4 Ways to Manage Your Online Reputation

As we approach Data Privacy Day, it's a good time to grab the reins of the sprawling online content about you that you and others have created. Microsoft offers steps to protect your increasingly important online image.

This Saturday, Jan. 28, is Data Privacy Day. DPD, as it's known, is a day to "increase awareness of privacy and data protection issues among consumers, organizations and government officials and help industry, academia, and advocates to highlight consumer privacy efforts."

Hear, hear. Data privacy, we can all agree, is important. Nobody, from the teenager posting party photos on Facebook to the Fortune 500 CIO in charge of terabytes of data, wants their information compromised.

To honor DPD, Microsoft commissioned a survey (conducted by Blueocean Market Intelligence) of 5,000 people (children between ages of 8 -17 and adults between 18-74) throughout Canada, Germany, Ireland, Spain, and the United States. The results indicated that most of us are not vigilant about protecting our online profiles and reputations.

Your "online profile", according to the Microsoft survey, is the sum of online content about you (credit card purchases, medical records), content that you've created (emails, videos, posts on social networks) and content about you created by others (someone posting a picture or comments about you on a social network or website).

Your "online reputation" is the image created of you through information you or others shared online in blogs, posts, pictures, tweets and videos.

The Microsoft survey indicates that 67 percent feel they are in control of their online reputations but only 44 percent actively think about the long-term consequences of their online activities.

Shouldn't we all — not 44 percent of us — think about the consequences of our online footprints? As social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have opened up the world, for better or worse, and as we do more banking and bill paying online, managing online reputations has never been more important.

After all, many employers use Facebook to assess job candidates, and colleges and insurance companies may search for photos and web postings to evaluate applicants.

So how do we become better digital citizens? Here are some steps you can take, according a company blog post penned by Microsoft chief privacy officer Brendon Lynch.

Stay Vigilant and Conduct Your Own 'Reputation Report'

-Search all variations of your name in search engines, and evaluate whether the results reflect the reputation you'd like to share with the world, including current or future employers, colleagues, friends and family members. Microsoft research found that 37 percent of adults never do this.

-If you find information about yourself that is inaccurate or less than favorable, respectfully request that the person who posted it remove it or correct an error.

Consider Separating Your Professional and Personal Profiles

-When you are job hunting, applying to a school or looking for new insurance or a loan, remember that your online image can be a determining factor for hiring managers and application reviewers. Be sure to use different e-mail addresses, screen names, referring blogs and websites for each profile, and avoid cross-referencing personal sites.

-Fifty-seven percent of adults think about taking steps to keep their work and personal profiles private. However, 17 percent said information intended to remain private had inadvertently been made public online.

-Be judicious about adding personal information to your professional profile. Only include information appropriate in a professional context.

Adjust Your Privacy Settings

-In Internet browsers, social networking sites, personal blogs and other places where you maintain personal data, use privacy settings to help manage who can see your profile or photos, how people can search for you, who can comment and how to block unwanted access. According to Microsoft research, 49 percent of adults do not use privacy settings on social networking sites.

-If you use Internet Explorer 9, use the browser's tracking protection, which helps block unwanted tracking by third parties. You can also use Internet Explorer's "InPrivate" browsing mode.

-Periodically review who has access to your content. It's OK to remove people whom you feel no longer need access.

Think Before You Share

-Think about what you post (particularly personal photos and videos), who you share the information with, and how it reflects on your reputation. Let others know what you do and do not want shared, and ask them to remove anything you don't want disclosed.

-Microsoft research showed that only 38 percent of adults and 39 percent of kids actively think about the long-term impact their online activities might have on someone else's reputation.

Shane O'Neill covers Microsoft, Windows, Operating Systems, Productivity Apps and Online Services for CIO.com. Follow Shane on Twitter @smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Shane at soneill@cio.com

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