June is Pride month! As if anybody reading this blog didn’t already know that. But as far as we’ve come with rights and equality, there’s plenty of folks who might not be totally ready to hop out of the virtual closet just yet, even though they spend countless hours online imagining what it might be like.
For those guys – and truly for anybody who might be concerned about keeping their (very) personal lives separate from their public personas – here’s a quick list of basic and FREE stuff you can be doing to stay a little safer in the most ball-swinging corners of the internet:
Create a separate, encrypted email
Step one – and it’s just good common sense, frankly – is creating a meaningful divide in the platform you use to reply to your mom’s messages about her church group, and the platform you use to talk about dicks and asses and nutting and gay porn.
I strongly recommend using a secure and encrypted email system like Proton Mail, even for your dirty stuff. It is exponentially less likely to be hacked than a system like AOL or Gmail, and selecting a username you don’t employ anywhere else will keep your business a bit more on the private side.
As a professional escort, one of the first things I do when I’m digging into someone’s online life is search the portion before the @ symbol in their email address. Almost without fail, this turns up user accounts on many social media platforms, and email accounts with other services they may not want me to know about. If you’re GoForGary@yahoo.com for all your porn accounts, but think nobody will connect that to the GoForGary@gmail.com address that you use to make anti semitic youtube comments, you’re wrong, Gary. And you suck.
Level up: use a system that doesn’t integrate with your phone or computer’s mail app via IMAP or POP. Proton Mail comes with its own full-feature app that requires a password or finger scan to open. Keep your secrets a little more secret, and avoid autocomplete mistakes by adding a layer of separation from your real life.
Slide outta those DMs, bro
This sounds extreme, but we’re living in extreme times. The thing with Instagram/Twitter DMs in particular, is that they are owned by those platforms – just like your work email is owned by your employer. Anything you say in there that might be incriminating or problematic – that’s all logged. Forever. And is not encrypted in any meaningful way. If you think transcripts of your Facebook Messenger conversations won’t magically appear in court one day, it’s because you don’t understand how deep Facebook’s rancid roots truly reach.
Additionally, there is no way to “delete” any of that in a real way. You can delete messages in your inbox, but that’s as far as it goes. The inbox of whomever you’ve been communicating with stays intact, and you can’t delete anything from Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram’s log of your account activity. That lives in perpetuity on their servers.
Level up: ask folks to contact you via a secure and encrypted messenger instead. I personally avoid Facebook like the plague for any real information I might need to share, so WhatsApp (which is owned and maintained by Facebook) isn’t my jam. But that platform features world-class encryption and is light years ahead of just using PM/DM services incorporated into social media apps.
I prefer Telegram, because it doesn’t have any evil corporate overlords, and is very feature-rich, mimicking the effect of texting very fully.
Get a Google Voice number for texting
I’m an advocate for never texting anyone about anything ever again. It’s famously unsecure, and you have no ability to remove anything that’s been said – it’s stored by your cell carrier and whomever you’ve been texting with (in the case of iMessage, Apple’s got a record too, although iMessages are technically encrypted end-to-end).
That said, folks insist. So if you’re gonna do it, at least get it away from your "real" phone number and texts.
It’s weird that more people don’t know about Google Voice. if you have a Gmail account, you have Google Voice already. All you need to do is go to voice.google.com and set it up. This offers you a way to employ a number that isn’t associated with your job or wife or publicly listed on the PTA roster, for things like two factor authentication, or naughty texting. Plus it’s free, and comes with its own app which will help keep these messages far away from the ones reminding you to get milk on the way home from your daughter’s soccer practice.
Level up: Stop using anything with SMS protocol. If it doesn’t come with encryption, it’s like sending your mail in clear plastic envelopes. Encrypted messengers help keep your secrets secret.
This is another service that WAY more folks should really be in the know about. Privacy.com essentially creates disposable credit card numbers that you can use to sign up for specific services (Netflix, Spotify, NakedSword) or to buy things online. This way, should there be a breach affecting user and payment information for a particular website, the credit card number and info the perpetrators make off with will not be the one in your wallet, only one generated for that particular site or service (which can be permanently disabled with a few clicks of your mouse).
Level up: Bitcoin (and other cryptos) will always trump credit or debit cards for privacy protection. It may be volatile as a currency, but is still very useful for single purchases you want to keep off your banking records.
Take New Photos
We’re edging up on an era when it won’t really matter if you cross-pollinate photos from your LinkedIn to your Rentmen profile. But for the time being, this is still something under your control. As an aside, I strongly recommend that you don’t include photos of yourself in places you don’t need to – got a twitter where you just RT porn? Why put your face on that? Got a Rentmen account so you can see who’s coming to your town? It’s ridiculous you’d put any photo in there that could be reverse image searched to turn up your resume, work address, and personal Facebook account.
But, if you insist: You need to take different photos than you use any other place – no matter how good that work headshot looks. Go out to the woods if you have to, get naked, and make some magic. And then come back and drop those fuckers into images.google.com and look at the results. It’s possible your face is recognizable enough that google will match you to other, unrelated photos. But more likely, there won’t be any results for your image. That’s what you’re looking for.
You should never share images between professional platforms like LinkedIn with Twitter or with Dating apps. I even use separate, untainted photos for Air BnB, Uber, and other purely vanilla apps that require a pic. Nobody should ever be able to search your photos and turn up information you don’t want them to have.
Whatever you do, though, make sure the photos you use are really your own.
I’ve always got loads more to share about basic steps folks can take to reclaim some of the privacy to which they are entitled (and which we all give away so freely for accounts and services that don't respect us back). But I hope these will help you make a start in the right direction with your personal info. You deserve to know where your information really goes and have the right to take steps to protect it.
Tyler Dårlig Ulv is an Ontario-based blogger and professional companion. He has worked for Rentboy.com, Manhunt, and contributed to publications like Queerty and Thought Catalog. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram, or find out more about his work at his website and blog. Tyler lives full time in Toronto.