Anonymity – How to Keep Yourself Safe

Most people act on convenience and habit when it comes to matters of the internet, and that common but flawed philosophy holds true for some of their most vital information. This includes usernames. Sure, it seems harmless enough at first; it’s not your real name, and there’s nothing about it that indicates who you really are or where you live, right? Not necessarily. Taking on a pseudonym does not guarantee anonymity. In fact, it can be used to track you down with great efficiency.

Why did you choose your username? Some will say that they like it, or that it’s easy to remember. Others will say that it’s the username they’ve always used, and they see no reason to add a new bit of information to remember along with passwords and the websites to which they belong. And there you have your first misstep. People often reuse usernames, give or a take a few letters or numbers depending on the availability of the name, and when that username becomes associated with your “main accounts,” your information becomes available to whomever has an interest in finding you. Let’s look at a hypothetical situation:

Say name is Susie Michaels, and your username is kittybird999. It’s a name you’ve always had, and you’ve used it in multiple places. Nobody has to know Susie is kittybird999, and she’s never told anyone, so her information is safe…or so you can assume. What if Susie Michaels has a Facebook account, and listed as her Skype name is kittybird999? Or that she went for a custom FB URL that ended in kittybird999? If Susie never thought to set her profile on Private, any and all information on her Facebook account, including pictures and wall posts, would be available for anyone to see. It doesn’t end there. What if Susie has been on the internet for many years, and her accounts and username date trail back to that long-forgotten Myspace page? How about Livejournal? Yes, they still exist and will continue to exist, and their contents are searchable on Google. Any place you’ve ever shared private or intimate details about yourself and your life becomes an open book, and that’s a very scary thought. Can you imagine anyone looking back at what you were like as a teenager?

Always be wary about where you want different aspects of your life mix. Personally I have at least three personae: work, personal, and internet. The second two sometimes intersect – an inevitable part of our evolving social structure – but my work life is completely separate. This allows me to control what I want potential employers to see; in essence, it allows me to create a work/personal persona: one that highlights my strengths as a candidate while keeping possible “red flags” from my personal life hidden.

First, it helps to have a nickname by which your friends know you. That way you can keep your personal online accounts open and candid while your real name can stay immaculate. It’s understandable that you may not want to maintain more than just a single account for convenience’s sake, but it’s a very small price to pay to keep your identity safe from prying eyes. Next, keep your usernames and account information separate. Duplicate data will practically destroy any attempt to stay hidden. And finally, Privacy Settings are your best friend. Keep your personal accounts private and viewable only by those who have your permission. It takes 10 minutes to change and customize your settings, so you have no excuse not to do it.

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