It’s been only 48 hours since I wrote my blogpost on how to track a “troll” online. The blogpost itself was inspired by Leo Traynors story how online trolling and harrasment crossed over into real life and how he managed to find his tormentor. Since then I’ve had several thousand hits on that particular blog-post and have received phonecalls and emails from different media-outlets with questions on this topic. It’s obviously a hot issue…
My blogpost was not meant to serve as a manual on how to track someone online but was more as an insight that, yes indeed, you can legally track someone online and find out their identity and/or location. It was however also meant to serve as a warning of sorts on how much private information people put online using various social networks. This second issue needs elaborating on in my opinion as it’s an often ignored issue or at least one that elicits a lot of ignorant commenting.
First rule of online privacy: DON’T PUT ANYTHING ONLINE THAT YOU WOULDN’T SAY TO A COMPLETE STRANGER!
The above is the simplest but most effective rule; don’t make any comments about someone online that you wouldn’t say to their face and don’t put any images online which you want to keep private. Adhering to that rule will save you a lot of trouble. Also remember that anything online, once it is indexed by Google, will stay accessible online forever. That’s right, Google caches every website that it indexes. That means that there will be a publicly accessible copy of that content on a Google server. Google will in certain instances remove content from its servers but rarely because the content is offensive or untrue and this is even less likely if you are not the owner of the website. So getting content which you put on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook and have since removed to be also removed from Googles cache is as good as impossible. The point is to *not* put said content online in the first place.
Second rule of online privacy: USE YOUR PRIVACY SETTINGS!
Most social networks have privacy settings. USE THEM. Even Twitter let’s you protect your tweets by setting your account as private or just straightforward block people. Note: Not a lot of people realize that if they block someone on Twitter that the blocked person can still read their tweets when they run a search for them. The only way to really prevent someone from seeing your tweets is to protect them.
On Facebook you have a lot more flexibility in regards to your privacy settings. You can have one setting for who can see your details, another for who can see the images you upload and so on. It gives you multiple levels of control. USE THEM! There is no reason why something that you put on Facebook should be seen by someone who you do not want to see it.
Third rule of online privacy: WHAT HAPPENS ON THE INTERNET STAYS ON THE INTERNET!
Yes that’s right; anything that is put up on the internet (websites, blogs, social media and *everything else*) stays on the Internet. Forever. The reason for this is Google. In order to be able to serve you with these fantastic search results Google uses software (so-called spiders) to index everything on the internet. Once they have indexed the content of a page Google stores a copy on their own servers. This process is called caching. So if you have put something online, once it’s indexed by Google (and this is done very quickly) it is there for all eternity. You can remove the content, delete the page and even format the server that it was one but it will still show up in Googles search results and these search results will link to a copy of the content in Googles “cache”. Of course you can attempt to get Google to remove the content from its cache but this will eventually result in the need for legal action with a limit success rate. Not a lot of people have the energy or more likely the funds to go down this route.
So, should you put nothing at all online? While this is obviously the most foolproof route to protect yourself from embarrassment it is not necessary. You can still be a prolific social media user without exposing everything about yourself. Take my own case, I blog, have 200,000 tweets to my name, check in on Foursquare regularly and much, much more. However not *everything* I do finds its way online. If I go somewhere, or do something that is private I just refrain from tweeting about it and certainly don’t check-in while doing so. By being such a prolific social media whore while leaving private matters out it also creates a case where one can’t see the forest for the trees.