Joining the Conversation – Online Privacy and Identity Protection

Welcome to Part 1 of our ‘Joining the Conversation’ Series. Here we will discuss the various aspects of online privacy and identity protection – important issues to consider if you are planning on sharing your story online.

We are living in a world of information sharing. On the whole this is a good thing, as it allows us faster and more efficient ways to control many aspects of our lives, and allows us opportunities to connect with other people across the globe. However, it lays open to the rest of the world another portal to our personal information.

English: Photograph of a key ring with one Chu...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you choose to participate in any online conversation, then 99% of the time you will be required to create some kind of login account that involves a username and password.

Passwords are like the keys to your home or family safe. Every effort should be made to protect them. Setting strong passwords across the many different online platforms you use will assist in protecting your identity  and maintain your privacy online.

Please note: This should not make us fearful. I doubt that any of us would consider the idea of never leaving our homes for fear of losing our house keys. Similarly, online security is just a matter of finding sensible and safe ways to protect access to our personal information.

The following are some simple things you can adopt to protect this information and your identity to safely join the online conversation.

1. Password Protection for your computer:

Something that many people don’t even think to do, which should be at the top of your list of personal security items, is the password protection of both your home network system and your personal computer.

If your home network password is known, it is very easy to track any computer use within your home (particularly if it is a wireless system).

Additionally, if personal computers are not equipped with password access, then any information stored on them is available for exploitation.

Always ensure that proper passwords are set for both your home network system and any personal computers connected to that system.

2. Online Password Protection:

There are two levels of online passwords.

  1. Critical passwords – These would be used for online banking, access to personal documents and information, PayPal, or anything else that contains access to your financial information and assets. Every effort should be made to make these passwords as strong as possible, and they should be changed every 3-6 months. NEVER mix them with the less critical passwords described below.
  2. Less critical passwords – These passwords would be for sites where there is less critical information involved – such as social network sites, blogs, and email accounts. They are not as critical as those described in #1 above, but you will probably use them more frequently, and will therefore be more readily remembered. They should be changed every 6 months.
Welcome to the Hotel California
Cover of "Hotel California"

Cover of Hotel California (Amazon.com)

Tips for setting strong passwords:

  1. Don’t use common things, such as family names, birthdates, addresses, or obvious things like ‘password’ or ‘123’.
  2. Try to make your passwords at least 6 characters long (longer if allowed) – the more characters, the safer the password.
  3. Use a mix of characters – upper case, lower case, numerals, and special characters. The more complex the character set, the safer the password.
  4. NEVER write your passwords down, or record them anywhere on your computer.
  5. Use passphrases or mnemonics if you find it difficult to remember your passwords. A passphrase is a sentence or a line from a song, or poem, in which the first letter of each word becomes the password. To add different characters you can substitute things like ‘to’ with ‘2’. Eg. “Welcome to the Hotel California by The Eagles”, would read ‘W2tHCbTE’ (and no, I haven’t used this as one of my passwords – its just an example).
  6. Always use a unique password for each site.
  7. Don’t share your passwords with others.

Here are a couple of websites that give you more detailed information on creating a strong password:

3.   Other Forms of Online Security

Using an Avatar (profile picture)
One way of helping to protect your identity online, while still maintaining a consistent and credible presence, is to create an avatar that you can use across many different platforms.

Your Facebook profile picture is an example of a type of avatar. Some people may use an actual image of themselves, but it is also quite acceptable for people to create an online avatar that is used as a representation of them.

For example, I use a cartoon avatar of myself to represent my MMM blog. I use this avatar to identify myself on other associated blogs as well. I also have a more personal avatar, which is an actual photograph of myself, that I use on social network sites where I connect with people I know on a more personal level.

Here are a couple of links to some fun avatar creation sites:

You can also use one of your own images that can be cropped to the standard avatar image size.

Using an Online Username (pseudonym)
Similarly, choosing a username that you can use across different platforms allows you to maintain a consistent presence online, without revealing too much personal information – such as your full name. If you are serious about ‘Joining the Conversation’, creating a consistent username gives greater credibility and consistency to your comments no matter where you visit.

If you feel you must use your own name, always keep it to just your first name.

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Next week we will be looking at the the different ways we can share our stories online. This part will help us determine to what extent we wish to join the conversation, and evaluate the different platforms available to us to do this.

If you have any questions about the first part of the series, then please leave a comment below and I would be more than happy to answer them. 

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