Why It Matters…
Who can deny that our brave new world is becoming increasingly hostile to personal privacy?
Governments, corporate giants and other employers are spending tremendous resources to dig-up and store as much personal information as their servers can hold.
Whether this is meant for nefarious ends, or merely a consequence of our technology dependent world is another conversation. But you don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist nor a secret agent to appreciate the value of information security.
Nevermind that there are no enemies at your gates today. Forget that you have nothing to hide. If the day ever comes that you are somebody who attracts unwanted attention, it will be too late then to scrub away all your personal info from spying eyes.
Think of privacy as disaster insurance. If you make yourself an easy target, then you are vulnerable to attacks and manipulations. If you spend a bit of effort to lower your profile, your day of the rope might pass you by.
An ambitious man who is building wealth and distinction in the world is probably going to attract unwanted attention. Ten-fold if the distinction he creates requires him to suffer massive public exposure… by fame, fortune or notoriety.
Anyone with a political opinion that is controversial will make themselves a target for secret lists of undesirable citizens. Especially if they are members of groups trumpeting those opinions.
Socially there are more than a few kinds of people that might like to snoop around for some dirt on you. Employers, neighbors, acquaintances… you’d be surprised how many people get pleasure by stalking others on Facebook and other mediums.
The more success and distinction you have, the more people will follow you. Those who love you will spy and those who hate you will spy. Only those who are indifferent will leave you alone. But a man who has truly distinguished himself does not inspire indifference.
You will come to appreciate the value of stealth wealth and a stealth lifestyle when you have built something worth protecting… whether it be wealth, influence or reputation.
Only when you distinguish yourself will your data become a liability. Without distinction and wealth, you have nothing to worry about your privacy because nobody cares who you are anyway.
But it is fairly easy to implement a stealth system to protect your privacy while you are still a nobody. While it is almost impossible to do once you are a somebody with an established identity.
Direct threats come from obvious places: envious haters, crazy women, internet trolls, hackers and criminals. Some want to expose you, some want to terrorize you, some want rape your identity. Some want to hurt and bankrupt you.
Also, depending on where you live, there is a saturated market of shyster trial lawyers working around the clock with blood in their eyes, ready to target anyone of means with frivolous lawsuits.
One of the worst things about America is that anyone can sue anyone else without putting their own money with their mouth is.
All a person has to do is call you out and some slimy reptile with a law degree will come by and shake you down for cash. Even if the charges are ridiculous, you’ll pay up rather that spend countless hours and dollars fighting it in court.
Say I am paranoid and none of the above applies to you. Consider then the ten-ton gorillas in the room: Google, Facebook and the NSA.
These organizations are building their whole empire on the collection of user data. What you search, what you post, what you share can paint a fairly predictable map of your profile, habits and patterns.
Today your data is used for targeted marketing and surveillance. But what comes tomorrow? How will these groups re-purpose user data now that they have spent monumental resources acquiring and cataloging it?
What crafty ways might the devise to separate you from your money, rights or freedom?
Who might they share it with when the price is right and it is too late for you to opt-out?
Paranoid? A sensible man can only expect the worst intentions when the priorities of these organizations are foremost control, wealth and power.
And with super-computers processing data at light speed and feeding it into increasingly advanced algorithms to predict the future… the possibilities of exploitation are endless.
The bottom line is that I don’t like being targeted or profiled by anyone for any reason. I don’t want any organization having my information or in getting into my business at all. I don’t want to be marketed to. I don’t want to be looked up. I want a firewall between my personal life and everything outside of it. I think that most rational people can agree with this pseudo-libertarian ideal.
All it takes to block 99% of unwanted attention is a bit more awareness in your daily life and a few minor tweaks in the handling of your personal affairs.
If someone really wants to hurt you, they are going to find a way. But for the rest of the people snooping on you… you can count on them being too lazy for a hard target. It is easier to pass you by and move on to the next mark.
How To Go Into Stealth Mode
1. Change your identity legally
It’s already too late to go private. You’ve been exposing yourself for years without discretion. The profile on you might as well be public domain at this point.
Your search, travel and transaction history; tagged images of your face; posts and social network are all hanging out there in cyberspace. Name, phone, location, IP, DOB are all very easy to find by anyone with a computer and an internet connection.
Shedding your current legal name and establishing a new identity is a nuclear option unfit for most who have established lives. But it is the most effective way for you to destroy your data trail and reclaim a fresh slate for your privacy.
