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Protecting your online image

Jun. 23, 2011 - 03:04PM   |   Last Updated: Jun. 23, 2011 - 03:04PM  |  
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5 settings to check now

You don’t want the personal details from your daily life you share on Facebook to fall into the wrong hands, and Facebook’s recommended settings likely share more information than you want. Consider customizing the following privacy settings:
1. Friend list, education & likes
Select "Account," then "Privacy Settings." Click "View Settings" under "Connecting on Facebook," and set each to "Friends Only."
2. Birthday, address & phone number
These items can be used to steal your identity. Select "Account," then "Privacy Settings." Click "Customize Settings." Delete what isn’t necessary. You should set most of this to "Friends Only." In some cases, restrict items to "You Only."
3. Places & photos
You probably don’t want friends to have the ability to check you into places — or for everyone to see the photos and videos you’re tagged in. Select "Account," then "Privacy Settings" and click "Customize." Find "Friends can check me in to Places" under "Things others share." Click "Edit Settings." Select "Disabled" and click "Okay." Next, click "Edit settings" beside "Photos and videos you’re tagged in." Set it to "Friends Only" and click "Okay."
4. Games & apps
Facebook games and apps can access your information, but you can block certain items. Select "Account," then "Privacy Settings." Click "Edit" under "Apps and Websites." Click "Edit Settings" under "Apps you use." Select an app to specify what it can access. Friends’ apps can see everything your friends can by default. Select "Account," then "Privacy Settings." Click "Edit" under "Apps and Websites." Click "Edit Settings" under "Info accessible through your friends." Click "Save Changes" when done.
5. Creating lists
Create friend lists for more control over who can access your information. Click "Friends" and then "Edit friends." Click "Create a List." Name the list, choose the friends to include, then click "Create List." Specify in privacy settings the information each list has access to.

Your age and marital status. Your home's value. Intimate details of your social life. Anyone with a computer can find this data and more. As more of your life moves online, you need to manage your online reputation by limiting the information that's out there — while at the same time presenting your best side to superiors and potential post-military employers.

Remove unflattering and sensitive information

Start with Google, Yahoo and Bing, and see what information about yourself you can find. Search for variations of your name; if you have a common name, add qualifiers such as your city or military service. Make a list of content to change or remove and a second list of content to promote.

Next, make a list of online accounts you no longer use. Old dating profiles and social-networking pages can come back to haunt you. Privacy rules for these sites can change, so it's important to close old accounts.

Your information also appears on people-search sites and online databases. This is trickier to remove and often reveals sensitive financial details. These sites pull data from public records; they'll sell a complete file on you to anyone. Each has different removal instructions; you must request removal from each site individually.

Requesting removal won't necessarily keep your data safe. Many sites make it difficult or impossible to remove data. Because this information comes from public records, it may reappear later. I've posted a list of data brokers and people-search sites at www.komando.com/news. You'll also find removal instructions for big sites such as Spokeo and MyLife.

Unflattering information can prove difficult to remove, particularly if it is factually correct. Your best bet is to write the site owner a polite letter making your case. Be sure to highlight any inaccuracies.

If the posts seem intentionally malicious, contact Google. In some cases, it removes links from searches. You may also consider contacting an attorney.

Promote the positive

Simply trying to remove information may not do enough. You may need to create new content to push down unflattering search results.

• Create a profile on LinkedIn highlighting your professional accomplishments. Create a Google Profile and use it to direct people to information you want them to see. Link to positive stories about you.

• Start a free blog with Blogger or WordPress. Write about your personal or professional interests, and showcase your abilities. If you have a common name, create a post with links to others who share your name. It's a direct way to distinguish yourself.

Get help

You may not be able to take control of your online reputation alone. Fortunately, companies such as Reputation.com and Reputation Hawk specialize in online reputation management. Prices start around $100 and can run into the thousands.

Kim Komando hosts the nation's largest talk radio show about computers and the Internet.

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