Prepping and Privacy In The Modern World

Privacy today is a rare thing. Most of us are under the illusion that it is possible to keep things somewhat private. Even at my age, I forget that it is not possible to have the level of privacy many desire. Lack of privacy is a major part of the world we live in today. I grew up in the 80s and 90s and diaries still had locks. Now a lot of people spill everything online and don’t think twice about the consequences.

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Preppers often say “I don’t talk about it or I hide all my preps. Never reveal your preps.

That is all well and good if you can. At the same time, I hear a lot of people dream about having their own “compound” or “retreat” that is set up to withstand whatever disaster or disasters really scare them the most. Hey I get it, I started building my place into what I wanted it to be with my husband a decade ago but the truth is that unless you keep everything you do underground, there will likely be some signs that you are more prepared than some.

I don’t think that those that act like others are dumb for talking about prepping consider the different life situations that are out there.  It can be very hard for people to hide all their preps.

We rarely have visitors on this mountain but if we did it would be impossible to hide our whole place. If someone has a small apartment but keeps a few extra supplies around and has people over occasionally I could see how it may be hard to hide some things. Studio apartments or a dorm room are a few examples. I like to think that even college students take some precautions in case of an emergency.

It is very easy to reveal more than you think even if you don’t think you have said anything at all. Assumptions can be made about what you have and who you are based on just a sentence or two that you think nothing about or just the fact that your house looks nice.

If you tell all of your friends on Facebook you are away on vacation, you may be telling thieves that you are not near your home. It is very easy to give away too much info and ruin your privacy.

Eventually, you will have to figure out how much to reveal about yourself no matter how well prepared you are for 6 months or a year

Living in a bunker for years or having a lot of stuff can be helpful but eventually, those supplies will run out or you may suffer some losses from vermin or bugs. Maybe something gets some moisture in it or what if you didn’t plan. This means you are going to have to go out or find some way to provide more food, medical supplies, clothing, etc. This means revealing what you have and what you don’t to some degree.

Poor access to your home and property can help with privacy. There are advantages to having a road that people do not want to go up, or that they are intimidated by.

I live on a rough four-wheel drive the only road that is impassable to many vehicles during any type of weather, but if someone makes it up here, I cannot hide a farm.

The disadvantage is that emergency people cannot make it into here using standard types of vehicles. The few times we have been in a position where we had to file a police report, they have walked in. They did say in a real emergency they would just gun it up the hill but I think it would take a lot for them to risk messing up their car.

This situation is part of the inspiration behind my article “Being Your Own First Responder In Good Times & SHTF”.

Google Earth

Thanks to Google Earth and street view, GIS maps from your local county government pretty much anyone can find out where you live or what properties you own without even paying a dime. While the GIS maps and aerial photography may be a few years old sometimes, it still provides information that a lot of preppers would shudder to think about.

Google Earth does not provide Streetview images of private roads to my knowledge. I would be livid if they came up my road. So far there are no Streetview images and I hope to keep it that way. This is a bonus in today’s world. Any house in town likely has a Streetview. You can even get mailing addresses by zooming in on the mailboxes!

Less than $30 per month will allow anyone to do unlimited background and criminal checks.

Some people are still a little shocked when you tell them that you can pretty much find out someone’s life story by paying a small fee and running a 5-10 minute check.  I can understand why! It was not long ago that anything even close to this type of information would have been considered an extreme invasion of privacy.

Criminal histories for adults are public information but background check sites will get you that information and much more with very few questions asked. The questions they do ask are to make sure that they are looking for the exact person you want to find and not just someone with the same name. This also means they are gathering and harvesting data that can make checks faster in the future. It is easy to get more info when people volunteer it so readily. You or I have no control over this.

Your internet connection is not really protected even if you pay for a VPN or special service. I advise saving your money and putting it towards something like food, water storage, securing your home, etc.

I always cringe a little when people try to say that a VPN or other programs can offer them true privacy and security. I don’t enjoy hearing people say that they are spending their hard earned money on a false promise. If you believe VPN’s will protect your privacy online then you need to stop right now or at least please don’t say anything or store any pics you don’t want others to possibly get their hands on.

There are some very skilled hackers and tech people out there that could probably break down your VPN and other privacy software in minutes. Actually, the kid next door to you that just likes to play with computers for a hobby is likely to have the knowledge to get through your “security” if given a little time.

Your computers operating system doesn’t matter as much as you might think. I used to think I was careful because I used Linux systems.