2. Tame (or kill) your social media
There is no way around this one. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the rest are important tools for promoting yourself and doing business. Not to mention keeping in touch with friends and family. But social media is, without a doubt, the greatest threat to your privacy.
People can learn so much about you from what you have shared and who you are connected to. You don’t have any control of your data once it is posted. And all that you have shared will never be deleted…. it will exist forever in an archived database.
Short of swearing social media off completely, it is possible to create an authentic persona online that does not expose your personal information. You can choose to withhold sensitive info about yourself and be careful to make everything that you share ambiguous. You can choose to be extremely camera shy and avoid pictures with people who like to post and tag. You can create pages within social media sites without creating a personal profile.
3. Use an Alias
Obviously, you’ve got to use your real name when dealing with the government, an employer, a bank or other official institution that you depend on. But there is no reason to put your real name down on a form when you are buying groceries or registering for a website. This is a major vulnerability in your data trail. Snoopers can learn more about you by searching where you are registered and where you shop.
Create an alias (a fake name) and use it wherever your real name is not absolutely necessary. You can keep is simple or you can make it fun. David Sanchez, Steve Rivers, Jacobus Watson… whatever.
4. Get a P.O. Box
Do you really want everyone who asks for your address on a form to know where you sleep at night?
Do you trust every organization to have impenetrable security over their user data? Have they even told you explicitly that your data will not be shared with other affiliate partners? Do they shred all the paper they print with your info on it?
And what portion of paper-mail that you receive is worth opening the mailbox for anyway? 5%? All of your important bills should paid electronically.
Post Office boxes are dirt cheap relative to the amount of security they provide. Having a ‘ghost address’ simply puts a buffer between your home and your listed address. Just think about all the things you’ve given up your address to sign up for… who knows where the information goes?
As a bonus, this will force a good productivity habit: Checking the mailbox once or twice per month and going through the whole pile at the post office, so you can toss the junk mail all at once and grab the few important pieces. Other services like UPS and Mailbox Etc. also provide boxes for rent.
5. Get a FREE Google Voice phone number
Google is like the government – you are just going to have to accept that Big Brother is near impossible to avoid if you are doing stuff on the internet. Unlike Facebook which is non-essential for most things, Google’s alphabet of services are just too efficient and all-encompassing to avoid.
Go try and search for something relevant on Yahoo!, get an e-mail account with Hotmail, or try to start a website without Google tools… you’ll see what I mean. It just isn’t worth the frustration.
Google scans your e-mails and keeps record of your search history. Deal with it.
Anyway, Google Voice is an awesome tool that allows you to send and receive calls from your e-mail box using your regular phone. When you sign up, you can type in any area code in the U.S. and GV will generate a list of un-assigned phone numbers in that location. You choose a number and assign it to your account.
When people call that number, you can have it relay to your cell phone or simply go to a voicemail prompt. You can listen to the voicemails later or have GV transcribe the message into an e-mail.
When you dial-out from the GV dashboard, it will ring your phone and when you answer it will automatically connect you with the number that you are dialing. But GV will not reveal your real number on the ID, just you GV number! It can also send and receive texts.
Now you simply give out this number every time your phone # is required to sign up for something. Another buffer between you and the data snoops.
6. Use Multiple E-Mail Inboxes
This should be obvious: Have one personal e-mail box for friends and family; a second for business; and a third for anything else that requires an e-mail to register. Be sure to register the ‘junk’ e-mail account under your alias.
7. Give out a fake DOB, SSN etc.
Obvious again. Unless you are dealing with the government, employer, bank or other official institution, you should never give out you Date Of Birth or Social Security Number to anyone. These two numbers along with your address are used most frequently to verify your identity.
With an alias for your name, a P.O. Box for your address and a Google Voice number for your calls… you are already sitting pretty. But requests for other personal info should be met with polite refusal or fake numbers… just like when you ask girls out on dates 🙂
8. Check phone privacy settings
The easiest way for a hacker to gain access to your computer or device is when you are sitting in a public place with an active WiFi or BlueTooth connection activated.
A criminal will simply set up an internet ‘hot spot’ on their own device and scan for open connections. He can infiltrate your device without you knowing it.
If you leave these buttons on all the time, you are leaving yourself exposed in coffee shops and airports. Disable WiFi and Bluetooth when you leave the house… or, if you are forgetful, at least use a complex password that is more than four digits.
