As we spend more and more time online and it becomes increasingly integral to our daily lives, we are at risk of exposing more and more of our personal data to the internet.
Once there, it is nearly impossible to retrieve and the likelihood of it being picked up by an online directory aggregating data found all over the web, is high. Information is sometimes bought and used by legitimate companies through data exchanges for targeted marketing, but it can also be used by criminals to commit identity theft.
Obviously we should all take care over how much of our personal information we upload to the internet (the usual suspect being loose security on social networks), but often it is out of our hands and a third party is responsible for the breach of data protection.
What can you do to make sure your information is secure?
Google has introduced a suite of features around managing our online profile, reputation and personal data. The 'Me on the Web' series is designed to enlighten internet users about best practice in terms of keeping your data secure online and empower them to take control of their own information.
- Google - Me on the Web
You can use the Me on the Web feature in two ways, firstly Get notified when your personal data appears on the web and then to Remove unwanted content that might have turned up.
When you sign up to get notified when your personal data appears on the web, you are creating alerts for your name, phone number, etc. Google will then alert you by email if that information appears online.
If you find content online which you're unhappy about, you can take steps to remove that content from appearing in search results. You need to find out who controls the content. If it is coming from a page you control, for example your own social networking account, you need to change the settings with that account. If it is coming from a page someone else controls, you need to contact them and request that the content is removed from the web. Once you've done that you can contact Google and have the URL or cached copy of that page removed.
The Me on the Web service is really useful, especially when you consider that it takes on average 500 days to discover your identity has been stolen, and a further 300 hours to undo the damage with duped creditors after that.
We've taken a quick look at some of the alternatives you can find on the web. Most charge a small subscription fee but there are some great free services too.
- Personal network
- Personal Data Vault
- Personal Search
- Identity Management
- "Personal enables individuals to own, control access to and benefit from their personal information bouncing around the digital world".
This site is described as 'personal identification management site', and gives users the ability to create, populate and manage private data 'vaults' within a private network - these vaults can be used for any information at all - phone numbers, logins to online banking, recipes. Requests can be sent and permissions granted for data sharing. CEO Shane Green says, "It's all about transparency and control. We believe the more people have that ability to aggregate data and set permissions on who gets it, the more they're going to be willing to share data with companies and marketers that can deliver real value for them."
- Instant alerts if identity thieves try to open a credit account in your name
- Real time alerts for online privacy and identity protection
- Helps to protect your personal identity
The site was bought by credit reporting company Experian in May so understandably this site focuses on identity theft and offers its users real time fraud alerts, continuous monitoring and protection of your online profile and lots of advice on how to keep secure online. They have a live support team to help you if an issue arises.
- repair your reputation
- create your presence
- hide your personal info
As the name suggests, this site focuses more on reputation than security and can help you to manage your entire web presence. Subscriptions are available for individuals and businesses and could be used in conjunction with a corporate PR strategy. Note that the 'repair your reputation' feature claims help to suppress a bad rep by 'eliminating unwanted links in your top Google results'.
Individual subscription - £6.58 per month for one year
Business subscription - poa
Identity theft is one of the most frustrating situations to find yourself in, as anyone who has had their identity stolen will tell you. Next time you're on the internet, consider taking the time to find out whether your personal information is visible on the web. If it is, catching it early could save you time and money.