Is User-Generated Content Putting Your PII at Risk?

March 28, 2022

Is User-Generated Content Putting Your PII at Risk?

In a world where user-generated content is king, it's more important than ever to protect your personal information (PII). Unfortunately, if your personal data is shared or exposed online, it leaves you open to online or in-person harassment, identity theft, stalking, and other criminal activity.

In today’s volatile world, the risk of physical and cyber attacks against company executives is growing, especially in the technology industry.

So how do you and your company executives safeguard that data? In this post, we'll discuss some tips for protecting your PII and ensuring that your confidential information remains safe and secure. 

What is User-Generated Content?

As businesses increasingly rely on user-generated content for marketing and individuals strive to become influencers, people voluntarily give away their personal information. Unfortunately, with every bit of data we share, the risk of exposed PII is growing.

User-generated content (UGC) is anything a user posts themselves. UGC might include social media posts or comments, YouTube videos, product or service reviews, discussions on forums like Reddit,  and more – and it can be full of PII that can be easily accessed, stolen, or manipulated.

How User-Generated Content Can Be Used Against You

UGC is posted in a variety of places, and the reasons for posting vary. However, it’s essential to be aware that everything posted is public, and in some cases, permanent.

Many people never give a second thought to privacy when posting on social media, providing a testimonial (or a negative review), or uploading a video to YouTube. They never consider how that content might be used in the future. Unfortunately, hackers or those with malicious intent can easily take small snippets from several places where you’ve disclosed private or sensitive details and compile them to form a large picture of your personal life.

If you have negative or controversial content online, it could impact employer or landlord decisions about jobs or housing. In addition, it can be used to locate and harass you and your family members or damage your reputation. Criminals can also use the information they find online to attempt to steal your identity.

Why Cleaning Up User-Generated Content Matters

The good news is user-generated content exists because you voluntarily posted it. That means you can usually take it down. It’s good digital hygiene to Google yourself and review your social media accounts at least a couple of times a year.

Start by removing anything that contains private or sensitive information. To keep a positive, professional image, you might also decide to remove items with excessive profanity, drug or alcohol use, and potentially controversial posts, especially if they no longer align with your views.

Of course, you can’t guarantee that others haven’t copied or shared your content while displayed online. In that case, it could be a little harder to remove, so you’ll need to go to the source. It might mean asking a friend to remove a post or asking a business to take down a review.  

Usually, the person you ask will comply. However,  you’ll need to approach the site and ask for removal if they don't. Google and social media platforms may not always support removal but will be more likely to respond in your favor if you report harassment or bullying as the reason.

Obviously, cleaning up your UGC can be a daunting task. To save time and effort, you could use a tool like Scrubber to find and erase unwanted content.

What Steps Can You Take to Protect Your Employees’ Privacy?

Most people have heard these steps, but it never hurts to show your staff that you care about the security of their personal information. Staff training around online security often include tips like these:

  1. Limit what you post on social media and enable privacy settings whenever possible.
  2. Perform regular audits of content you post online.
  3. Keep accounts secure with strong passwords and two-step identity verification.
  4. Keep smartphones, laptops, and other devices secure with strong passwords.
  5. Limit your use of free Wi-Fi networks where hackers might hang out or use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to keep your work safe.
  6. Learn to recognize email phishing attempts and avoid clicking on links.

But What About Content YOU (or Your Staff) Didn’t Put Out There?

Unfortunately, despite all your efforts, some companies gather your PII and make it available online – without your consent. Some of the biggest threats to our PII are data brokers and people search sites like BeenVerified, Truthfinder, and PeopleFinders.

These companies claim to gather information for marketing purposes or to help you find long-lost loves or family members. According to WebFX, some companies gather up to 3000 data points per person. They scrape your information from public records, purchase it from loyalty programs, and use cookies to track your online activity. Their records might include your marital status, the number of children you have, personal interests, shopping preferences, and detailed contact information. 

The fact is, data brokers and people search sites are profiting from compiling and selling your personal, private, and sensitive information.

When private information is easy to find, it can lead to doxxing or publicly revealing PII to invoke harassment of an individual. Anyone with a grudge can hound your employees or harass your executives, which can have a devastating effect on their lives, careers, and relationships.

In many cases, doxxing has escalated to dangerous levels, including activities like death threats and swatting where a caller fraudulently reports a violent crime attempting to dispatch SWAT teams to their victim’s home.

PrivacyBrain offers a solution. Our software scans the internet for your exposed personal information and automatically removes it from dozens of those sketchy sites. And we monitor more often than our competitors, keeping that information from reappearing. 

Are you committed to protecting your executives and employees? Call for a demo today.

Start protecting your employees today

We can help you understand the scope of risk your company may face when exposed employee information is floating around online.