Protect Yourself Online—Think Differently

Hard Hat AreaOnce you’re thinking about privacy and the implications of sharing your information online you will (hopefully) engage in appropriate self-censorship. At the same time it’s important to (re)consider your expectations of privacy in a digital world.

Always remember that computers make it easy to collect lots of information about you, even though the information may be spread across a number of sites. It can be very disconcerting to realize how much information is freely available about you in public records and how it can help fill in the blanks about who you are and what you do.

Another issue to consider: the more people use and value the social web, the more sites that will spring up and clamor for your attention. So you’ll need a strategy for which ones to use and a plan/guidelines for yourself about how much and what information to share. Especially since there are business benefits to selectively revealing information about yourself that you might not have in the past in order to conveying professional authenticity and credibility.

I’m a fan of the bathing suit metaphor. We all know that different bathing suit styles are better suited to revealing or concealing. The trick is to find a style and fit that will keep you comfortable as you engage in your preferred activities whether they include surfing, sunbathing, or just splashing around. You should spend a lot more time and energy on identifying and maintaining your boundaries than most women spend on selecting the right suit.

We are back to the first line of protection (for your dignity and your privacy). You. So get your head in the game and be sensible already.

Are you tweeting or posting about an upcoming vacation? Are you posting pictures in real time while you’re out of town? If so, you may open yourself up to trouble as Israel Hyman believes he did. Not to mention the many services which are happy to link your name to an address, phone number, home value, and even relatives with just a click. (Yes, of course criminals can still drive by or get your address from a phone book if they know your general location and you’re listed—but now many of us are connected to people we don’t know through the social web, and even a curious child with a computer can see your house with Google street view.)

At one point it seemed like the information you provided in your profile and through your status updates should vary based on your approach to connections, which networks you used, and how well you knew your connections. But don’t forget that no matter how much you adore them, your people can easily get caught up in their own sharing groove and put your business out on the Web without considering the implications. Then YOU may be at risk.

Who you choose to connect with and which networks you use are only pieces of a larger puzzle.

As I wrote last week, once you put your data out there it won’t be that hard to find for anyone who is really looking. Then of course, the information you think is private on social networking sites today may not be tomorrow since those sites can and do change their policies as they please.

One more time. No matter which networks you use, no matter how selective you are about connections, your data will not remain under your control if it is public record or shared on the Web. The Web has a long memory, make sure you’re thinking about the consequences.

Learn more about the issues and how to protect yourself in the Privacy Guide from the Center for Democracy & Technology and find recent news and tons of useful info at the Electronic Privacy and Information Center.