns the domain name – often contact information is available there.

1. Name Search – “Your Name”

Do a search for your name. Put your name in quotation marks to avoid extra results that aren’t really relevant.

Be sure to try different variations – including your full name, nicknames, etc.

2. Email Address Search

Search for each of your email addresses that you have used. Spam filters are getting better, but having your email address available on the web is a huge reason why your inbox might be filling up.

3. Home Address Search

If you own a home, it might be a local law that your contact information, name and home address is published online – along with your tax bill! You might not be able to remove everything here, but it is always good to know what personal information about yourself is out there and publicly available.

4. Phone Number Search

This will help make sure your phone number only appears where you might want it to.

5. Set up Custom Alerts

Be sure to set up Google Custom Alerts to get an email notification whenever your name, email address, phone number, or anything really is added to their searched sites.

Using quotation marks around the information when you put it in can help ensure you don’t get email alerts when people that have your first name are mentioned with someone else that has your last, for example.

Facebook Privacy Checks

facebook (1)Assuming you have a Facebook account, it is a good idea to periodically review your settings to make sure they are how you like them.

For various reasons, some will want to have their profiles more open then others – the bottom line is your privacy is a personal choice. Understanding the settings and options available to you is critical.

6. Check Your Personal Profile

First, you will want to check your “Public Profile” on Facebook.

To do this, go here after logging into your Facebook account: http://www.facebook.com/settings/?tab=privacy

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Then click on View Settings as shown in the image above.

From here, click on the Preview My Profile button.

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This is exactly what someone will see who is not currently your friend – make sure nothing is shared that you aren’t comfortable with.

The most common settings here would be to only share your profile image, location, school information, and maybe work history. For anything else, especially photo albums and wall posts, you will most likely want friends only to see.

7. Check What Friends See

From the same screen, you can type in any of your friends’ names, and see your profile exactly as they do.

fbstep3

This is particularly important if you use lists (which you probably should!) to organize your friends. Especially if you have lists for colleagues, family, students etc. and you don’t want them all to have access to the same things.

8. About Friend Lists

Speaking of Friend Lists, if you currently use them, you should take this opportunity to double check that everyone is appropriately assigned.

I wrote much more about lists in The Why and How of Using Facebook for Educators – No Need To Be Friends At All!

If you aren’t currently using lists, you should set aside time to set them up if you think they might be needed.

9. Review All Photos

You should also take this opportunity to review all of your photos – paying closest attention to photos you are tagged in.

Visit your Profile, click on Photos and look for See All: Photos and Videos about halfway down on the right.

Facebook has recently made this even easier for you by allowing you to scroll endlessly and quickly look over each and every photo. Untag yourself if there are any photos that you aren’t comfortable with, and even delete them or contact the original poster of the photo and ask them to.

10. Removing Old Apps

This step is often forgotten about – but as you sign up for more and more websites, games, and other applications using your Facebook account, you are keeping open a link between you and that site.

You agreed to the connection at one point in time, but it is a good idea to regularly go through and delete applications you don’t use any longer.  By keeping your application list pruned, you will better be able to spot anything you don’t like in the future as that list can grow rather lengthy in no time!

First, click on Account > Privacy Settings in the top right from just about anywhere on Facebook.

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Then look for Edit Your Settings in the bottom left corner under Apps and Websites.

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From here, click on Remove unwanted or spammy apps and go through the list removing what you no longer use.

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Remember that you can always add back these apps later and you will most likely want to keep some of them! Judging by the 53 number above, it is time for a good cleaning of my own account as well :)

Twitter Needs Checking Too!

twitterBy design, Twitter is built around the idea of open sharing and making connections with those you may not have previously.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few things to check privacy-wise as well.

Of course, if you don’t (yet) tweet, skip on to #15 below. And if you are looking to get started, check out our complete twitter guide here!

11. Review Profile Information

Go to your main Twitter page – a place that if you use your mobile app and tweetdeck or another twitter service you may hardly ever visit.

For example, my main Twitter page is http://twitter.com/ronnieburt

Does everything look ok? Are you sharing a location or personal contact information that you may not wish to?

