In today’s Information Age, data is the new currency.
Every action we take online is gathered, analyzed, bought, and exploited every day.
While marketers playing with big data might seem like not such a big deal, that data can also be used as a weapon against you.
And your blog opens you up to more risk than the average internet user – which is why your online safety and privacy should be a major concern.
Don’t wait until it’s too late: Here’s how to take action to safeguard your privacy today.
How does blogging risk your privacy and safety?
While everyone who shops online or uses social media takes on some risk, blogging opens you up to some specific dangers that you should be aware of.
As a blogger, you’re risking:
1- Your Blog Itself
You might think that your blog is an unlikely target, but consider the following common motivations for attackers:
- Hacktivism: If you blog about anything controversial (religion, politics, etc.), you may be targeted just for that.
- Vandalism: Your site could be targeted just for the fun or challenge of it.
- Extortion: Some attackers will hold your site hostage and promise to restore it for a steep fee. In fact, this type of attack, using software called “ransomware,” is on the rise.
- Competition: A competitor might decide to use underhanded tactics to level the playing field.
- Personal: Someone in your life might target you for personal reasons.
2- Your Finances
Hackers who gain access to your personal information through your blog may be able to leverage that data to gain access to your bank accounts.
Or, they may have enough info on your identity to open up credit in your name, max it out, and leave you to take the hit on your credit report when the debt goes unpaid.
3- Your Reputation
If you blog anonymously, someone could piece together your identity and use it against you.
If you mention details about your job, you could be at risk for disciplinary action at work. Depending on the industry you work in, you could even face hefty fines – for example, if you work in the medical industry in the United States and are found to have violated HIPAA (The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) by sharing information on your patients, you can face fines of up to $50,000 per violation.
While HIPAA laws may not apply to you, many countries and industries have their own laws on privacy, so mentioning details about your work could land you in trouble.
4- Your Personal Privacy and Safety
As a blogger, your own personal security is at risk.
For one, if your name and contact info are made public through your blog (which is easier than you might think – see below), unscrupulous marketers can now inundate you with spam, junk mail, and telemarketing calls.
At the other end of the spectrum, your own personal safety – and even your life – could be at risk.
Cyberbullying doesn’t just happen to kids – adult bloggers are often at risk, too.
Harassment, even if it’s contained to the Internet and not “real life,” is no joke and can have serious emotional and psychological effects on the victim.
Blogger, freelance writer, and virtual assistant Sheri Levenstein Conaway has been there:
Believe it or not, I was the victim of harassment by my own sister. I won’t go into the details of why she did it, but she had her friends from an MS board post truly awful comments on my blog because she was angry with me.
My settings required approval from me before comments were posted, but somehow these people bypassed it.
Blogging puts you at risk from harassers who not only will ruin the experience of blogging, but could also put your safety at risk.
In the case of ProBlogger’s Darren Rowse, a stalker even began to threaten his physical safety:
[Negative posts written about me on another blog] were enough to trigger some extreme thought processes and obsessions in this person that led to a chain of escalating events that went from what I initially considered to be a harmless comment troll, to a cyber-nuisance, to a concerning threat maker, to what unfortunately became a situation where there was a physical attack made upon my property.
How data can fall into the wrong hands
1. Your domain registration
If you’ve registered your own domain for your blog (a crucial way to avoid looking like a newbie blogger), your personal information is made public for the world to see. Your name, address, email address, and phone number are publicly listed in the Whois Public Domain Registry for all the world to see with a quick search.
2. Your email newsletter
CAN-SPAM law in the US requires you to list a valid mailing address in your email newsletter. If you’ve started an email newsletter with GetResponse or another provider, they’ll display your mailing address in the footer of every email you send out.
3. Insecure/duplicate passwords
Depending on the software you use for your site, and how secure your passwords are, hackers could potentially use your password to gain access to your accounts on other websites. If your site is hacked, you could potentially lose access to all your online accounts, including your email or bank accounts.
4. Your blog posts
The wrong person could read between the lines of your blog posts to figure out who you are, where you live, or where you work, and use that information against you.
Six Ways to Secure Your Personal Data as a Blogger
Thankfully, there are ways you can keep your information secure and keep yourself safe:
1- Get a PO box
If you use email marketing, then it’s smart to have a mailing address that’s separate from where you live. You don’t want your home address being broadcast to each and every person who subscribes to your newsletter. Check with your local post office about opening a PO box there, or use a service like VirtualPostMail to scan your mail for you.
2- Use domain privacy
When registering a domain, it’s safest to use domain privacy. Most online registrars offer domain privacy protection service for an additional yearly fee (usually somewhere around $10-12 USD). Instead of listing your personal address and contact information in the public database, your host’s information will be listed.
3- Get a Google Voice number
As a blogger, you may periodically have the need to give out your phone number to various services, apps, or even clients you deal with. Instead of handing out your home phone or cell phone number, get a free Google Voice number to give out instead. (Unfortunately, Google Voice is only available in the US. Do you know of any international alternatives? Please share in the comments!)
4- Secure and backup your website
To protect your site against hackers and malware, it’s smart to make sure it’s secure and you have a recent backup available to restore if anything goes wrong. Here on WebHostingSecretRevealed.net, we use iThemes Security and Block Bad Queries (BBQ) to keep safe. You can read about creating backups here: How to Backup your WordPress Blog Easily
5- Use unique, secure passwords for every site
If a hacker gets access to your WordPress password, will they then have access to other accounts? Stay safe by using unique, secure passwords for every single account. A password manager service like KeePass helps.
6- Be careful what you blog about
Be very careful about sharing identifying details in your blog posts, including your specific schedule, location, names or details about your family and friends, etc. When sharing stories, consider fudging the details a bit – change dates, names, times, locations, etc.
Bottom Line: Keep Safety in Mind When Blogging!
It’s true that when it comes to harassment, the victim is never to blame – but there are steps you can take to mitigate the risk of blogging and protect yourself from those with ill intentions.
Harassment in any form is simply unacceptable, but it is up to us to stop harassers. Otherwise, they just keep it up and will also find new victims. They’re sad, broken people who desperately need attention.
I think it’s important for people to realize harassment can just as easily come from people you know well as it can from strangers. As for a tip, I’d say to keep your privacy settings tight on blogs and websites. When it comes to social media, make use of those privacy settings to immediately nip harassment in the bud. Draw your line in the sand and tolerate no one crossing over it. We have every right to set our boundaries and expect them to be honored.