What's the best way protect myself from online snoopers?
October 5, 2012 8:36 AM   Subscribe

What's the best way to scrub my online presence for protection from a potential-future snoopy boss, etc?

For most of my adult life I've worked in a place that wouldn't fire me for anything less than a violent felony, possibly even requiring it be committed on company property.

Now I'm about to start work for a large company, and while our up-front and behind-the-scenes values and whatnot largely match (ie they do good stuff and aren't owned by evangelicals, actively recruit minorities, and so on) they do
1. have a reputation for a hair trigger when it comes to bringing the company into disrepute (talking about work online, being seen in a bar visibly identifiable by uniform or nametag)
2. have a few people who, if you're in their sights for this reason, will do some serious digging and try to make any little thing stink and stick

So now that I'm here after a longtime of living my life online rather carefree, what's the best (and up to date) checklist (and I am ideally looking for a website with a checklist, though individual suggestions here more than welcome) for walling myself off from a potential snooper or nightmarish witch-hunt in the future?

All I have now is
1. Lock down Facebook, and don't post anything apart from cat photos from now on. Don't befriend anyone at work.
2. Scrub any forum profiles of identifying data and change all forum user names so there's no daisy-chain (from cat-owners to MeFi to eBay to AA to fetlife)
3. Don't do or say anything online that isn't fit for a Disney movie.

What am I missing? I have a Twitter and LinkdIn (and probably a few other such) acct that I used all of twice 4 years ago--just delete them? I'm barely active on FB (though I get tagged a fair bit), and not on any of the other big social sites. Mostly just MeFi and a handful of niche-interests (all legal but some are eye-brow raising).

What are the current step-by-step directions for locking down your FB privacy with the current version of FB? The interface and terminology barely make sense to me anymore.

Should I worry about any free-pot-and-legalize-Mumia type online petitions I signed years and years ago?

Worrying about Usenet history is pretty much a lost cause, isn't it?
posted by anonymous to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Short of hireing a service to sanatize your online activities and history- this is rather difficult to do.

You could hire a private detective to investigate you, but unless they have the relevant tech knowledge they can't hide or remove what they've found, just let you know what degree of difficulty it took to find the information.

Good luck.
posted by Faintdreams at 8:41 AM on October 5, 2012

Set up a Google Alert for any past username that could potentially be traced back to you in case something surfaces again.

Facebook has a convenient way to check how your profile appears to others, so use that when setting up your privacy settings. Also, you might want to rename your current one with a real-sounding fake name (or just Firstname Middlename) and set up a white-glove "work" Facebook with your real name and friend only the most innocuous people you know. You should shy away from posting anything you don't want reflecting on you anywhere, but this is an added layer of security for when new coworkers want to friend you and an existing friend list will make it less obvious that you're hiding something.
posted by griphus at 8:42 AM on October 5, 2012

The obvious thing is to close your facebook account.
posted by pompomtom at 8:43 AM on October 5, 2012

Remember your access points. Don't scrub your online life and then find that you give out clues that let someone get into your life via your friends' or family's lack of privacy controls.

In short - remember to keep your private life private IRL too. Information you give out can be used to tailor searches done by nosy people.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:44 AM on October 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

Also, in this day and age and depending on the technical savvy of your coworkers, not having a Facebook or having one and not friending coworkers can come off as suspicious (hence the fake-out Facebook account.)
posted by griphus at 8:47 AM on October 5, 2012

Set up multiple false accounts on different services with your name with conflicting information, (including one very clean FB account with just the kitty photos you can use to safely friend work people with when they ask, without seeming defensive) making your online presence fuzzy to determine.

Long and short of it is, if people dig hard and long enough they will find out who you are, but if over time you change some basic information and have multiple sources with differing information it may help deter casual and low level snooping. One would hope that your employer would not go trough great lengths in looking you up, because if they do there is probably nothing you can do, and at that point they are looking for reasons to fire you so your entire life online and offline are vulnerable.
posted by edgeways at 8:48 AM on October 5, 2012

If you stay on Facebook, use the setting that lets you approve tagged content before it can appear in your timeline.
posted by ceiba at 8:51 AM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

You should use your linkedin account for its intended purpose. If you do so, you can have a polished professional page as your top hit.
posted by crazycanuck at 8:51 AM on October 5, 2012

Here are my rules for my similar situation:

I have a "professional" profile on places that are work-appropriate, site like Linked-in and a few industry specific ones. These are good because they do have high-ranking on the googles and tend to push other stuff down the search page.

I do have a Facebook page and a twitter identity under my real name, but they are placeholders only. I can use these to follow other people, but I don't put up anything personal or make very many comments on other people's feeds. These come up on searches for me, but don't have anything connected to them I don't want.

I do maintain a couple separate pseudonyms, that I use here, and a few other community sites, and for things like on-line gaming. These are somewhat linked together, but I try to keep them distinct from my work/named profiles. This gets tricky with the "true names" doctrines Facebook and G+ have, for example, and why I think Quora is worse than useless.

Ultimately though, it means changing your on-line behaviour, not publishing anything that you would not want to have brought up in a meeting with your boss and HR present. Pictures are especially something to be careful of as they can easily be taken out of context, and reactions to images can be visceral. Beware of shots with solo cups, for example---that got a some new hires fired by my employer a few years ago.

It's a challenge, and one of the penalties of working for an image-conscious institution, particularly those with hair-triggers.
posted by bonehead at 9:25 AM on October 5, 2012

Not just user names, but email addresses. I was able to "find" my amazon wishlist and membership at various bb boards and photo images services based on my email address. I changed my amazon email to tilde+amazon at gm-ail.com* since people were unlikely to search for that (more likely to search for tilde at gm-ail.com*).

I use an approximation of my name online on FB and don't FB friend current coworkers or someone who has been a coworker in the last two years or may be in the last two years. Though there is a suggestion above to have a FB in your true real name, which some people do with their real names and their approximation names. I maintain an approximation name one, mindful of the FB guidelines.

I professionally utilize linkedin heavily, as well as for networking. I keep personal (tilde) and professional (pam punctual) email addresses completely separate (been with my SO for 15 years and only started emailing some of his side of the family using that email address in the last year or so because of the proliferation of chain emails and "upload your address book to us to make your life easier" scenarios.)

*it would be amazing if I could have gotten tilde at gmail.com but I didn't, pooh!
posted by tilde at 9:34 AM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Look yourself up on PeekYou. It's surprising how much it can find out about your online identity.
posted by zsazsa at 9:43 AM on October 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

It is hard to prevent someone from finding something old if they are really trying to do a deep search on you.

On the other hand, you can minimize the chances of someone accidentally finding out something about you by making sure that the first couple of pages of google/bing hits on your name point to things you aren't concerned about. In other words, get more work-safe content out there associated with your name.
posted by alms at 9:57 AM on October 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

1- Don't do things that might be embarrassing to your employers.
2- Don't do them online.
3- Don't do them with people who would take pictures.

Online = not private. With people = not private. Anything else is wishful thinking.
posted by gjc at 5:55 PM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

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