Understanding the Risks of Information Exposure
Many people think that if they aren’t active online, their information isn’t exposed. However, you aren’t the only one sharing your information. Consider how others might handle information about you.
- Employers: Many employers share information about employees. Consider carefully how much information you’re comfortable with sharing through, for instance, an employee bio posted on your company website. How much information should be visible to other employees on your intranet? When you attend a conference, is the attendee list shown in online conference documents? And even if you’re retired, there may still be information about you on your former employer’s website. Review the site to determine if it reveals more than you’d like it to — and ask your employer to take down or alter the information if needed.
- Government agencies: Some agencies post personal information, such as documents concerning your home purchase and property tax, on publicly available websites. Government agencies may also post birth, marriage, and death certificates, and these documents may contain your Social Security number, loan number, copies of your signature, and so on. You should check government records carefully to see if private information is posted and, if it is, demand that it be removed.
- Family members and friends: They may write about you in their blogs, post photos of you, or mention you on special-interest sites such as those focused on genealogy.
- Clubs and organizations: Organizations with which you volunteer, the church you attend, and professional associations you belong to may reveal facts such as your address, age, income bracket, and how much money you’ve donated.
- Newspapers: If you’ve been featured in a newspaper article, you may be surprised to find the story, along with a picture of you or information about your work, activities, or family, by doing a simple online search. If you’re interviewed, ask for the chance to review the information that the newspaper will include, and be sure that you’re comfortable with exposing that information.
- Online directories: Services such as White Pages or AnyWho list your home phone number and address, unless you specifically request that these be removed. You may be charged a small fee associated with removing your information — a so-called privacy tax — but you may find the cost worthwhile.
Online directories often include the names of members of your family, your email address, the value of your home, your neighbors’ names and the values of their homes, an online mapping tool to provide a view of your home, driving directions to your home, and your age. The record may also include previous addresses, schools you’ve attended, and links for people to run background checks on you. (Background check services generally charge a fee.) A smart con person can use all that information to convince you that he’s a friend of a friend or even a relative in distress who needs money.
Because services get new information from many sources, you’ll need to check back periodically to see if your information has again been put online — if it has, contact the company or go through its removal process again.
Try entering your home phone number in any browser’s address line; chances are you’ll get an online directory listing with your address and phone number (although this doesn’t work for cellphone numbers).
Many web browsers not only track browsing data, but also save the personal data you enter into online forms so that information can be reused later to fill forms automatically. In Microsoft Edge, you can stop saving form entries. Click the More Actions button, and click Settings. Click View Advanced Settings. Under Privacy and Services, click the Save Form Entries button to turn the setting off.