How Can Authors and Other Public Figures Protect Their Personal Privacy?

The first step is to determine what constitutes “personal.” Do you care if your audience knows where you live, where you went to school, who you worked for, and what your hobbies are? It will be a lot easier to set boundaries if you know what is out of bounds. Remember every detail you publish is one starting point for a breadcrumb trail.

When completing social networking profiles, include only information you can afford to leak. There is no such thing as complete security on the Internet no matter how “private” or “locked down” you think your account might be, especially with networks like Facebook where their privacy policies are in a constant state of evolution. Some authors set up accounts to share information with friends and families. If so, leave out sensitive details or life updates your friends and families already know. Regardless of whether the profiles are public or private, you should consider turning off geolocation features to keep intruders from pinpointing your location at any given moment.

Should I use a pseudonym?

A penname, or pseudonym, is one way of distinguishing your professional persona from your private one. In today’s age of advanced information technology, however, it should not be seen as an iron curtain between two distinct identities. Stephen King’s Richard Bachman pseudonym was revealed through his publisher’s oversight, and this was during a time when we did not have advanced search tools like Google. A pseudonym can be used to market specific books if a writer is writing in different genres or if the author wants to maintain a small degree of separation between his day job and his writing projects.

Remember, if you use a pseudonym, you are committing to building a completely separate platform for that identity. It will need its own Facebook profile, Twitter account and whatever other outlets you feel, the identity needs to cultivate a reader base.

Should I use a secondary e-mail address?

I use a secondary e-mail address as a means of organizing incoming messages. Most mail servers now allow users to set up filters to redirect mail to specific folders, but I like the idea of keeping my personal address away from public eyes. The address also comes in handy when I want to participate on listservs, user forums, and other services that require an e-mail address to subscribe. If the service were ever hacked, the worse that could happen is that my secondary e-mail account would probably fall prey to spammers. If my e-mail provider were ever hacked, the worse that would happen is that people would have open access to blog posts, daily deals, and news alerts.

One way to bypass the need to share e-mail addresses with readers is through online contact forms. Most blog services offer some variation of this feature, but if you go the self-hosted route, you can tailor the form to meet your specific needs. You could set up a standard address through your domain to respond to inquiries without ever sharing your personal address. Alternatively, you need never respond. Instead, you can add popular questions to an FAQ section of your site.

Should I use a secondary phone number?

I recommend the use of Google Voice to give yourself another layer of privacy. Clients, literary agents, editors, and publishers are all important to your career development, but part of setting boundaries is separating work from personal life. They would not appreciate your calling them at 2:00 AM or at other inopportune moments. I think it more than fair for you to expect the same. The beauty of something like Google Voice is that you can create lists to handle different phone numbers in different ways.

These simple steps will build a wall of privacy around you and your loved ones. Even celebrities understand there is a time to mingle with their fans and a time to live in peace. Except when taking extreme security precautions, you should never commit anything to the Internet that you would not want your next-door neighbor to be aware.

What say you? What tips would you add to this list, and are there other ideas I’ve forgotten?

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