On 27/7/2017, the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTA) organized a
#CyberDetoxKe Twitterchat in which the need to reduce our digital footprint was discussed. This post couldn’t have been more timely.
*somewhat of a long read
Recently, I conducted an online presence audit and found that I am in 11 sites 8 of which I am very active in. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Vimeo, Skype, YouTube, Blogger, WordPress and most recently, Cyberdust. I use them all in some manner, and although networking is the most common professional use in the legal industry, social media has also become a crucial part of how I stay up to date.
Generally, how people feel about being connected varies. Perhaps you embrace social media as a vital, enjoyable part of your modern personal and professional life. Perhaps instead, you’re like me, one who’s beginning to view social media as a potentially dangerous, persistently annoying and stupidity-enabling headache-monster. But for most of us, social media probably sits somewhere between these two conceptualizations. Regardless of how we might feel about it, the reality is that social media has become a valuable communication tool.
It’s not until recently that I realized that social media, and more specifically the information that people tend to share on such platforms, can also be used against us. If someone who you’re communicating with on WhatsApp, for example, wants to embarrass you, they can simply take a screenshot of your conversation and share it with other ‘groups’ and before you know it, you’re on Ghafla or Tuko. Personal information, ideas, random thoughts, likes and dislikes – the same types of information that have the potential to humanize in a manner that helps one’s social life and/or businesses – can if shared carelessly, lead to some decidedly negative outcomes instead. Most distressingly, some information posted to social media – such as an individual’s real-time physical location (or absence from a location) – and some exchanges that take place on social media – like an escalating, combative conversation – could potentially contribute to actual physical harm.
All your online activity from commenting on news pieces, photo tagging and sharing your social media activity and online purchasing build up to what is known as a digital footprint. Knowing the boundaries of your digital footprint, and taking steps to control it, can protect your identity and your reputation. A few months back, I saw a clip of Mark Cuban talking about an app he’s funded called Cyberdust which basically allows one to text safely knowing that no one can pick it up at a later point in time and use it against you. For those who know Mark will remember his very public hearing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (the SEC) that he eventually walked away from after “kicking their ass all over.” During the hearing, Mark sat idly by as messages he once thought were private were broadcast to the world. If that’s not a good reason for creating an app like this, I’m not sure what is. And his statements ring true to me:
“With texts, emails, snaps, tweets, you lose control and ownership of the message the minute you hit send. The person you send it to or the platform takes ownership, forever. That’s a risk I don’t think is worth taking and with Cyber Dust it’s not an issue.”
I immediately went to the Google store and downloaded Cyberdust (he sold me on that one). How it works is that messages never touch a Cyber Dust server, nor are they stored on a device. Instead, they’re encrypted end-to-end and then deleted just a few seconds after being read. Separately, I have also been working to reduce my digital footprint by closing online accounts I don’t use and uninstalling them from my phone. Other ways that can help are:
Don’t Tell Other People Where You Are!!
This was me on Instagram, I would always say where I was and what I was doing (I have struggled to understand why I used to do this…I really have). So avoid posts that make it easy to track or anticipate your current or future physical locations. It is very tempting to post about a fundraiser, sporting event, conference, or other networking activity that makes you look good to potential and current clients while you are right in the midst of the fun. Such posts can be a positive marketing tool, and in fact might not be a bad idea for some situations.
However, because such posts can unintentionally let people know your exact whereabouts at a specific time, and those whereabouts may be less secure than your home or office, extra care must be taken. For lawyers or generally professionals whose work is particularly adversarial, it would be a better practice to wait until the next day (or just not post at all). A simple “Special thanks to the so and so group! I had so much fun at the annual so and so event last night,” can work just fine.
Also, avoid posts that might indicate regular hangout locations. Posting “It’s TGIF! Drinks at 1824 again!” might not sit well with a parent who just found out they won’t be seeing their kids most Fridays anymore or the sibling of someone who will be spending the next 10 years of Fridays incarcerated, and even if the post is months old, such a person now has a good idea where you might be this next Friday.
Finally, although it doesn’t involve social media, it’s worth mentioning that everyone should avoid automatic email “out of office” replies that say anything remotely resembling, “I’m on a sailboat in the Atlantic for the rest of the month without a cell phone. I won’t be around to check my mail or email, or to check on my house, office, dog, or anything.”
Humanize Yourself With the “Right” Personal Information
You may not want to publicly advertise where you are at all times, or where you will be, but you do want people to see you as a “real” person who does “real” things, goes to “real” places, and has a “real” personality and interests. This may be advantageous for networking and marketing, but it also humanizes you to people who already are or those who could become, threats to your safety. Say you were involved in a matter that did not go the way you were hoping, and as a result, the other party really wants to go to town on you. It would be much more difficult for most people to harass or harm someone to whom they can relate as a person. So, whether you like take out food while binge watching tv shows, it doesn’t hurt to add some humanity to your posts or profile.
Categories: 1824, 2017, Africa, Blogger, Business Daily, cyberdust, Daily Nation, digital footprint, facebook, Ghafla, Instagram, Legal, IT, Telecommunication, LinkedIn, Mark Cuban, Nairobi Law Monthly, online footprint, Pinterest, Skype, TGIF, The Standard, The Star Newspaper, Tuko, Twitter, Vimeo, Wordpress, YouTube