6. Manage your digital footprint

Updated:July 2016

6. Manage your digital footprint

Online presence

Do you have a personal blog, portfolio or website under your own domain name? It’s useful for getting work and showing your talent, but it can also cause problems. An adversary could look up your previous work and decide to target you. They could use your online activity to find out more personal information than you’d want them to know.

Start by searching for yourself using Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo or any number of other search engines. List which (if any) of search results could put you at risk on your upcoming assignment. How many of these items are on sites that you control? How many are on sites that others control? How much social activity by others regarding this content can you find?

Don’t try to disappear from the internet. It’s impossible to do, and you’re better off having an online presence that roughly matches how you’re presenting yourself. Some corroborating search results and a few web pages can be a good alibi.
  1. Do you have one or more personal websites? List each one.
    If it’s a website you personally control, decide whether you need to remove some of the content, or if the whole site should be unavailable. After you remove the content, see if there’s been any recent social activity around it that could be public.

    Submit your site to be re-indexed by search engines (here’s how to do it on Google). If you’ve unpublished or deleted just a few pages offline, submit those URLs to be removed from search engines (here’s Google’s request form).

    Remember, though, doing so can take some time. Usually if nothing controversial appears in a short search, people won’t continue to look unless they have a reason to think there’s something to find.
  2. Is your work featured anywhere online?
    List the articles or other mentions of you online that could pose a threat on your assignment. Contact the site owner and talk to them about it. You may want to request that they remove the content, or simply unpublish it until further notice. Or you may want to ask them to simply remove your byline for the time being.

    The downside is that less remains in your control, and the site owners can always cite their own terms and conditions if you’ve submitted content for them to publish. Being polite and honest about the situation often helps. Also, if these pages show up from searching your name, remember that they’ll still continue to appear until search engines get around to re-indexing those pages. So doing this just before leaving on an assignment will offer little security.

Watch out for trolls! It may be that your work has been negatively reviewed or profiled by someone who’s decided they have something against you. They may refuse to remove content or even make a bigger deal out of it if you contact them. This is one situation where it’s good to have other more popular, relevant content published that shows up more highly in search results. You should also have ready some way of explaining or discrediting it should someone try to use it against you.

Social media

  1. How up-to-date are you privacy settings on social media sites?
    Most all social network sites have different privacy settings, but these change, so make sure you know how yours are set before starting your assignment. Decide whether you should make your social profiles temporarily un-accessible or if you should delete them.
  2. Have you actively engaged (tweeted, shared, commented, liked etc.) in social media content that could put you at risk whilst on assignment?
    Search the feeds and timelines on your various social profiles for words and phrases that may be related to your assignment, the region you’ll be working or other hot-button words that may cause problems. Consider hiding or deleting these if they’ll be a problem. Remember, if others have shared your social content, it could remain available elsewhere.
  3. Do you have separate personal and professional social media accounts?
    If you answered no, then you could be putting your family and friends at risk. You’re also meeting people on assignment who you may not trust enough to be within one click of your personal life. Increase the privacy settings on personal accounts. Make them non-searchable, or possibly disable them while on assignment. Create a profile that you’d want contacts to find, or steer them toward a work-related email address.
  4. What steps are you taking to mitigate the chance and severity that your social media activity could pose to you?
    Write down what you can control and what you can’t control. Are you taking some of the measures suggested above? Ask yourself how you’ll explain this content should someone try to use it against you.



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Image credit: Social media apps by Jason Howie, used here under a Creative Commons licence.

Created: June 2014

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