There was a time when Linux based systems were most trustworthy. Of course, this was before the programmer that invented Linux was “asked” to put a security back door into the program so the NSA could look in on things when they wanted to. I have a feeling that life would have got very hard for the inventor of Linux if he denied such a request.

Open source software=NSA Surveillance= Anyone can get access if they know what they are doing.

For more information on the reality of internet security, please take a look at my previous post “Communications & Network Security In An Insecure World”

At one point people did not get so worked up about hiding skills and goods. It was called the “back to the land movement”, homesteading, or getting back to the basics.

Since what is called “prepping” used to be homesteading or being “old fashioned”. When my Dad built his own house on the Olympic Peninsula it was the “back to the land movement”. Many of the writers that started out teaching about prepper topics in homesteading magazines years ago were seen as prepared people long before everyone was so worked up about the privacy of prepping.  By the time people were so concerned and warning about keeping what you do private, it was a little late for a lot of people.

Just because an area seems remote does not mean you can get away from it all

Moving to a remote location does not allow the privacy it once did. Unless you completely shut yourself off from communication, never share a photo, and completely hide your tracks when you go to and from a place, it is unlikely that you will be able to “disappear”.

I want to use a fairly recent example of how easy it is for people to really find you if they want. Shia LaBeouf is an actor that has been in movies such as The Transformers series. He also has been a bit of an activist. About a year ago he denned up in a cabin in Tennessee and would broadcast from there on to the web. He thought his location would be secret but that did not last long.

Do you know what got him discovered? It is actually pretty creepy and it was accomplished by amateurs.

A group of computer gurus at 4Chan used jet patterns and star charts to pinpoint his location.  He also made the mistake of sharing a picture taken at a diner.

It didn’t take them a long time, and it really proves that even a little bit of contact can give your location away. The same folks have dedicated themselves to discovering Shia LaBeouf no matter where he is.

Unless you pay in cash for preps, there is a record of your purchase. There are multiple records of your purchases.

Those store discount cards we all use in order to get the lowest price track all your purchases. Your bank or credit cards do as well. There are too many people that report how when they buy something they get a ton of ads for the same thing or similar on their computer. So if you buy 24 cans of chicken the record is there. While this may not seem like a big deal, think about what someone might learn from our shopping habits over a one year time period.

Buying 1-2 of something here and there is not really worthy of a red flag, but if you are buying large quantities of disaster items or anything that may be seen as suspicious if taken the wrong way, you better pay in cash or at least pay cash for a money order and use that.

If you prep for the short term and plan for the long term, good luck hiding that!

If you prep in a way that is designed where you are going to be a producer rather than just someone with a lot of stuff shoved somewhere, it is just going to be hard to hide it. Some animals like quail or rabbits are a bit easier to hide and don’t make a lot of noise, but you have to make sure to have feed so that they can be kept in a cage. Free-ranging quail doesn’t work. They are one of the quieter animals you can raise for meat. Here is a post about quail for those seeking livestock that is quiet.

How to Raise Backyard Quail: An Alternative to Raising Chickens

So while preps and survivalism do mean keeping a low profile if you can, if you actually have infrastructure or livestock then good luck with hiding a lot of it.

See the problem for me is that no matter what precautions I choose to take it is pretty hard to hide a herd of 9-18 sheep with full fleeces.  It is impossible for me to hide the 1600 grape vines on two acres, the flock of chickens, or the geese. Oh and what about the solar panels that can be seen from a long distance?

It is pretty much impossible to completely hide a well set up place or even just a few improvements that may give you some advantage during SHTF. I had one concerned person mention how they admired what Matt and I were doing and wished us well but cautioned us about exposure. I had to politely respond that at this point “the cat was out of the bag” and why I felt that way,

I wrote for homesteading and farming magazines off and on for years before I really started writing seriously and back then it was just about “living off the land”. I was really young and I didn’t think about it in terms of exposure. I didn’t think teaching people how to can chicken or raise dairy calves was exposing what I had and what I knew. Those articles are still out there and available. This means that even if I stopped writing, there is still plenty of information out there that shows I am a prepper.

Then there is the fact that I cannot put a giant camo screen over my property and livestock.

Desperate people during the beginning and early stages of SHTF

During a long term SHTF situation, even those that go the extra mile to maintain privacy and not talk about preps will still have to deal with those that are desperate. I think that when people are hungry enough and know that there is a chance of finding something they want, they will look everywhere and not just pick out the place that looks set up. I think all houses would be at risk regardless of precautions.

