For many of us, the hotel is equally as enjoyable as the holiday itself. These days, some rooms even coming equipped with technology such as free WiFi-connected tablet devices, to make us feel at home. But what you might not know is that what you do on this device might stay there for all to see.
Recently, a colleague visited one such hotel and discovered, to his horror, that the tablet contained the personal data of previous guests. Pre-saved passwords, social network details, browser search results, address book contacts and iMessages could all be seen. Full names and addresses were also stored on the device. So further research could quickly have revealed personal details on a previous guest - who they are, where they work, where they live, family details and more. This level of personal information, in the wrong hands, could be used to compromise a person's private or professional life. On top of this, my colleague found that many of the sessions were still open - so someone could have sent and posted messages in their name.
This could happen to any one of us, especially if we make the mistake of assuming that a hotel has implemented the proper precautionary measures to secure our privacy and online confidentiality.
In the light of my colleague's experience you might, like him, decide that the best course of action would simply be to place the tablet in the drawer and leave it there for the duration of your stay at the hotel. But what about the wider issue of protecting your online identity generally? It would be unrealistic to expect people not to go online at all. But it is definitely advisable to be careful about how you appear online, and to be conscious at all times of how you protect your online reputation. Remember that we leave a digital footprint whatever device we use - so always think about what you share and how you share it.
Below are some tips on how to manage your digital footprint:
1. See what you look like online. Google yourself, you will be amazed at how much you will find - maybe your email address, home address, telephone numbers (mobile and landline), national insurance number, tax information, where you've been, who you know, when and where you're going on holiday, photos galore and a wealth of other personal information. You can then set about cleaning up the information you find by going to the source and either deleting or hiding anything you'd rather wasn't visible.
2. Guard your privacy. Delete cookies and log out properly whenever you've finished accessing a site. Ask your friends not to post anything about you without your permission and offer the same favour in return. Adjust the privacy settings offered by social networking websites such as Facebook to 'private', to make it much more difficult for anyone who is not a 'friend' to see the information you post.
3. If you are using a public computer or share a computer or mobile gadget, you may not want others to be able to see where you've been on the Internet and what you've looked at. Web browsers such as Internet Explorer, Safari, Opera, Google Chrome and Firefox offer a 'private browsing' or 'incognito' mode that allows you to browse the Internet without saving any information about which sites and pages you've visited. (For example, Internet Explorer's InPrivate Browsing is started from the Safety menu, by pressing Ctrl+Shift+P, or from the New Tab page. Closing the browser window will end your InPrivate Browsing session.) But remember that private browsing doesn't make you invisible on the Internet - your Internet service provider and the sites themselves can still track what pages you visit. Nor does it protect you from malware. Alternatively, simply adjust your browser settings to clear your browsing history automatically at the end of each session.
4. Restrict the amount of personal information you publish online. Assume the whole world is looking at you. Always ask yourself; 'Is this something I would want my parents, my partner, my children, my friends, my workmates or my boss to read or see?' What would a future employer think? Or your bank manager? Remember, once you post something online then it will be out there somewhere forever. Even if you do take offensive or embarrassing material down, it might have been copied, saved or sent elsewhere already.
5. Shape your online profile. Think about how you want people to see you, now and in the future. Publish photographs and blogs that present you in a good light and illustrate your values, skills, talents, interests, hobbies, and experiences.