The Smart Girl's Guide to Privacy

"I've rarely read a book that chilled and scared me the way writer Violet Blue's The Smart Girl's Guide to Privacy did. In this must-read for anyone who uses their laptop or phone to go online, Blue details the numerous ways women and LGBT people especially face security risks every time we go online, including identity theft, revenge porn, stalking, and all manner of scams."
-DAME Magazine

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”      Alice Walker

 

TAKE THE ONLINE PRIVACY SELF-TEST RIGHT NOW

Sign out of your social media accounts, then:

  • Using quotes, Google your name (be sure to check the Images tab)
  • Google your phone number
  • Google your home address
  • Google your social security number (tax ID)
  • Do a Google Reverse Image Search of your most recent public shared photos of yourself
  • Search your own name on Spokeo, US Search or Intelius.

Don’t panic if you see something you didn’t realize was public, and don’t blame yourself for what these companies have done to your privacy. What’s online doesn’t have to stay visible forever.

NINE WAYS TO PROTECT YOUR PRIVACY RIGHT NOW:

  • Use different email addresses for different online accounts (it can forward to your real address)
  • Tape over your webcam
  • View your Facebook, LinkedIn and Google Plus profiles as someone else…
  • …Then adjust the privacy settings
  • Activate the password lock on your phone, laptop and tablet
  • Never sign in on someone else’s phone, computer or tablet
  • Look into getting a free, Internet-based VoIP (Voice over IP) phone number to use for any online communications (don’t worry, you can forward it)
  • If you’re making purchases online, or operate a home business, consider getting a post­office box that you can use in place of your home address. (This will minimize the risk of identity theft, stalking and other dangers.)
  • Install two or three anti-tracking plugins and extensions on your browser (like AdBlock Plus)

Whether or not you get a copy of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy, don’t hesitate to do the above. The book will explain why each of these things is a good idea in detailed recommendations - but trust me, it’s worth it. For example:

TAPE OVER YOUR WEBCAM

A year before Cassidy Wolf was crowned Miss Teen USA 2013, a guy in her high school hacked into the webcam and took photos of her. She found out when he got into her social media accounts, and tried to extort her: she was one of twelve girls he had taken photos of and threatened for cash. 

You can make your camera worthless – but you can still use it when you choose – by keeping it taped up. Post­Its have a gentle adhesive on them, and are easy to replace. There are a lot more simple safety tips like this in chapter 6, “A Smart Girl’s Guide to Social Media.”

LOCK YOUR PHONE, COMPUTER AND TABLET

Put a password or pin number on your computer, tablet, or phone. There’s a Creepy Steve in every café, on every bus, in your friend circle, your family’s friends… If Creepy Steve picks up your phone, iPad, Kindle, or sits down at your computer when you go pee, and you didn’t lock it, he’s got access to any account you left open — email, social, credit cards. And good luck if you’ve told your computer to save passwords for critical sites.

It’s scarier when your device has been stolen, because the attacker has all the time in the world to rummage through your accounts. If you think passwords suck, you’re right, but don’t miss the simple password solutions in chapter 10 “I Hate Passwords.”

DO A CHECK-UP

Set aside an hour to do a privacy check-up. If it sounds as fun as doing household chores, that’s because it is. Since Facebook likes to change and screw with your privacy settings whenever it feels like it, chances are good you might be revealing something you regret.

You’ll worry less about the privacy bait-and-switch these sites like to play on users if you use the simple check-up checklists in chapters 2 (“It’s Just My Phone Number”) and 6 (“Social Media”), and the do/don’t lists in chapter 4 (“You Got Hacked”).

HAVE A DISASTER PLAN

Just like you’d have extra water bottles around the house if you live in an earthquake zone, you should have disaster maps for online privacy disasters like identity theft, being hacked, getting stalked, or becoming a target for reputation attacks (such as revenge porn).

The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy shows you how to avoid all of these scary scenarios. But it also has step-by-step guides that take you through surviving all of these nightmares, including how to reclaim lost accounts on the biggest websites, templates and a system for getting images removed. You’ll also have sane, clear systems handy for recovering your damaged credit – or a damaged reputation.

STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE INTERNET (AGAIN)

Everyone’s worried about their privacy right now. We want to share, but we don’t want to share too much. We’re worried about being hacked, spied on, companies invading our privacy, exes trying to ruin our reputation, and we’re afraid of making a mistake we can’t fix.

The good news is that contrary to what you’ve heard, when something goes online about you, it doesn’t stay visible forever.

But there are a number of ways in which we lose our privacy, and most of the time it’s not our fault. Often, our privacy gets violated because no one warned us about what to look out for, or who not to trust.

When considering your non-private information, think: Is it information you’d want made available to the creepy guy who hit on you at the bar? The taxi driver who dropped you off at home afterward?

This is the “stranger in the bar” test. Does your public, online footprint pass this test?

These are the four ways in which women fail the “stranger in a bar test”:

Normal people

  • Friends sharing our location online, like with public Facebook check-ins and “tagging” us in photos
  • People taking photos or video without our permission and putting them online
  • Someone accidentally (or intentionally) seeing our computer screen, phone or tablet screen, opening an application (like iPhoto), or tapping open a folder on our phone or iPad 

Evil people

  • Personal or sexual photos (or videos) of us being shared without our consent
  • Creeps spying through our webcams
  • Someone trying to hurt us by making embarrassing things public or sending private things about us to people like our bosses
  • Malicious people publishing our private information (like our address) online

Greedy and irresponsible companies

  • Websites changing settings and making private things public
  • Being tricked by a website to enter personal information
  • Companies like online stores, Google, Facebook, email services, social media and others selling our personal, private information to other companies
  • Companies that buy and collect our personal, private information and making it available for purchase (“people search” services)

Oops… You

  • Not realizing that something we put online is public
  • Not knowing which things not to share online
  • Not using a password on your phone, laptop, certain apps, or file folders
  • Unclear website privacy settings making private things public

One of the biggest problems is that most websites and apps are not designed to protect or safeguard people who are targets. Social media sites are a privacy minefield, unless you know how to protect yourself from not just the other users but company running the website itself (we’re looking at you, Facebook).

Most sites are designed by men who don’t take into account that half the people using the website will have the website’s rules and structures used against them for evil. Many online services (like bill pay websites) and mobile apps are made quickly and clumsily: They take more of your private information than they need, and have terrible security.

Privacy can be something you want to just have in place, or you may have heard horror stories about things like identity theft or revenge porn happening to other women, and you want to make sure it never happens to you. Maybe you’re just interested in being a little bit badass about your privacy. Or you could be dealing with a privacy or reputation crisis right now.

 No matter what got you to The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy, the information it has will give you control and power over something that would otherwise have the power to embarrass you, ruin your credit, or even hurt you.

And if you’re reading this because you’ve lost control - you’re about to get your power back.