Some people stash supplies outside of their home in various ways. What people don’t like to think about is the nasty things desperate people can do to make you or someone in the family talk.  You may think you can keep a secret. It is easy to say “I would never give up information” when you are nice and comfortable in your home. When someone has a knife to your throat or a rifle pointed at your kid, it is not so easy to not tell where things are. The fact is that until you or I am in a situation like that, we don’t know how it will go. Real violence and the potential for even greater violence is a big motivator and can change everything. This doesn’t even take into account any events before. In a very bad situation, after months of hardship, anyone could be very vulnerable or not think in the same way they would normally.

Hiding supplies in the city can be easier in some ways because everything is tucked away, but after a point, it does not matter

During good times it may be much easier for those in small towns or cities to hide what supplies they have on hand because they don’t have outside signs and infrastructure beyond a house on a lot or two.

You will still be vulnerable if the situation is not as temporary as everyone thinks. At some point, people are going to run out of things, or it will get tired enough where they start leaving their homes and trying to find what they can. When items are simply not available in a legitimate store, plenty will go looking in other places.  If you are in a big city, then it is probably going to be assumed you stash everything in your apartment even if you have other places.

Hiding and being too standoffish can make people wonder what you have to hide or start ridiculous rumors.

Acting like you have something to hide can give you away. What people don’t know they will make up if they have nothing else better to do. Gossiping and jealousy are not going away anytime soon. As times get tougher, it is going to get worse.

Consider that the events like the Salem Witch Trials happened largely due to gossip combined with superstition. A simple comment about an old lady living in the woods that knew how to use plants could turn into a fatal tragedy especially if someone she offered help too did not get better.

I don’t have a good answer about how to deal with the rumor mill or raising suspicion. I just think it is something that is important to be aware of when it comes to maintaining privacy. Loose lips can make people more curious and make people aware of you that you may have never met before.

Remember that sometimes people believe what they want to regardless of evidence. When I was a teenager I was rumored to have done a lot of things that I didn’t.  In fact, some of the things I was rumored to have done I had never even seen before but that didn’t matter because I was a kid and adults always knew best so if they said something then some people would believe it no matter what. It didn’t matter if the person saying it was not making good life choices themselves. Their word was better than mine due to age. This made life very difficult for me.

So what can you do to maintain as much privacy as possible?

  • Try to be aware of how much you reveal when you speak. This is harder than some might think. Take a minute to think about what a person can learn about you from what seems like basic statements. Even revealing your occupation may cause someone to assume you are financially well off for example.
  • Use screen names that are not really close to your name. Some forums specifically ask that individuals do not use their real name, but many people use something very close anyway.
  • Consider your level of involvement within your town or community. If you are one of those folks that are always in the paper for contributing to the community or you are a prominent business owner, then your exposure level may be high and unavoidable because of your contribution or occupation. Good security practices on your perimeter such as hedges or a fence can help keep people away from your residence or even hide infrastructure.
  • Teach kids the importance of not revealing too much online or at school. Telling everyone about what they have or where they live may not be the safest choice in today’s world. Kid’s can sometimes say things in a way that gets either blown out of proportion or misunderstood entirely.
  • Keep preps put away and out of site within your home when you have company. If you have cache points, don’t tell anyone about them or even mention that they are a good idea to have.

Please add any other tips you can think of in the comments section so we can all learn together!

I realize that writing about prepping and survival does expose my husband and me.

Anyone that writes about this stuff is taking a risk in a way. I think that most of those that write in this genera know this deep down but do it because it helps others even if it does pose a risk.

It is very sweet that people care and warn me about privacy and protection, but for me, the cat is out of the bag, and all I can do is try to give good advice and learn as much as I can along the way. Trust me; I learn a lot from all of you that read these posts. I really wish I had more hours in a day to write back all of the kind, thoughtful, and knowledgeable people that take time out of their day to write me personally or add to the comments on posts.

What are you doing to protect your privacy? Have you been in a situation where you know your privacy has been compromised when it should not have been? 

Samantha Biggers can be reached at [email protected].

