Whenever you interact with people online, you leave behind a digital footprint, clues about yourself that future professors, colleagues, and supervisors will be able to find for years to come. No doubt you or someone you know has posted embarrassing photos or information that you might not want everyone to see. Pay close attention to the personal information that you make available to others.
- Do your friends tag you in Facebook photos or upload videos of you when you don’t want them to? Even if you have your own privacy settings locked down, information about you can still be found. Facebook knows a lot about you, even if you don’t have an account!
- Have you ever tried to get someone to take down something that they posted online about you? Even if you take down embarrassing content you have posted, if other people took a screenshot, they might still repost it in places beyond your control.
As you progress in your studies and head toward your first professional job, you’ll want to be sure to present yourself in the best possible light. Here are some strategies for building a professional digital presence.
- Join LinkedIn or other professional social networking communities that allow you to manage your professional identity.
- Post positive messages in your social networks about your studies and professional pursuits.
- If you participate in scholarly conferences, consider sharing your research online.
Privacy and Security
In a university environment where there are many shared computers across campus, you’ve probably stumbled across someone else’s private information that was stored on a public computer. Maybe you’ve even left a public computer without logging out of a personal account, without thinking. If you lost your phone, what would someone else have access to? Your friends’ names and phone numbers? Your Twitter account? Your bank account? These are prime examples of how issues of privacy and information security affect everyone.
You or your friends may be creating information about yourself without even knowing it. For example:
- Do you have Shutterfly or Instagram on your smartphone? If so, according to a recent news report, downloaded apps like these track your user behavior and activities and sell this information to companies.
- If you use Gmail or other Google tools, you should know that Google tracks all of your messages and searches. That’s how they determine what ads to present to you. The same applies if you login to Google-owned sites like YouTube.
- Have you ever shared a “10 facts about me” post on social media? Many of these can be mined for personal information you may have used in security questions and passwords (e.g. first pet, street name, favorite color, birthdate).
Maybe some of these privacy concerns matter to you more than others, but the point is that you can take control.
- Read the fine print when you sign up for anything online or complete a profile that includes personal details. The same applies when you download and install a free app. How will your personal data and activities be used, shared, or sold?
- Check the privacy settings in the social media you use and set your privacy filters as high as possible. This includes using features like tag review in Facebook.
- Turn ad personalization off in Google. When you opt out, Google ads still won’t disappear completely but they won’t be based on your personal information, your searches, and interests. Google may still be tracking your movements and searches, but at least they won’t be reminding you of that constantly with creepy ads.
- Don’t save your information to shared computers. Instead, save files to a flash drive or a cloud service like CyBox. If you logged in to any account, remember to log off before you leave.
- Make your passwords hard to guess. There are many online resources for creating complex passwords that are still easy to remember. Also, when your browser asks to remember your login information, just say no. Be sure to use different passwords for different accounts, so if one account is hacked, they are not all compromised.
If you find someone else’s private information running or stored on a shared computer, the ethical thing to do is to close the program or delete the file. The University and most workplaces have very strict rules that govern the use and misuse of computer information. Ethical behavior is expected and, when necessary, enforced at the workplace and on campuses so act accordingly.
Check your understanding
- The Data Brokers: Selling your personal information. 60 Minutes Segment, March 9, 2014. Retrieved August 14, 2015, from: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-data-brokers-selling-your-personal-information/ ↵
- Control your Google ads. Google how-to page. Retrieved August 14, 2015, from: https://www.google.com/settings/u/0/ads/authenticated Images: Google ads opt-out screenshot from google.com, Facebook Privacy Shortcuts screenshot from facebook.com ↵