Also… under the privacy settings in your phone there are options to limit ad tracking and turn off GPS location functions. Criminals can hack your phone and track your movements by using features like ‘Find My iPhone’.
9. Install Basic Privacy / Security Software
Firefox is a powerful browser that positions itself as privacy-centric. Ghostery is a very effective anti-ad/tracking extension for your browser. NoScript is another browser extension for Firefox that allows you to regulate which sites can execute plugins, preventing the exploitation of security vulnerabilities. Prey is a program that you install on your laptop for anti-theft protection: If your laptop is stolen, Prey will allow you to track, lock and/or wipe your drive remotely. Wordfence will protect your WordPress blog. All these resources are free for the basic package. McAfee Anti-Virus will prevent malware and scumware from making a home on your system.
10. Consider using a VPN
A VPN (virtual private network) is a discreet network of computers that are connected securely over a public network (the internet). These are typical in corporations and universities so data can be accessed remotely and communications are secured.
Basically, it secures your internet connection to ensure that all data you are transmitting is encrypted and private. No matter what public network you are getting your WiFi from. It makes you anonymous to spies in the public domain.
Hackers will not be able to easily identify you by your IP address. Your transactions and communications will be secure in public places. A VPN is especially critical if you are traveling regularly or are downloading questionable material from Bit-torrent.
11. Cover your Webcam and Mic
Google ‘webcam hacking’ if you are unaware that this happens all the time. Hackers can turn on your camera and mic to spy on you. Better to leave a piece of masking tape over that tiny-eye.
12. Don’t have food delivered to your house
Restaurants and couriers keep your address on file, so someone who knows your phone number could easily call the local pizza shack and give them your name and number to get your address… when the worker ‘confirms’ it for delivery.
Also, if you aren’t paying with cash… why give you credit card info to some pimple face kid who makes eight bucks an hour delivering pizzas. Who knows if he is scratching it down on a napkin and tossing it in the trash.
13. Shred your paper
Digging through the trash or recycling bins can turn up a lot of sensitive information.
14. Scatter misappropriated pics of yourself online
There is no way to permanently delete the photos of your face that are already tagged online. Using a reverse image search, people can upload your photograph and be connected with other sites that it appears on. Those sites may have more information about your identity and profile than the site they copied it from.
Your only defense on this is good offense. Upload copies of your picture all over Instagram, Pintrest, Flickr, Imgur and Facebook… BUT tag them all with different fake names and fake profile details. That way when someone looks you up, they will only see chaos and confusion.
15. Ensure that your website ownership data is concealed with your host.
The Whois directory is a lookup of website ownership. All the info that you provided to your host for billing purposes (minus the credit card) is available to anyone who enters your site in the directory search. To prevent this, you must sign up for private hosting in which case the host’s company information is listed instead.
16. Assign ownership of your assets to a New Mexico LLC
This only makes sense if you have established wealth and major assets like home equity. The great state of New Mexico allows anyone (from anywhere) to set up a Limited Liability Company in their state. An LLC is a company with sole proprietorship (or partnership) that limits liability to its owner(s).
Why have an LLC? Because having your assets owned by a shell company instead of your name prevents snoopers (mainly lawyers) from finding out what you own and how much money you have.
Why New Mexico? Because New Mexico is the only state I know of that does not require the ownership of an LLC to be disclosed publicly. Nothing short of a court order will reveal your name as owner of the entity.
So anyone looking to sue you (or otherwise get a measure on your wealth) will have a hell of a time guessing. On paper, you don’t own your home; you don’t own your cars; you may not even own your business!
This is very simple to do. File an Article of Organization with the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission Bureau. You can do it yourself or pay someone to set it up for you. You can create a new LLC or just use an inactive ‘shelf company’ provided.
It only costs $50 if you are living in the U.S. and there is no recurring fee. The only ‘catch’ is that it must be serviced by a registered agent living in New Mexico. Agents charge an annual fee ($100-$200), but when you sign up you’ll get a deal if you pay for 3-4 years in advance.
17. Opt-out of major consumer databases
Here are links to the ‘opt-out’ forms of the world’s largest consumer data providers. These companies gather your data, profile you based on HUNDREDS of data points, and then put you on a ‘list’ that they then sell to companies so that you can be targeted and ‘checked out’ for whatever purpose.
I mean, just look at all the data points these companies can target you by. Don’t want to be on anyone’s list for any reason? Neither do I.
Here are some other tools that hackers use to ‘dox’ your personal information:
Lullar – find information on someone by entering their e-mail address