Privacy Cautions in the Age of Social Networking

Chain LockAt Chaos To Clarity, we work with Web and social networking-related privacy issues every day and love to share links to privacy-related resources. The more news time focused on Facebook privacy (or Facebook-related burglaries)  the more questions we answer. To get you thinking about what works for you, I suggest considering some of my favorite cautions about engaging on social networks and not having email come back to haunt you.

Privacy Cautions

  1. The only way to keep people from finding out sensitive information is to refuse to share it. (Going on vacation? Wow your friends with great stories WHEN YOU GET BACK!)
  2. Regularly look at the settings of social networking sites you use and if something is new to you, learn more on the Web. The New York Times covers Facebook privacy changes now thanks to reader interest and demand, this quick article on taking control of Facebook Places is a great example.
  3. Nothing you post on social networking sites will necessarily remain private forever because networks change their terms and people share indiscriminately.
  4. You should not expect emails to remain private when forward is just a click away and people like to click. Don’t forget that email is part of your “permanent record” at work too.
  5. Identity theft is a real concern in 2010. You can take steps to reduce your exposure and should be and aware of sites that are frequently faked and the emails designed to lure you to them.

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 got mad when 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 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. Social networks may feel like a party, but remember that your every word is being recorded and you have no idea who will hear it.

Protecting yourself starts with not sharing anything you don’t want to become widely known in the future. If you take a reserved and thoughtful approach to what you share on social networks from this moment forward, you’ll have less to worry about in the future.

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.

Have fun and stay aware. There’s no substitute for being sensible and educating yourself.