Make sure to visit this page when not logged into Twitter to see what others will see as well.

12. Double Check Private Tweets

Some twitter users might decide to have their tweets only visible to those that follow them. If you set it so that you must approve all followers, this effectively makes sure only those you approve see your tweets.

twitter1

A reminder that if you choose to go this route, you won’t be able to participate in hashtag chats or have your tweets re-tweeted which can really stifle the benefits Twitter can have on building blog readership, for example.

13. Check DMs and Feed For SPAM

Over the past few weeks, twitter users have been noticing more and more spam and malicious tweets coming through. If a tweet sounds weird or suspicious, don’t open the link!

It is best to send a message to the person who sent it to you (by email or another means besides Twitter if possible) to double check that they actually sent it.

I have noticed that several of the direct messages that I received with bad links lately have since disappeared, so it appears as if Twitter is helping to fight and control this growing problem.

14. Clean Out Twitter Applications

Just like with Facebook, you might have accumulated a number of associated applications with your Twitter account as well.

twitter2

Click on Settings in the top right and then the Applications tab.

From here you can quickly Revoke Access to anything you no longer use or which to have associated with your Twitter account.

Google and Google Plus

googleplusEven if you aren’t yet on Google Plus, you more than likely have a Google Profile of some sort.

The same tools apply to both, for the most part, and should you join, keeping up with Privacy from the start is extremely important.

This is because once something is public, even for a few minutes, there is a good chance that it will live on forever, even after you remove it!

See Google Cache and the Way Back Machine as two reasons why.

15. Check Public Profile

Go to the Google Dashboard to see everything Google knows about you that is associated with your account.

In Google Plus, visit your Profile by click on your name after you login.

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Click in the search box on the right and choose Anyone on the web to see what your public profile looks like.

Google Plus is a bit different from Facebook in that your profile is always public. You can limit what you post to select friends using Circles, but your About info is for everyone to see!

16. Review Privacy Settings

Click on your email address on the black admin bar in the upper right corner and choose Privacy.

Read through each setting and double check you understand and are happy with each selection.

17. Review Photos

Just like with Facebook, you should check your Picassa (soon to be Google Photos) and Google Plus photos.

With Google Plus, you can limit your photos, or certain albums, to specific circles - so do make sure you are making use of those!

18. Clean Out Applications

From your Google Dashboard, click on Websites authorized to access accounts near the very top left of the page.

http://www.google.com/dashboard/

http://www.google.com/dashboard/

Go through carefully and remove any sites you aren’t currently visiting regularly – or others you would like to remove.

Miscellaneous Tasks

Beyond social networks, you might have even more of a web presence.

19. Blogs and Other Web Media

Perhaps you have a blog, website, wiki, or other means of sharing information about yourself. Take some time to visit them all and look for contact and other personal information you may not still be comfortable sharing.

There are certain cases where it is definitely ok to share personal information online, this process is just to ensure everything that is out there is still how you want it to be.

One tip for blogs and websites is to use a contact form instead of sharing your email address and other contact information. This hides the info but allows people to still contact you.

20. Browsers and Advertising

So I looked online at one pair of Addidas running shoes for five seconds ONE TIME, and now, on just about any website I go to I see an advertisement for that exact pair of shoes!

Sound familiar?

If you want to learn more about the security and privacy options available, check out reputation.com for some sound advice.

21. Passwords

There are some interesting studies that show when applications or work requires you to change certain passwords regularly, they actually can become less safe.

Why? Because when you have to change a password, your first instinct is to write it down somewhere. Take a look around your desk or computer. If there are sticky notes around with a password on it, you are leaving your self open to someone finding out what it is!

The internet world really hasn’t come up with a good solid way of managing the increasingly many number of passwords we all have. Especially for important accounts like for banks, work, email etc.

A good rule of thumb is to not use the same exact password everywhere that you can. I get around this by using my usual password with something to do with the site it is for on the end of it. I also like to put numbers at the end that I change periodically when I update passwords. This consistency keeps them all unique but helps me to remember them all as best I can.

At the very least, don’t continue to use passwords that are common and easy to predict!

A Printable Checklist

You may not be able to go through all 21 steps at one time, so hopefully this printable checklist will help you keep track.

