7 ways to mask your Internet identity

You can't erase all of the personal info that's out on the Web, but you can hide in plain sight

Have you checked your online identity lately? Is it accurate or full of inconsistencies, both of which can be devastating? Accurate information can be used by stalkers and cyber criminals, while incorrect data that casts you in a bad light can cost you a promotion, a job, or even your business.

Companies such as Intelius, Spokeo, MyLife, PeekYou, BeenVerified, PeopleFinder, and Radaris (to name a few) aggregate your personal information, sell it, then  make it difficult, if not impossible, to get it removed. But there are ways to mask your digital identity.

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No. 1: Commit social media suicide

There is no way to remove public records from the Internet, such as phone directories or property records. But if you're sick to death of Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace and Twitter, Web 2.0 Suicide Machine will go in and de-friend, de-follow, de-connect and otherwise delete all of the info on your social networks.

No. 2. Stop data miners in their tracks

We're all familiar with do-not-call lists. A company called Abine has free software that will let you see who's tracking you online and will block them from mining data off your computer. Of course, this doesn't do anything about information that's already out there, but it will help prevent continued surveillance and distribution.

No. 3: Use a data removal service

If data removal is your goal, Abine has another product/service called DeleteMe. For $99 a year, the company will delete your personal information from companies that collect and sell that info. Some caveats – DeleteMe only goes in and deletes information at specific aggregator sites, not the Internet at large. And you need to tell DeleteMe what you want deleted. In other words, you can't say, "Delete all my addresses." You have to fill out a form and enter the specific addresses you want deleted. The company also goes back every quarter and conducts another sweep of the same sites, as long as you're paying the $99 a year. The assumption being that the info can quickly pop back up again.

No. 4: Hide your IP address

There are a number of IP scrambler programs, including Virtual World Computing's Cocoon, which reveals you as a generic "Cocoon user" to anyone who's looking. "Cocoon acts as a smart proxy," says Brian Fox, co-founder and CTO. "When a user is logged into Cocoon, only Cocoon's IP address can be seen, not the users', and cookies can be easily blocked entirely, or just stored in your Cocoon account. According to Fox, Cocoon protects you from identity theft on public WiFi, by providing you a secure, encrypted way to connect to the Web."

No. 5: Don't blindly agree to "terms of service"

The information that data brokers obtain has to come from somewhere, and in many cases, the Internet user unknowingly agreed to the Terms of Service that allowed their data to be sold to a third party. The same goes for photos. If you actually took the time to read the Terms of Service before clicking ‘I Agree,' you probably wouldn't agree with them.”  Facebook's smartphone apps provide a “sync” feature where you can synchronize your contact list from your phone to Facebook. If you choose “Sync Contacts,” you just exposed all your friends too Facebook's analytics.

No. 6: Create multiple identities

If you can't beat them, join them. In other words, if you can't delete all you online info, you can create several identities and create as much confusion as possible surrounding who you really are. For example, create several Facebook accounts with your name and the five addresses you've chosen for your five alias identities. Or revisit every site you can remember where you filled out a form requesting your personal data. After you login, edit the form and fill it with the data from one of your aliases.

No. 7: Don't delete, overwrite

Never try to delete anything, always edit and resave the edited data over the old data. All of your information is digital and controlled by programming code that's always looking for "new" files. These systems are programmed to save all the deleted files, but edited files; that is, files with the same filename are backed up onto servers on top of (that is, they overwrite) the old files with the same filename. Old versions of the edited files are kept for a few months (more or less, based on the company policies) but, eventually, the older edited files will disappear.

This story, "7 ways to mask your Internet identity" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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