Monday, July 16, 2012

Online Privacy: Do You Share Too Much Information?


Sent to you by Chris Hunter via Google Reader:


via MakeUseOf by Aaron Couch on 7/16/12

online privacy issuesSharing has always been a prominent part of what the Internet is and how it functions. And with social networks exploding in popularity in the past several years, sharing is probably the one aspect we utilize the most on the web. We share news, information, pictures and experiences, and by doing this we can build and maintain relationships as well as create new connections that we would have otherwise never met or worked with. But can this have adverse affects? Can you share too much information?

In my opinion, yes, and I get the feeling that most of you would agree (of course if you don't, I'm open to your thoughts). On many websites, especially social networks, there are literally text fields for every bit of information about you – phone numbers, where you work, where you live, where you go to school, your occupation, age and birthdate, who you know, other methods of contact such as email addresses and other online profiles….the list goes on.

Rule #1: Don't Post Anything You Don't Want Everyone To See

This is a fundamental that should almost be taught in school alongside Algebra and Biology. It's important to realize that even if you've created filters for your contacts or have your information restricted to only those who follow you or who you approve of, that you should still watch what you share.

online privacy issues

Try to refrain from statuses such as the one above. But don't just limit this philosophy to complaining statuses. Apply this to your photos, location-specific posts and personal profile information.

Rule #2: Be Aware & Concerned About Potential Dangers

Being aware is one thing – sometimes it could just be a lack of knowledge. However, it's just as important (if not more) to be concerned about those potential dangers. For example, let's say you know that where you live, you're at high risk of a break in or robbery – you're aware. But, you take the approach that you'll be fine and so you don't lock your door. You have just increased the odds of your house being broken into tremendously. Now let's add another aspect – you have a family. You most likely will now lock your doors all the time.

The Internet is the same way. It can just be just as dangerous, just on different levels. In fact, in some ways it can be even more dangerous because we don't think of it in the applicable sense that it can be a tool to pry into lives. We think it'll all be fine, but there are numerous stories of tragedies because someone allowed a little too much information to be shared with the wrong person.

Location-Specific Statuses and Posts

Do you use Foursquare or check-in to places on Facebook? Are you aware of who can see these posts? Do you share them publicly? These are important observations to be making. It's all apart of being concerned and not assuming that you're safe.

online privacy tips

Oversharing Personal Information

Some things are just best left unsaid unshared.

Sharing your location somewhat falls into this category, however being cautious beyond sharing your location is important. Do you consider who you're sharing with? Twitter is a rather open platform. There is the option to only show your tweets to those who are following you, who you approve to follow you. However, I find this rather counterproductive to engaging with other users on Twitter. The whole reason you follow someone is because you find what they say interesting. How are you supposed to know if they're interesting if you don't know what they're tweeting about?

online privacy tipsThe only exception to this would be if you know them on a personal level and they aren't a complete stranger. Which brings me to my second point – Twitter is full of strangers. I follow and communicate with more strangers on Twitter than I do actual friends. But I don't share any personal information. I have a short bio about myself and my tweets typically consist of things based on my interests, not….my debit cards, for instance (yes, some people tweet their debit cards). Once you understand this, it's easy to see how those who treat Twitter more like a private social network, such as Facebook, are immediately setting themselves up for an attack – online or off. Both are scary.

Sharing on Facebook is a little different. Like I previously mentioned, it's typically more private, but that's not necessarily true. Your privacy depends on you. If you don't have things properly set and properly hidden, then you could be exposing yourself to the entire Internet. Sure there are things that you definitely should not post and share on your profile, but sometimes it's deeper than just not sharing things.

Facebook's security settings can be somewhat overwhelming due to all of the options there are to help you remain private and secure. But there is a particular setting that I want to mention that can be deceiving and that is the "Friends of Friends" setting. Many times you might think that you would approve of all of the people that your friends are friends with, but keep in mind that with this setting, you are actually giving up a huge chunk of your privacy and depending on your friends' judgment to stay secure online.

Rule #3: Don't Trust Anyone

online privacy issues

The website Please Rob Me takes a somewhat sarcastic, yet still serious approach on the matter of posting too much information. The overall message that I got was that you should never trust anyone on the Internet. Don't publish your Foursquare updates to your public Twitter account. Don't tell the world that you will be away from home. Don't think that it won't happen to you. These things do happen and if the proper precautions aren't taken, it could be you too.

Be responsible about who you share with and what you share. Think of the Internet as a giant space where people of all sorts roam. If this space was a real place that you were in, would you trust everyone with all your secrets, personal information, etc.? Probably not. Another interesting fact is that sites such as Twitter and Facebook and even companies, like banks, aren't legally obligated to notify you if your information is shared with the Government. According to an article in the Huffington Post:

In 1976, the Supreme Court in United States versus Miller ruled that a bank did not have to tell a customer that his financial records had been sent to a government agency, in this case the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The Supreme Court ruled that the customer did not have to be informed that his records had been turned over to the government, because the records were the property of the bank and, therefore, the customer had no reasonable expectation of privacy.

Yes – it's not just burglars and stalkers to worry about – there's also the Government. Now, I'm not superstitious or a conspiracy theorist, but at the same time, I don't necessarily want the Government to know everything about me, although they probably already do. It's just one more aspect to consider and remember that they too, could abuse this power. Are you willing for that to happen to you?


Now that I have pricked your conscience and you're panicking about being robbed, arrested, followed and stalked, remember that although it's scary, you do have control. You can do something about your online privacy. You don't have to have technical skills, just take the time to familiarize yourself with your different accounts' privacy policies and settings. If you have any questions regarding them, most services and websites would be more than happy to help clarify and answer any questions or concerns you may have.

Do you feel that you share too much? Have you already started the process to making your online presence more private? Let us know and also, if you have any questions regarding security and privacy, we're happy to help!

Image Credit: Robber In Mask With Money via Shutterstock


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