Do You Need an Online Alias Strategy?Nov. 2, 2021 (updated Jan. 20, 2023) / My Data Removal Staff
In today’s technology-dependent world, more companies, apps, and services are available online than ever before. Each of these services require that you share a certain amount of information with them, whether it is simply a login and password, or whether you also share your phone number, address, mother’s maiden name, email address, or any other information that is required. This personal information is valuable to you for the sake of your privacy, but it is also valuable to others.
Why should you be concerned?
Most companies are out to benefit themselves; your privacy is not their priority. It is an unfortunate reality that your personal information is worth a lot of money, and some companies are ruthless with the information they will sell or share. Even if you do read the privacy policies or terms and conditions, usually they are absurdly long and difficult to decipher. We don’t often realizing we are signing away the right to keep our information private when we agree to these policies. Another reason to be concerned about the information we give away is that some companies are careless in their security, making them more likely targets. And when it comes down to it, even though many companies strive to do most things right, even one minor mistake can be exploited and result in a data breach.
What can you do about it?
A practice that can help protect your information is to use aliases where appropriate. Not everyone you interact with online needs to know your real name, real birthday, real email address, etc. An online alias strategy can help you plan when it makes sense to use your real information and when it makes sense to use an alias.
When should I use an alias?
Before you begin, you need to determine where you are going to use your real information and where you are going to use an alias. Planning ahead of time will make this process more enjoyable and more likely that you will continue to do it. Creating aliases on the fly is akin to creating a new password on the fly; you’re not very likely to remember it, and it will likely up with you being frustrated.
Consider using your alias whenever you are signing up for a new account. Consider deleting and creating new accounts with services that have, but don’t need, your real information.
Examples of where you could use an alias online are Netflix and Hulu accounts, a fitness tracking app, or signing up for a newsletter. Examples of where you could use an alias offline are your internet service provider, garbage service, or grocery and department store reward programs. Examples of where it would not be a good idea to use an alias are banking, airline frequent flyer programs, or anything related to employment. When deciding whether or not to use an alias, it can be helpful to think in categories. For example, you can plan to always use an alias when signing up for a newsletter, video streaming service, or utilities.
How do I do it?
Once you have made a plan for where and when you are going to use an alias, you need to decide what information you are going to create an alias for. You can create an alias for any type of information connected to you: first and/or last names, phone numbers, email addresses, physical addresses, credit cards, etc.
Name: When considering a name, the more common the name, the better. If you pick something very unique, it is harder to blend in, and you become more of a target as well as memorable. It is worth considering a name that is your same gender if you will ever need to speak on the phone as that alias. You can also do keep your real first name and use a different last name. This will make answering phone calls easier. John Smith or John Doe is a bit cliché. Consider something that is common, but not the most common name. The second most popular first names are Patricia and Robert. The second most popular last name is Johnson.
Email Address: Using an email masking service. See this article for details.
Address: Deciding when to you an alternate address depends on what you are using the alias for. If you are shopping online, then the address will be where you want your items sent. Likely your home address, but it doesn’t have to be. If it is just for an account that won’t ship you anything, then you can consider an address near your home address. If you use a VPN, you could consider an address near the location of your VPN server. This would be a great strategy to implement when you are moving to prevent your new address from being associated with your real name.
Phone number: Your options here would be to create a google voice number, use another phone number from MySudo, to get a VoIP phone number, or to just use your existing phone number. There are apps that will let you answer and make these calls with your mobile phone. If you were to use your own phone number (e.g., not get a new number) using an alias would be confusing if your alias had a different first name.
Payment information: You can use a masked prepaid credit card. This is a card that links back to your debit card or bank account, but does not give your real information to a vendor when you use it. When using the card online, you can then enter any name and any billing address and it will still work. Privacy.com is one example of a masked prepaid credit card company. Their service is free and easy. While some online merchants can tell when you are using a prepaid credit cards and won’t accept it, there any many locations where they work just fine. Another option would be to get a secondary credit card in your alias name. This might be crossing a line, but those cards are just as legitimate to online merchants as a card in your real name.
Back story: Depending on what you are doing with your alias, you could create a back story. You could create social media accounts and make up an entire history. You don’t need to do this for most services online, but it could make sense in certain situations.
Online dating: You are skeptical filling out too much information on Hinge, Coffee Meets Bagel, Tinder, or whatever dating app you prefer. You fill out information that is close, but not exactly you. The goal of these apps is to go from digital to in-person. When you make that move, you could also drop some of the alias information. A separate phone number would be especially helpful in this scenario.
Fitness tracking app: To be the most effective, the body weight and gender should be the same as you. But they don’t need to know your real name, your real email address or anything else real about you. If you want to share with your friends you might want a name that is close to your own.
Streaming service: There is no reason to give your real information to Disney+. You can use your real address if you want and a privacy.com card for payment.
ISP: At no point in signing up for internet does an ISP ask for your id. You can just give them an alias name and on the online portal add a privacy.com card. They would need your real address since that’s where you will need internet, but that is the only real information they would need.
Grocery rewards: Give them all fake information. Ideally you would just use someone else’s account. If you use a normal credit card your cover is blown, but if you used a secondary card or cash you would be fine.
If this sounds like a lot of work to keep track of all this information, it can be. This is where a password manager comes in. This is by far the easiest solution to managing your aliases. They are many good free options and they are easy to use.
Using alias information online isn’t rocket science, but it is a lot easier if you put some thought into it before you jump in. You can feel quite vulnerable and helpless when a company leaks your data, but when a company leaks your alias information it doesn’t impact you at all and justifies the existence of your alias. Using aliases can bring a lot of peace of mind in our digitally connected world.