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Keeping your private life private online, on social media

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Using social media and keeping your private life private can be quite a task. It gets even sticker for tech savvy people who have websites. And no matter how many times personal information is removed from WhitePages.com, it slowly creeps back up the next year.

With bills being paid online and mail distribution dwindling, this gives more people more opportunities to find out personal contact information. The email spam alone can send people into hysterics. Some brush it off as just part of being in a digital world. Others would still prefer to protect the little bit of privacy they have left.

Here are a few simple tips to regain some privacy in the digital world.

Step 1 Google+

Opt out of the Google+ option to let anybody email your personal account. Although the contact people won't be able to see your email address, should you reply to the email asking how your information was given, that email address is now theirs for the taking. Or, should you be OK with people on Google+ contacting you by Gmail outside of your circles, choose a general email address instead of a personal email address to be active on Google+.

Step 2 Web Domains

When purchasing a website domain, your mailing address, email address and IP address are searchable to the public online. According to the rules of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the international organization that oversees all domain registrations on the Internet, any time a domain is registered anywhere in the world, the owner's information must be submitted to the WHOIS database. If your website is paid for through RComExpress.com or other web hosting sites, choose a business email address and mailing address instead of personal contact information. This means the credit or debit card that is associated with this account must also match this address. The only other way to back out of personal contact information being searchable is to pay a $10 annual fee to companies affiliated with WHOIS. The "privacy protection" will allow these companies to submit their information in place of your contact information. These companies are also supposed to filter out junk contacts and forward legitimate email to the domain recipient. Click here for more information from Weebly, one web designing site.

Step 3 WhitePages.com

This may be the most invasive website online. With the print version of Yellow Pages and White Pages, all that was published was a mailing address and a phone number. With the online version, the site posts a person's age, suggests family members who may have also lived at your current address, previous address and all addresses associated with your name. For someone with a unique name, the site is even easier for people to be narrowed down. By running a full report on InstantCheckMate.com, readers can also see even more information about a person without being charged. Always "Claim/Edit" the information on sites like these. Even if it takes setting an annual reminder to do it each year, make it a point to do so.

Step 4 Private Social Media Accounts

Keeping Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media sites private may seem like a good idea, but in the long run, it's not all that private. Twitter followers can still copy and paste all tweets as retweets without using the retweet option. LinkedIn Business, Business Plus and Exective accountholders can still snoop on LinkedIn accounts. Even Basic LinkedIn accounts have the option of looking at people's profiles under an Anonymous name. Facebook gives users the option to friend people but not follow them, but those same friends can still share content with others. And with so many sites requesting social media accounts as a log-in account to avoid spammers and trolls, comments get tracked back to the user anyway. Facebook has also grown less flexible about letting people use aliases. One way around this is to use an alias that sounds like a real name. However, if all of your social circle are friends or connected to this username, it'll be easy to figure out who the person is anyway. The only way to avoid having private information released to the public is to not post something on a social media account that you wouldn't be proud to say out loud in front of everybody -- from boss to best friend.

Step 5 Automated Billing

Post offices continue to raise their postage rates not just due to labor demand but also less participation for using mail. Some companies (ex. T-Mobile) charge people for paper statements. Other companies (ex. Vanguard) waste entirely too much paper for an exorbitant amount of mail. And oddly enough a third set of companies (ex. RCN) charges a fee for paying bills online. Get familiar with all of the fees associated with the bill collector. Read how they're using your personal information online. However, judging from the amount of random junk print mail that you get from inexplicable companies that never explain how they got your information, avoiding the digital world isn't the most private option either. However, no company should have as much power over your money as you do. Opt out of automated billing.

Step 6 Social Security Numbers and Temp Agencies

It's far easier for people who are not job searching to avoid the issues with Social Security numbers. For job applicants who use temp companies, Social Security numbers are commonly asked for. As with any other paying company, there is a rationale reason to have it. However, only give out Social Security numbers to a physical company that is accredited on the Better Business Bureau, has a physical office that you can travel to (and it's been there for awhile), has convenient business phone numbers and can easily be searched. Under no circumstances should random virtual temp companies be given the first four digits, or last four or five digits of a Social Security number. The rationale given is that the clients need to make sure there aren't multiple applicants for that job in their systems. And while some job applicants will double dip from temp agency to temp agency, a credible temp agency will soon realize a job applicant is doing that. Temp agencies usually start their queries with "Where else are you applying? Do you have other jobs pending? Have you applied to this position before?" That should be enough.

Step 7 Junk Online and Print Mail

Whether the post office sends back "Return to Sender" email or not, don't accept it. Eventually that company should get the hint that there are no responses. For online purposes, use "filters" to block not just email accounts but keywords, too. Any job applicant who has posted a public resume on CareerBuilder or Monster knows as soon as this happens, the junk email quadruples. Blocking an email address from a spam company won't work. They'll just send messages from the next spam account. Block all possible keywords. However, spammers are getting trickier with their messages. They're now sending image banners embedded in the body of the message so keyword filters won't pick up on this. In that case, keep track of the pattern in the email addresses. Or, set email settings so only people from your digital contact list can send you messages.

Step 8 Online Address Books

Cell phones and smartphones have made people especially lazy about memorizing phone numbers. However, with recent changes in cell phone providers, keeping track of numbers through digital accounts are easier. Anyone who uses Google Contacts can add their circles' email addresses, mailing addresses and phone numbers. Tread lightly with this option. Considering Gmail still connects ads associated with personal email keywords, it doesn't seem like too much of a stretch that this information will end up like Google+ emails. With cell phone providers, such as T-Mobile, that no longer allow users to automatically match their T-Mobile Contacts to their SIM cards (or vice versa), Gmail Contacts is the suggested option. It may be a safer idea to just manually type in phone numbers instead of connecting them all to Gmail. Or, stick to an old-fashioned address book.

Recommended Reading:

PBS Frontline: United States of Secrets

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