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Staying online without being naked

Last week Google announced a new way for you to unwittingly star in a Google served ad.  Pitched as a way for you and your friends to give each other better recommendations, your picture and name will show by a product that you’ve interacted with – either you followed it, you might have +1 it on Google Plus, or you may have shared it with someone else.

Google Endorsements

If you don’t want to participate in Google’s advertising scheme, you’ll be told that you aren’t helping your friends out but I think they’ll understand. GigaOM provides instructions on how to opt out. Go to this link and uncheck the box at the bottom next to the text “Based upon my activity, Google may show my name and profile photo in shared endorsements that appear in ads.”

Facebook has a similar “feature”.

Facebook App

To opt out, you must go to Edit social ads setting.  Facebook says that you’ll just appear in ads to your friends but some people, like authors, have hundreds of friends. Under the “Ads & Friends” section, you’ll want to select “no one” in the dropdown box next to the text “Pair my social actions with ads for.”

Other ways to protect your anonymity online is to get an email address that is used only for online interaction. You can use free accounts such as Yahoo and GMail but note that those companies are mining your emails for data.  I’ve seen some people create Facebook and Twitter accounts for the sole purpose of entering contests and giveaways. You could do that as well to just provide some barriers between your real name and your online identity.

For tech savvy users, you can use a proxy server to surf the internet.  Tor is a free piece of software that you can use to disguise your computer’s internet address. It’s not foolproof but it would probably protect you from data mining companies but not the government, NSA, and other tech savvy people.

Almost all browsers have a private browsing mode usually found in the top menu bar in one of the first couple of options:

Private browsing

For other browsers, a simple key combination can work

  • Chrome and Opera: Ctrl+Shift+NP
  • Firefox, Internet Explorer: Ctrl+Shift+P

The browser will stop tracking your history and won’t download any cookies thus ensuring a less revealing internet history.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of ways to create a safer environment online. Obviously, like sex, the only safe way is to stay offline. But if you can’t or don’t want to stay offline, there are a few ways that you can keep yourself out a little less exposed.

If you have any tips for online privacy, drop them in the comments.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

13 Comments

  1. Barbara
    Oct 13, 2013 @ 04:33:11

    I haven’t been paying attention to these things as closely as I should lately, which is dumb considering how privacy policies are changing so often. I would never have thought to check these two specific settings. Thank you!

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  2. Sally W.
    Oct 13, 2013 @ 06:57:19

    Jane, this was so helpful to a dinosaur like myself. Thank you.

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  3. Dabney Grinnan
    Oct 13, 2013 @ 08:54:54

    Having safe passwords is also key. So many people use obvious or repetitive passwords. Several years ago, Slate.com put out a system I’ve been using since then. It sounds complicated, but, once you get the hang of it, it’s not.

    Pick a base phrase that you can always remember. Make sure it has numbers and letters in it. For example, I might pick the first initials of my kids’s names with the number I have. So, my base phrase would be:

    chew4

    Then, for each website you’re on, add an ending or beginning that is connected to that website. I use the acronym of the site plus the @sign. So for Dear Author I’d use:

    @DA

    Combine the two. So, at Dear Author my password would be:

    chew4@DA

    I then add another number that changes each year. I use the year we’re in but you could use your age, etc….

    So my password in 2013 for Dear Author would be:

    chew4@DA2013

    This password is specific to each site you log in to. My password for Amazon would be:

    chew4@A2013

    This system works beautifully because you don’t have to remember anything for a specific website.

    I recommend making a new password each year with a whole new set of components.

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  4. SAO
    Oct 13, 2013 @ 09:38:52

    I bought a bra on Amazon. A few days later, it suggested that I announce all the details to my contacts. I didn’t quite figure out if they were planning to announce size data along with the picture. Needless to say, I promptly clicked over to all my privacy settings to make sure no company ever blasted all my friends with details of my underwear choices.

    I find it hard to figure out whose idea it was, the bra manufacturer wanting to drum up business (announcing my bra size to my male acquaintance is a good way to make me boycott them for life)? Or some computer who had no clue that hey, I look at the great hat I bought differs from Wanna know my bust size?