  1. Very comprehensive, thought provoking article. Thanks. The bottom line is…you must decide in advance WHAT you will do when someone comes to your door. Share, shoot, surrender, or scoot (bug-out)? If you survive long enough, you will eventually have “company” (needy or nasty). I used to be a “defend at all costs” shooter (i.e., me vs. them). Now…not so much. Becoming a Christian changed my survival thought process from a win-lose mentality to a win-win one. If I survive, I win. If I die, I win. Remembering that God is in control, will provide peace in the dark times. Hopefully I’ll act accordingly when the time comes…not a sheep nor a wolf. I expect to meet force with force but (hopefully) need with compassion. That’s the plan anyway…

  2. Dear Samantha, another really good and especially thorough article. I’m guessing this was difficult to write because it does not come to a problem-solving conclusion. This article is meant to be thought-provoking, to guide people in their awareness and their decisions about hiding preps. And also distinguishing between prepping and homesteading because homesteading really cannot be hidden. But for you and other homesteaders, I think it’s important to consider the amazing quality of life you have now. You’re living the life you chose. Back in 1979 I read the Foxfire books and anything I could find on Living off the Land. That was my dream but I didn’t believe I could do it. I was not able to figure out a path of baby steps that would get me there. Now I have long term injuries that prevent me from doing the daily physical work. But I still dream about it. Hence I have an INCH bag instead of a bug out bag. 72 hours makes no sense to me and never did. If I have to leave my house I will survive in a forest area. I already live in a very rural area. I will need help. I will need to team up with a hunter in my area. Hoping that the equipment, supplies seeds and bushcraft know-how will be enough for a partnership and that it won’t turn into just plain robbery. I do think bushcraft is essential and that’s where I put my limited efforts.

  3. Sparky, that’s another thought provoking topic. How have people changed their prepping or survival strategy over time? I’ve been doing this for neatly ten years and my attitude has changed a lot. I did start out in the same place you mentioned. But then I realized that if I was successful I would be surrounded by corpses. And I lack the strength to drag them into the woods. Plus there is the smell and the verman. So the way that I changed is to think things through. In regard to preps I no longer try to save a big variety. Some things don’t keep as well as expected and some things I had to admit I just don’t like. So at this point my preps are various grains and beans. Especially lentils because they cook quickly. Plus salt, honey, coconut oil, canned goods and sprouting seeds. And of course water, soap, first aid, candles, matches, sterno, propane and personal hygiene cloths cut from old tee shirts and flannel shirts. These are the house preps. Completely separate from the bug out preps. Thanks everyone for reading. Samantha’s article got me focused on prepping and survival once again.

  4. Hi Samantha. Although it’s true that privacy nowadays is quite rare, but there are also some of us who view it with high value. Your article is such a great help for a prepper.

  5. Samantha…
    You continually pick good and interesting topics and flesh them out well, usually leaving valid questions to ponder in their wake. This is good. What is not as good as it could be, is that while you nail it on 95% of your text…a remaining bit needs proofreading and corrections. For example: “write in this genera know this deep down”. I presume that you meant to use the word “genre”, but if you are not familiar with it’s spelling, you would have a tough time proofing your own work. There are several other instances in the text that could use attention. My suggestion is to recruit a retired English teacher who still likes to correct papers and will give you the benefit of their knowledge. I believe you could make an even stronger impact if you added a touch of proofing to your work.
    Please don’t take my suggestion as criticism of your work. It isn’t…simply an observation of a possible opportunity to achieve your best result.

  6. I enjoyed your article and have a question…
    What if, there was a person in my life I trusted and shared that information with, had a falling out and now are no longer friends?
    Also another question…coworkers, even casual mentioning of prepping can cause rumors, AND it’s not like they don’t know where I live.
    Just a couple questions and thoughts….

    1. Well there is only so much damage control you can do in a situation like that. A person that has a grudge is always a potential problem especially if you have the reputation of being a generally nice or helpful person. The best thing at this point is just to try not to give away too much info. What you have said in the past may be forgotten if you don’t repeat the info again or say things that may trigger the memory. Rumors are just part of society. During SHTF or a long term emergency it may actually be beneficial to spread a little gossip so that people think you are not someone to be messed with. Words are powerful though and you need to think very carefully about info you put out there.

      The question ultimately becomes will someone remember anything about you when they are in the middle of a crisis? Some may but some may not until it is too late. People behave differently when they are in SHTF mode. Some people may be able to clear their head and think very well while others may be in such a panic that whatever you have never crossed their mind. I wish I had a better answer for you but it is impossible to know how someone will act in major situations until they are in the thick of it. This is the dilemma of SHTF psychology.

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