Friday, November 9, 2012

Internet Privacy

I read yet another article explaining that we all need to be very careful about what we post on the Internet. It gave amazing statistics about the percentage of employers or potential dates who will Google you before proceeding. I'm certainly not looking for a date and I try not to express myself in any way I think would be offensive to others or hurt my future job prospects, but I figured it was worth investigating. After all, I have an Internet presence now (if only a small one), and I wanted to be sure that the information I was sharing publicly on the blog was all that was public. It was not.

When I Googled myself, I found all sorts of references I didn't know were there. The only thing that bothered me--and it bothered me greatly--was that Googling my name resulted in several of our family photos appearing in the Google Image results.

I am very careful to keep information about my children out of the public domain. I do not use their names or include (remotely recent) photographs of them on Flotsam of the Mind. I post their photos and talk about them incessantly on Facebook, but I use the available privacy settings and keep my Friends list to people I actually know. I use Picasa to share photos and as my offsite backup, but I use privacy settings there and instantly block anyone (other than my mother) from following my web albums. I was therefore very disturbed to see my children's smiling faces in Google Images.

If you post anything personal anywhere online, I would recommend you Google yourself to see what comes up. In case you share my concerns and want to make some changes, here are the steps I've taken:

1. Confirm that all Facebook settings are marked Friends Only. Double-check the existing photo albums. (I set links to this blog as Public, and that's all.)

2. Delete all Facebook profile pics and cover photos that contain my children. I love sharing those and using them that way, but by definition these photos are available to the public.

3. Make sure the privacy setting on each Picasa Web Album is Limited or Limited, anyone with the link. If the latter, you can still email the album link to friends or relatives and they will be able to access it and share with the provided link. Do not make albums Public.

4. I noticed that my Pinterest username appeared in the Google results. I use the same username for other accounts I would not want others to be able to access, so I changed the Pinterest account to something entirely different.

5.  If you use Picasa and have a Google+ account, these two items are now linked. Your Picasa photos will show up as your Google + Photos. As mentioned in (3), use your Picasa privacy settings. In Google+, change the privacy settings to share only as much as you want. There is a feature on Google+ where you can view your page as the public does. Use it and hide any information in your profile, photos or videos that you do not want public.

I went a step further and deleted my Google+ account. I am a firmly entrenched Facebook user and only created a Google+ account to promote the blog. The only information I posted there were links to blog posts. I really never took the time to understand it, and few of my friends use it. I purposely did not link my Blogger account (where this blog is hosted) to my Google+ account because I did not want to mix my public and private information. Google+ really didn't give me that option with respect to Picasa. I've already spent an enormous amount of time uploading years of photos to Picasa and I really wasn't using Google+, so I threw it from the train. In Google+ parlance, I "downgraded" my account, meaning I eliminated my Google+ account (a Facebook equivalent) but not my Google account, which also contains Gmail, Blogger, Picasa and most likely a whole host of other things I'm not yet using.

After all this, several family photos from a single Picasa album still appeared in the Google Image results. They seemed to be the only problematic ones, so I just deleted the entire Picasa Web Album for now. As I write this, the images still appear in Google Images even after the deletion. I'm hoping that once Google crawls the site again, they will no longer appear. If they do, I have found Google instructions for requesting removal of images. It looks like a real pain, so I'm hoping to avoid it.

While I'm at it, I'm going to delete the Twitter account I created once and never used. I spend enough time on social media as it is, and I'm a Twitter holdout. I tried to delete this account once before and apparently failed, so I'm hoping for better luck this time.

Any other suggestions for things I've missed?

Google yourself now and consider ways to remove information you do not want to appear there. If you need help finding the privacy or other settings I've mentioned here, let me know and I'll explain or provide help links in the comments.

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