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  5. Keishon
    Oct 13, 2013 @ 10:35:58

    Just going to concur with Dabney. I’ve always used a base then added other stuff to it for passwords but it doesn’t always pertain to a website at all to prompt me to remember it but that is a great idea. I’ve even gotten savvy at using uppercase and lowercase. Hackers today are very good at guessing lazy passwords.

    I can’t think of any other protections of privacy other than to decrease registering at various websites. I have a limit to how many websites can have my data. With breaches happening almost everyday it just seems safer to stay with one or two vendors that offer variety of things. Just like credit cards, I only keep two. Minimizing online activity is a great idea as well.

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  6. Maite
    Oct 13, 2013 @ 14:03:18

    Thank you so very much! I’d put “review Google privacy policy” in the TBR pile, and we all the size of that.
    I’ve done the long “No, Facebook, you and all your apps are not allowed to share my info.” clickety run for myself and for a couple friends. Yes, each app has separate sharing (Profile-like info: name, birthday, etc.).
    There used to exist a way in Facebook (if anyone knows where they moved it, please share) to check what could a random person see of your profile.
    Compulsory registration: there are quite a lot of places this days which don’t let you see anything unless you register. bugmenot.com has a list of fake accounts with which to log in. Seems safe.

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  7. Darlynne
    Oct 13, 2013 @ 15:17:41

    I do the same as Dabney and Keishon re: passwords. It’s completely manageable and, hopefully, a little more likely to stay safe. Also, not using the same name for different email accounts; if one is hacked, there shouldn’t be a chain reaction to the other(s).

    Thanks for posting the information, Jane. Apparently I was already following the guidelines for FB and hadn’t signed up for Google+ in the first place. Now to see if private browsing makes a difference.

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  8. Kat
    Oct 13, 2013 @ 15:48:58

    Thanks, Jane! I’ve made my changes AND I’ve shared this post with my chums on FB and Google+ and I hope it’ll help them. Your instructions are clear and simple so it’ll save a of explanations and confusion for a lot of people!

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  9. Jonetta (Ejaygirl)
    Oct 13, 2013 @ 16:25:41

    THANK you!!!!

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  10. jeayci
    Oct 13, 2013 @ 17:36:13

    These are all great suggestions. One I find particularly useful is different (free) email addresses for different things, effectively silo’ing my online presence. So I have one email address for online shopping, a different one for communicating with friends and family, another for commenting on threads like this (which seems to result in a LOT of spam; not here necessarily in particular, but this email address gets insane amounts of spam), etc.

    Gmail lets you forward email from one account to another, so I forward them all to one account where I can see everything (and just have to check one email daily). That keeps it from feeling too overwhelming to be so divided.

    I also use LastPass to generate and track different passwords for each site. They have plugins for most browsers, so then it’s a simple matter to login anywhere I need to, and I only have to remember my LastPass password (though I also made my main Gmail password one I could remember too).

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  11. hapax
    Oct 13, 2013 @ 21:44:57

    Just an FYI — a lot of moderated websites will not accept comments that go through a TOR router, since it tends to be a favorite resource of trolls and cyber-stalkers.

    There also is talk (in the USA) of placing some sort of government regulation of TOR systems, although I can’t imagine how that would work, technically.

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  12. Kaetrin
    Oct 14, 2013 @ 05:37:56

    I use LastPass for password storage and generation as well. Then I just need to remember one master password (which is complicated and tricksy) and I don’t have to worry about having millions of impossible to remember passwords everywhere.

    I’m not on a google+ and my personal Facebook is shut down tight. I am becoming increasingly interested in just deleting the whole thing though.

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  13. Michelle in Texas
    Oct 14, 2013 @ 11:10:09

    Another way to build a strong password is use a phrase-such as “Dear Author is an amazing source of Great Books!” Then compress that to “DAiaasoGB!” I can have caps, lower-case, and special characters, and it’s easier to remember a phrase.

    ReplyReply

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