Privacy. Identity. Exposure. Protecting Yourself on the Web

Chain LockAt Chaos To Clarity, we work with web-related privacy issues every day. The more news time focused on Facebook® privacy, the more questions we answer. To get you thinking about what works for you, I suggest considering some of our basic assumptions in terms of the ways that you engage on the Web.

Assumptions

1. The only way to keep people from finding out sensitive information is to refuse to share it.

2. Nothing you post on social networking sites will necessarily remain private forever.

3. You should not expect emails to remain private.

4. Identity theft is a real concern in 2010. You can take steps to reduce your exposure.

You are your first line of defense, so if you don’t want people to know something about you, your family, or your habits—be quiet about it already.

If you signed up for a Facebook account and expected certain information to remain restricted in perpetuity (like your friends list, for example), it’s no wonder you’re mad that Facebook later shared your friends list with everyone (for a while you had no choice in the matter, now you can restrict who can see it again).

Much of the hullaballoo around recent Facebook privacy issues stems from the mid-stream change of course made by the network. Facebook started out as more of a closed network, and now the folks in charge are determined to open it up as widely as possible.

Facebook’s terms of service clearly state that they can change their site however they like, whenever they like, and they are not required to notify you in advance. BELIEVE THEM when they tell you this. It’s not just that they can change; the market is changing so fast they are more likely to change than stay the same.

Terms of service are always a trade-off. If you want the benefits of using the network then you have to agree to play by their rules.

Think of yourself as having Identity-Protecting Terms of Engagement. If you’re going to engage on social networks, you have to set your own boundaries and enforce them! Consistently!

Protecting your identity means not sharing key information linked to identity theft (even through games, quizzes, or other seemingly harmless collections of information). People don’t need to know what year you were born, your various legal names, your permanent residence, social security number, library card account, the places you shop, or the financial institutions that you use, to name just a few.

Protecting yourself starts with not sharing anything you don’t want to become widely known in the future. When you do decide to share, you need to know the terms of service that you’re agreeing to.

It doesn’t matter whether or not you INTEND your information to become widely known. No one knows what the future will bring or who will buy out a network where you’ve shared lots of information.

Setting your own terms of engagement is about taking charge of your digital footprint and protecting yourself—as only you are motivated to do.