The internet is a copy machine. At its most foundational level, it copies every action, every character, every thought we make while we ride upon it.
- Kevin Kelly, Better Than Free.
Click, click, click
Esther was shocked when she saw some of her lewd photos that were recently posted online, by someone using the username @switrevenge13. To the best of her knowledge, these very private images only resided in the memory card inside her smart phone.
Within minutes of discovering what was doing the rounds, she had received countless text messages and calls from her mother, campus colleagues and others. This was a nightmare she felt she couldn't survive.
Luckily, one of her tech-savvy friends quickly engaged a data company that on her behalf, notified sites where the indecent material was being shared, with take-down notices. Hours later, her photos were no longer available on the web, but countless people had already downloaded them.
It later emerged that a jilted ex-boyfriend had hacked into her smart phone as she accessed the Internet using a public Wi-Fi network in town.
The Weiner Situation
Esther's main problem was embarrassment. Others haven't been very lucky. In the USA, Congressman Anthony Weiner lost his seat when photos of his private parts, which he had 'privately' shared on Twitter, became public. Elsewhere, former IMF boss Dominique Strauss-Kahn and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi have both had their careers adversely affected by online leaks.
The above cases make us wonder just how we can know what to or not share online, guard against intrusion and unwanted access to data either stored or shared on the web, and on our mobile devices. Is there any gain in joining social networks and sharing on the web? Can one do without an online presence?
When information falls into the wrong hands, the result is damaged reputation, loss of business, legal liability, sour relations and much more.
To better understand the issues around privacy and security of data stored both online and on mobile devices, we spoke to Muthoni Maingi. She is an entrepreneur, writer, technology lover and the founder of Deviate Advertising, a branding and marketing company.
CCM: Just how important is an online reputation, and does an individual's reputation on the web affect his or her organization?
MUTHONI MAINGI: One must always remember to not share anything that they would not expose to people while walking on the streets, or at a public gathering. The digital world like any other is subject to appropriate modes of conduct and flouting them can result in harmful repercussions.
CCM: Does it matter that things were shared in the past, or can things persist online and come out years to haunt someone?
MUTHONI: On the web, things do not degrade with time. If you shared material in the past, and you are afraid that it may resurface, the best approach is to be pro-active about it. Employ a digital PR expert that can advise you on how to go about salvaging your reputation and also building it well online.
CCM: Do things really get deleted online? Can one effectively erase their entire online presence and take measures that would ensure they do not appear in search engine results?
MUTHONI: Things online can only be made harder to find as opposed to being deleted permanently, since they are spread in multiple copies spread across the web. What one can do is work on improving their search results by actively pursuing appropriate digital strategy towards this.
CCM: Are social networks really necessary? Can an individual or business still do with absolutely no social network interactions? Any companies that can take such an approach with no adverse effects on their bottom-line?
MUTHONI: There is a place and purpose for being online, one does not necessarily need to be active digitally for their business to work. A good example is an M-Pesa outlet.
However, for many other businesses, being online can allow people easier access to you, expand your reach and also allow you to build industry authority as far as your brand is concerned.
CCM: Any ideas on how people can ensure there is a distinct separation of their personal and professional lives? Can the same be implemented on devices? Is there software that can help with such an initiative?
MUTHONI: Personal matters should be kept separate from your digital life. You should not share romantic details or matters that involve your children and/or relatives. Constantly availing details on your social outings be they in a bar or church can be perceived negatively. You either come off as a drunk, or a 'socialite' which has negative connotations in Kenya or a self righteous individual if most of what you share is many religious updates.
Balance is key in any public and digital interaction and that's the best approach in my opinion. Anything over the top as far as your personal or business life is concerned is likely to not sound authentic or is bound to offend some or make them judgmental about you.
Selecting tools to separate the personal from the business is almost impossible, as what you may share on one platform may leak into another. The best way to be online is to simply not share anything that you wouldn't want many people knowing about. One should not even take a picture to MMS to a significant other if it's raunchy as your phone may be hacked one day or someone may borrow your phone and share it. Avoidance in this case is the best policy as the risks and repercussions may be too heavy to bear.
CCM: As an avid twitter user with business interests that involve the Internet and social networks, how do you personally manage these separate online presences? How do you guard against having your accounts breached?
MUTHONI: My policy is to not post things that I wouldn't want my mother or a future client/employer to see. I also work on my SEO results to push up things that are favorable to me as opposed to letting the engines decide my fate. I change my passwords on a regular basis in order to prevent account breaches. Read more about: Internet, malware, Midweek Digest, Muthoni Maingi, online security, privacy, sex scandals, social networks