5 easy ways to protect your online presence with Dr Miramar Mike

You're on Facebook, you've got yourself a GMail account and your putting up photo's to Flickr. Or maybe you've merely heard about this new web thingy called social networking* and are wondering why everyone's inviting you to a "book of faces". If you're an old hand at the Interweb or new to the whole shooting match this post aims to give guidance to keeping your online presence ("persona"*) safe and snug within your own control.


Flickr: myspace1: Reserve your name in all the right places
The number of sites that claim to 'be your homepage on the Web' is growing each and every day with current estimates ranging from 110, 230+ and beyond. And the usage growth is phenomenal with the top twenty sites growing at 11% per month.

Research by Rachel Cunliffe states that the top 5 visited sites for the young uns of New Zealand are (social networking sites, incl. online gaming, bolded):
... for boys taking part:
  1. Bebo
  2. YouTube
  3. Google
  4. Miniclip
  5. RuneScape
... for girls taking part:
  1. Bebo
  2. Google
  3. YouTube
  4. Miniclip
  5. Stardoll
That's a lot of places for you "to be".

And the drag is that you really really should be there because if you don't reserve your online presence someone less attractive and far more nasty may do it for you. You may discover that there is a MySpace account in your name saying all sorts of horrid and terrible things.

I would suggest that, at the very least, you:
  1. Review the list of social networking sites I am on
  2. Sign-up for those you can
  3. Edit your account with some basic information
    • name, real or non-de-plume,
    • picture, real or your cat - stick with one for all the sites
    • something that is definably you - age, marital status, tattoo, school, whatever you're comfortable with that differentiates you from all the others with your name
  4. Point the account back to your base information (see tip #4) - there's always a "your website" or "your blog" field you can use


Flickr: 1622: Have a plan for each persona
STOP! Don't shoot off and sign-up to every darned thing without thinking about it first.

If you intend using some of these sites as more than 'place holders', and I suspect you will once you delve into the wonders that lie within, you'll need to decide what persona you'll want to portray.

Each of these websites has a different feel, a different reason for being and therefore attracts a different type of person. You will need to think about what person you will be projecting within each place.

For example, I write and connect to very different people at LinkedIn than I do at Facebook. I perceive LinkedIn to be a place of work and use it to generate a web of ICT Professionals that I use in a reserved, thought out and sober manner. Facebook is about me connecting with anyone and everyone that I know, chatting about the sun and keep a track of what people (both close and not so close, current and past) are up to.

The language I use, the links I promote and the connections I generate or accept are very different between these two social networks.

In essence, one is a "drinks and nibbles with clients at the office" (LinkedIn) and the other is akin to a "BBQ and beer with the lads" (Facebook). Of course, you are likely to meet clients at your BBQ and have friends that come to the 'work nibbles and drinks', that is the way of the world (especially here in Wellington, New Zealand). You will definitely act different in each circumstance as you display a different persona. The same applies online.

Ready now? STOP!
Read on before clicking that 'Create account' link ...


Flickr: _MG_70943: Monitor who's referencing you and why
And now you're done ... aren't ya? Well yes, you are - you've reserved your spaces and they have the appropriate persona for each, you are done.

But what are people now doing with this very public information?
The beauty, power and room for abuse of Web 2.0/social networking is the ability to reconstitute the information using context. Who has you in their lists, who has added you to the latest weird-ass application, where are you now appearing?

Most social networking sites let you monitor the activity around your 'persona' using email and/or RSS - use it! Unless you're Dan Carter or the latest soap opera lady you're unlikely to get swamped.

On a side note, I would also set up a Google Blog Search alert (again email or RSS/Atom) just to keep a tag on what people might be saying about you - I wonder if Mr Richie Trezise has that set-up!


4: Maintain one core set of information
You've set-up your persons (don't think of them as merely accounts or log-ins, they are so much more) which are either basic empty place holders or the full monty. You've got your email address in 3 or 4 places, your photo is smiling down upon the world and you're sick to the back teeth of having to enter your "interests" over and over again.

Don't try and maintain multiple copies of information about yourself. Stick one version on a publicly accessible site (a blog, a website, a non-login-required profile) and link the rest back to it. You now have one place to update when it comes to the birth of the extra child, the change of job or the squashing of those criminal records.

Talking of criminal records, do I need to remind everyone that what you publish on the web is around FOREVER! And whilst it might be difficult to link that blog rant you left 2 years ago to one particular persona of yours please believe that it is only a matter of time before Google and the gang work out how. My advice - if in doubt, do not put it on the Web or in email.


5: Don't use the same email/password password for all
Raring to go and get your personas out there?
All you need is a computer, a browser and an Internet connection .... and an email address. I can't think of one social networking site that will let you sign-up without a valid email address.

But your email address is another expression of a persona - you probably have two email addresses without moving passed Go, your work one and your 'personal' one. And that's a grand start - if you're signing up on behalf of work then use your work one, that's the persona you want to use.

If, however, you intend to do this outside of the work context then don't fall into simply using the one email address for all the sites. As I said, your email address is a tool of expression for your personas and they may not be mutually compatible. For example, I use a few email addresses and use GMail to bring them all together meaning I don't have to worry about the mechanics of email management. My most common email 'persona' is miramar.mike@gmail.com but I do use others depending on the level of closeness I will allow the contacts to me.

And finally. Don't use the same password for all the sites.
Devise your own system of maintaining a few passwords depending upon the level of "oh fvck!" you'll experience if someone steals it and uses your persona. I have a hierarchy of passwords (not too onerous but enough to make me feel comfortable) that range from "I couldn't give a monkeys" all the way to "Wholly crap they could use my credit card!"




I hope that's been of use to you, don't hesitate to leave me a comment and let me know how it goes and remember - let's be careful out there!


Further reading

* Appendix

social networking

You link people to you with a relationship (friend, colleague, fellow party goer ...) and from that a 'spider web' of connections is generated. This is also being called the 'social graph'. Social networking is the most popular way of generating online personas but not the only one, your email address is also one. More at Wikipedia: social networking

Online persona
A side of the whole you that you generate online. You have, as in real life, many personas - you have your "go to work" persona, the "chairman of the school committee" persona, your "drinking down the pub with mate"s persona and many many others. Whilst online personas are the same be aware that they operate in a much more fluid, traceable and aggregated world that is not always (if ever) in your control.


This whole posting has been germinating in my brain for sometime now and received a nicely timed kick along during an interesting meeting with Silona Bonewald yesterday - thanks Silona.

Comments

  1. Regarding #5, a great way to avoid using the same password on all sites without having to remember a lot of different passwords (or having to store them in your web browser) is to use the pwdhash extension:

    https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/1033

    It works like this: you can enter the same password for each site, but if you prefix your passwords with @@, pwdhash will create a unique password based on the site URL. So the same "mike01" password will end up as completely different strings on different sites. If one of the sites is compromised, the compromised password will not be usable anywhere else.

    As an added bonus, you can phishing protection because the extension will "hash" the password based on the site URL (which typically looks the same but is actually slightly different on a phishing site).

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great information and advice. I believe this time people are now aware of what the world wide web's limitations are.

    ReplyDelete

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