Web Safety Checklist

It is a good idea to try and make it through all of these steps a couple of times each year.

The Start of a Discussion

It is my hope that this post is just the start of a discussion about internet safety and privacy.

A paired down version of the checklist might also be good to use with students of all ages.

Is there anything missing?

Or any tips you would like to share?

Ronnie Burt

Works for Edublogs. Former secondary math teacher and wannabe musician. Follow me on twitter @ronnieburt!

33 Responses

  1. Britt Gow says:

    Thanks for this informative and timely post Ronnie – a so-called ‘vanity search’ unearthed some surprising results. If I ever change my mind about the value of social networking, I have still left a very large digital footprint, that will be difficult to sweep away. I am surprised by the number of sites that list my name, that I have never heard of – Twitter and profile collections that purport to show ones popularity, influence or other measure. Not sure I like it! However, they don’t have any extra personal information that I have not originally shared, so I suppose they are safe.

    • Ronnie Burt says:

      I’m not a fan of all of those sites that pull your public info and share it for all to see either :(

      Thanks for the comment – I’ll see I can learn and share anymore about those types of sites!

  2. Grace Kat says:

    What do people think about sharing their date of birth online? Doing so is mandatory at some social networking sites.

    My concern is that banks and utility companies confirm a caller’s identity by asking for their name and birth date. If it is easily accessible online, won’t anyone be able to take on another’s identity?

    Thanks for your very thorough post and for sharing your scribd files.

    • Ronnie Burt says:

      Interesting point about what people can do with your birthday. I’ve been sharing my full birthday with my friends only on Facebook since I started with it a few months after Facebook opened – but I know I’m in the minority. I was just thinking about taking that off just the other day. I think your comment encouraged me to follow through!

    • Jo Hart says:

      Hi Grace

      I very rarely share my real dob online these days although there are probably a few sites that still have this from my early online days! I usually use the date I got married as I had to choose a date I would easily remember :) in case the site used it as part of security for lost passwords etc.

      If you don’t use your true dob you do need to make sure that the date you choose makes you old enough to access the site :)

      Jo

  3. Hi Ronnie,

    Thanks for this comprehensive post. It was fabulous. I thought I did a pretty good job of keep on top of my digital footprint however there were some tips in there that I hadn’t really thought about.

    I’m glad I am now free of all those silly Facebook apps!

    I’m going to recommend this post to my PLN as I’m sure everyone could get something out of it.

    Thanks again,
    Kathleen

  4. Thanks Sue, for a timely and pertinent post. I will share this post with my students and get them to act upon your advice. However, I am also going to check through all your procedures and make sure that not only my students but I also, am as safe as can be with a personal digital identity.

  5. Hi Ronnie,

    Now that I’m finally able to access Google+ from a non-mobile computer, I’ve gone through your recommended steps. Your guide is very helpful, and I want to thank you for all the time and effort you’ve put into it!

    Kind regards,
    Tracy

  6. If Im not mistaken there are more than 700 000 people on this great ball we are living on. There is always a reason why the rest dont have a FB Profile. Many because they dont have access to an internet connection.

    I believe that Google’s users will come from this source, a new generation as well as some who find Google+ to be more suitable for their needs.

    I’ll stay with FB for now and be a happy tester for Google+.

    Let’s see…

  7. Anti spam says:

    google is getting better and better at finding links between things though, its already hard to find non-personalised results in google

  8. Yi Li says:

    This blog post is useful! Recently I had some privacy and security issues going on with my web, and this post just remind me of how important to manage persona security online in terms of all kinds of digital social networks. By following your suggestion, I googled my name and my email address, turns out there is a website that I used to login a lot but without setting up my privacy on it! Here, Google did a favor for me  I would definitely like to share this post with my future students by sharing them the check list in order to protect their recourse online.

  9. Emlak Sitesi says:

    I believe that Google’s users will come from this source

  10. I’m glad I am now free of all those silly Facebook apps!

  11. kamera sistemleri says:

    Great web site. Plenty of useful info here.
    I’m sending it to several friends ans additionally sharing in delicious. And naturally, thank you on your sweat!

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