After Ashley Madison: What to (and What Not to) Do Online

Source: iStock

Source: iStock

The Ashley Madison hack and the subsequent public release of its user data has once again brought the issue of data security and privacy to the forefront. It’s a bit different with Ashley Madison though: here the victims are alleged unfaithful spouses. Despite what you may think of the people that use the site themselves, these individuals expected their data — and identities — to be safe and private.

In this day and age such a belief is dangerous. History has shown time and time again that you cannot trust anyone, or anything, on the Internet. So how should you behave on the Internet and social media to protect yourself from potential (and potentially embarrassing) disclosure of personal information? Keep these tips in mind.

Don’t ever expect anything to be “deleted.”

Ashley Madison offers a service to customers called “Full Delete.” For $19, the company claimed it removed any trace of a user’s presence on the site. The option was an obvious moneymaker for the company, Buzzfeed reports, but the hackers behind the breach claimed that information on deleted profiles still remained on the site, according to the Verge.

It’s not like we haven’t seen this before. Facebook similarly offers an option to delete your account, but it isn’t truly gone. While your identity is removed, it isn’t clear whether or not your information is truly gone, reports New Scientist.

You should never post anything that you think may bite you later on for this reason. Even after deletion somebody may find it later, and you could find yourself in a sticky situation with your spouse, a friend, or even your job.

Keep business and personal separate.

We all share quite a bit on our social media accounts. Whether it be the latest Buzzfeed video, a funny joke, or our political leanings. At the same time, we also have to be mindful of our audiences. A recent article on the Wall Street Journal suggests tips on how to behave online.

It’s best to keep your business and personal lives separate. If you don’t want everyone at the office to know your personal life, then keep those people off of your Facebook. I have quite a few friends who have two accounts on social media services. One a fully locked down version for family and friends, and another for business associates and coworkers. That’s one way to do it.

Also, what’s good on Facebook isn’t good for LinkedIn. These days a lot of employers are looking through potential candidate’s LinkedIn accounts as a judge of employability, so make sure you shine on these accounts. For me, my LinkedIn and Twitter are all business; my Facebook is for my friends and acquaintances. Regardless, don’t mix business and pleasure.

Privacy and password settings mean nothing.

Don’t assume just because a service offers privacy settings or password protection that your data won’t leak out later. With one hack, somebody can grab your password and find out information that you’re trying to hide. On the other end, privacy settings may not mean much either.

Too many put trust in the fact that “all my settings are private,” so they don’t need to worry. People are finding ways to get around these settings, and sometimes we forget who has access to what we’re writing. Take this Buzzfeed article on why you shouldn’t add your boss on social media. While funny, it illustrates a point. Some of these folks may have had their accounts locked down, but forgot one night after an alcohol-fueled work gathering they added their boss as a friend.

It’s all about context.

They often say with the written word, it’s all about context. When joining a site, or writing something online, you always need to consider the context that it will be viewed in by people that may be reading it without knowing where you’re coming from.

Even if you weren’t planning to cheat and just curious on what Ashley Madison is, how do you think it looks to somebody who finds you on there? Given its reputation as a site for people looking for an affair, you’re going to be automatically labeled as an adulterer regardless. The searcher has nothing else to base their opinion on other than Ashley Madison’s reputation.

The same thing goes for social media posts. I follow a rather high profile meteorologist on Twitter. While he knows his stuff, his posts sometimes are strongly opinionated to the point they’re insulting to those who don’t agree with him. Somebody that doesn’t know his work likely otherwise would think he’s just being a jerk. Again, it’s the context they have to judge — perhaps unfairly — his character.

If you really have to, consider an alias.

If you have to check something out that might be potentially damaging, if possible use an alias instead of your actual identity. Business Insider recently suggested three different times it may be best to use an alias. If you want to keep certain details of your life secret — like using Ashley Madison — your real name might not be the best thing to use.

Also, if you’re worried about or at high risk for identity theft, masking your online identity with an alias could provide an additional line of defense. Finally, if you’re trying to get a job, hiding your social media accounts by not using your real name might be a good idea.

As I said previously, employers are increasingly looking to social media to monitor either current employees or prospective ones. Aliases will make your information harder to find. Of course, not every social media service will let you use anything but your real name. For those that don’t, you’ll still need to take every precaution to protect yourself.

Follow Ed on Twitter @edoswald

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