Typing your own name into Google may be an eye-opening experience. Even if your personal information isn't easily accessible, your computer may be sharing information about habits, preferences and activities that you'd prefer to keep private. Here's how to keep a lid on what your computer shares about you with strangers.
Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have the right to change their privacy options at will and some exercise this right regularly (I'm talking to you, Facebook). Even if you meticulously reviewed each setting when you activated your account, system updates can change default settings, or add new rules that affect posts. The only way to make sure you aren't "oversharing" is to regularly review your account's privacy settings in detail. Aim to do a thorough audit every six months. (Find more information about how to audit your Facebook privacy settings at www.callnerds.com/control-facebook/ .)
The main option for Twitter users to consider is whether to leave your account public (so any Twitter user can see your posts) or make it private by selecting "Protect my Tweets" via the account settings menu. If you check the box, future Tweets will only be visible to people you approve to follow you. While you're here, click the box next to "Always use HTTPS" to connect securely whenever possible.
AdjustYourPrivacy ( http://adjustyourprivacy.com ) is a free resource that provides a collection of links enabling you to update the privacy settings on each of your major accounts, from YouTube to Yahoo. This saves you from hunting through each site manually for the privacy settings page and ensures that you don't forget any accounts. With its tools, you can conduct a detailed search to find out what information is publicly available. The site even suggests ways to beef up and control your privacy.
Don't forget that apps you install on Facebook have access to your personal information, regardless of if you actively use them. Many can post to your Twitter feed, access your LinkedIn data or connect to your email, and it's difficult to limit an application's permissions individually. MyPermissions ( http://mypermissions.org ) can automatically scan your apps permissions, so you can choose which ones to ditch. It will send you alerts when applications obtain access to your private information.
If you'd prefer to audit your Facebook apps manually, click on App Center (left of your Newsfeed), then choose My Apps (at the bottom). Delete, using the X button that appears when you hover your cursor over one, or modify how the application interacts with your home page by clicking on Settings under each one.
The last time you were surfing the Web, did you notice that advertisements seemed eerily targeted? Your Internet navigation is most likely being tracked. DuckDuckGo ( http://fixtracking.com/ ) offers a tracking-free search engine, or links to add-ons for your favorite browser that block third-party trackers. It also provides detailed instructions on how to adjust your Internet Explorer options to prevent websites from accessing your location information.
Deleting old accounts where you've stored personal information is a great idea, but can be harder than you might think. AccountKiller ( www.accountkiller.com ) provides links and instructions to make account termination easy for all major websites around the Internet. Before opening a new account, check its "whitelist" and "blacklist." Those on the "blacklist" make it difficult to delete your profile. The blacklist has a few surprising sites: Fox Sports, CNN, Starbucks and Whole Foods. Who knew?
(Andrea Eldridge is CEO of Nerds on Call, a company based in Redding, Calif., that offers on-site computer and home theater set-up and repair. Contact her at www.callnerds.com/andrea.)