In Mark Zuckerberg’s recent post celebrating Instagram’s 500 million monthly active users, he shared a picture of himself at his desk, inadvertently featuring his laptop with its camera and mic jack taped. Given our current technological environment, privacy management is becoming a more pertinent issue. Startups typically deal with large amounts of personal information but either don’t know how to manage or take too relaxed an approach to their online security. This article will outline some practical best practices to protect your privacy online and why you would want to do this.

1. Email and Mail

Create a separate email from your personal email, just for work. Not only is this important to separate professional and personal dealings, but it lowers the chance of compromising both accounts. The privacy of email has often been compared to a postcard – easily read by hackers motivated enough to do so.

For the same reason, route all business mail to your office address rather than your home. If this is not possible either because it is still early days in setting up the company, or your home is also your office, register a PO Box and route business mail there. Like email, the separation of business and personal affairs promotes better privacy.

2. Social Media

As a startup founder, your personal profile will come under scrutiny as investors, potential clients and other interested parties alike will be keen to know who you are. Consequently, in the interest of presenting a professional image of yourself, check that your social media settings (Facebook, Instagram, etc.) are adjusted to hide any personal posts, pictures or other information from the public that you wish to keep private.

Maintaining appropriate privacy settings is also important on LinkedIn, the platform where professionals are most likely to visit to find out more about you. Ensure that your online presence is professional and understand the security settings of the accounts that you use to promote your online identity.

3. Password-Protect Sensitive Documents

Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint have an encryption feature that allows you to protect your documents from being opened or modified. To lock your files, go to File > Info > Protect Document/Workbook/Presentation and choose the ‘Encrypt with Password’ option. Note that Microsoft cannot retrieve lost or forgotten passwords, so keep the password or a copy of the unencrypted file in a safe place.

For example, if you are building an investor pitch deck with Microsoft PowerPoint, use the password protection feature to reduce the chance of unintended recipients opening it. This is because pitch decks are particularly saturated with sensitive information: spend, revenue, product performance and growth strategies. If a competitor had access to these details, they could conceivably reverse-engineer your business model and target your client base while offering lower prices. Also, medium to large businesses have more funds at their disposal, and if they can see how your innovative ideas generate revenue, they could enter and dominate your market niche.

4. Manage Your Online Personal Information

Avoid sharing details such as your full name, date of birth, street address or bank details where possible – this is invaluable information to thieves as they are used in so many places for identity verification. Many online services require users to provide personal information, but they rarely need your actual details. It may be helpful to create a standard alias with fake details to provide consistent information across all your accounts, and to ask your bank for a separate credit or debit card for purchases you make for your business.

5. Be Wary of Employees Asking for Sensitive Information

Occasionally, companies are subject to spoofing attempts where a hacker pretends to be an employee and asks for confidential information. For example, they may send an email apparently coming from the email address of an employee who works remotely, asking for a list of clients served in the past month. If something seems amiss, it doesn’t hurt to give that employee a phone call to check that they were indeed the sender.

Key Takeaways

As your online presence and network grow, it pays to keep an eye on your personal privacy as well as that of the business. As you enter into the public eye, you and your business are more likely to be scrutinised and targeted for sensitive information. However, the simple precautions in this article serve as basic deterrents, which promote online privacy. While you may not be at Zuckerberg’s level as a high-profile individual, a healthy sense of personal cyber-security will help you be more alert for potential breaches and support the protection of your online identity.

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Jonathan Ling

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