It’s complicated: as a business owner, you want everyone to find you, but as a person in the modern world, you need to protect your privacy. How can you be both public and private at the same time?
Let’s say you started your venture never expecting it to earn much more than dinner out every Saturday night. You used your home phone for the business. Then Oprah came calling. Now your business is bigger. Those online aggregaters have your number, and they never forget. Start out right: no matter how big or small, use separate contact information for your business. Get a distinct EIN (employer identification number) rather than using your Social Security number. Keep the contact information separate, unless you don’t mind having your personal data out there. If you’ve made a mistake and already used personal data, stop as soon as possible. While the information is still available, as time goes by it will be buried deeper in the avalanche of online data. And that sheer volume of data online is one of your best sources of protection.
Everywhere you go online leaves a trace, and it can put you in touch with people who aren’t so nice. It’s a little like waiting in the doctor’s office for a full day– you’re bound to catch a germ. Cover your tracks. From time to time, go into your cache and clear your cookies and browser history.
I know, it’s annoying to miss that priceless photo of your friend because you had to enter your passcode on your phone. But really, was it worth it? The guy who snagged your phone or tablet when your back was turned now knows your bank (that ‘s an app), what you look like (that’s a photo) and where you live (that’s a contact). Set up passwords to protect your phone and tablet. Devises let you decide how soon the system shuts down and demands the password for continued access. The shorter your shutdown time, the safer your data. And if you really want to bust your friend with a photo, carry a camera.
Knowledge is power. Know what people are saying about you, your company, and your proprietary product by setting up Google alerts. You may have to wade through a few notices about the ordinary activities of someone with your name, or the genealogy of someone who had your name in 1680, but it’s worth it to learn when you’re being talked about. (When I was president of the San Francisco chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers, I set up Google alerts for that group, too. I wanted to know who was claiming to have founded the group,or who falsely claimed they belonged to the group, or who was suing the group. Happily, none of that happened during my tenure.)
You may not think you’ll face Senate confirmation, but what about in 10 years, or 20? Then it will be too late to cover your tracks. Pay cash for embarrassing things. Turn off the transponder and get in the cash lane when you travel. Pay cash for hotel porn, Antabuse prescriptions, and — what else? You get the idea.
Do you pay attention to keeping your business and personal data private? What steps do you take? What steps do you think are too much? Leave a comment here.