How To Stay Anonymous On The Internet

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updateIllustrated by Anna Sudit.
Whether you’re feeling curious, social, or bored, the Internet can be a great outlet, connecting you to other people and information. But, some of the things that make it great can also make it dangerous. The risks range from the banal (remember that embarrassing photo taken of you at Kayla’s crazy 21st? Well, it’s still on Facebook, and your new coworkers think it’s hilarious), to the truly harmful (your identity stolen, your accounts drained). Whether you just want to improve your online reputation, or give stalkers less fodder, here are some ways to curate your online presence to be sure you’re showing only what you want — to only the people you want.

Update Your Social Media Privacy Settings
Everyone knows a cautionary tale about social media info finding its way into the wrong hands, so updating your privacy setting is the easiest way to stop it from happening to you. Of course, you set up your privacy preferences when you first joined a site, but they tend to change, so it’s worth checking. Most social media sites have settings to make you unsearchable. On Facebook, you can limit who sees your photos, or who can post publicly on your wall. Twitter and Instagram enables you to only show your posts to your followers. Don’t forget places where you post your pictures, like Picasa or Flickr!

Most of these sites also track your location by default. You can turn them off each time you post by tapping the small arrow, or in your privacy settings on your account or device.
googleIllustrated by Anna Sudit.
Googling Yourself
Searching your own name is no longer just an ego trip — it’s like peering in the Internet mirror, making sure you look all right to the people who see you.

If you’re flabbergasted by one of your top Google hits, fear not: You can (probably) get it removed. Sometimes you can take it down yourself by changing your privacy settings. If it’s a friend or someone you know who has posted the content, you can simply ask them to take it down. Google has a pretty nice form to help you figure out who to contact to prevent future embarrassment.

If you want certain things to come up more readily in your personal Google search — say, your professional web site, as opposed to your ancient MySpace page — now you’re talking about some Search Engine Optimization (SEO). If it’s your personal web site, for example, you can make sure that your page has certain keywords, and that your name is displayed prominently. If you write anything, from a travel blog to professional journalism, you can sign up as a Google Author.
hideIllustrated by Anna Sudit.
Hide In Plain Sight
Whether you’re avoiding someone in particular or just feeling antisocial today, you can finally use your existing social media networks to help you stay away from people you don’t want to see. The app Cloak connects to Foursquare, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to show you when one of your frenemies is nearby. You can choose to flag certain people and have Cloak warn you when they’re within a half-mile radius. It can only warn you about those who have their location services turned on, though, so it’s not exhaustive.
stealthIllustrated by Anna Sudit.
Stealth Browse The Web
We all get curious and search for some weird, weird stuff. And, sometimes it’s nice to not worry about your significant other happening across your questionable browser history. For those delicate searches, you can put your browser in Incognito mode. It doesn’t save your history, plus it deletes any cookies you may have inadvertently saved. For Google Chrome, you can click the icon in the menu bar and choose “New Incognito Window” — you’ll know you’re successful if you see the little stealthy icon.

Here’s how to search Incognito on pretty much any other browser.

This post was authored by Alexandra Ossola.

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