Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites have transformed the way millions of people connect with each other and share information. They have emerged as a powerful new medium and an important potential data source for advertisers.
If you are a social media user then you are among many “friends". Facebook has more than 2 billion active users; Twitter has more than 500 million active users; Google+ has 250 million registered users; and LinkedIn has more than 175 million registered users. Although new social media platforms arise and users shift their focus, user growth on these platforms has continued to increase.
Nothing online is private, and it's easy to share too much information.
Even the most ironclad privacy setting doesn’t change the fact that whatever you post online – or send through a “secure” chat message – can be copied and shared with others. Most social networking sites will ask you to create a personal profile with detailed information, and you may be asked to identify your current and past places of employment, your education history, current hometown, and even your email address and cell number. All of this information can expose you to the possibility of identity theft or social engineering attacks, allowing scammers to use this information to take over your email or social networking accounts. For example, think about a password you use often. Now, think about what many websites you do business with ask you for security questions: “What was the name of your first pet?” “What was your mother’s maiden name?” “What street did you grow up on?” Did those two answers contain any of the same words?
Before you post that information online, it's important to remember that others may use what you share to form their opinion about you. Does your public profile share your political and religious views? Does it share your relationship status, or other sensitive information to third parties, such as current or prospective employers, schools, friends and acquaintances, or business competitors?
Did you know that indiscriminate public posts - even though they're made on your personal profile - could harm your professional reputation, career, and educational prospects? And that revealing too much about your day-to-day activities may expose you to danger, if thieves can tell you’ll be away?
Many social networking sites also allow other people to share information about you – or “tag” you, in photos or videos – that you might prefer to keep private. These websites generally include privacy settings that give you some control over who can see your profile information, who can read your posts, who can “tag” you, and who can see items in which you have been tagged.
However, even the best and most clearly understood privacy settings do not change the possibility that anything and everything you post on a social networking site can become public – just as any email you send can be saved and forwarded to the world by a single person who receives it.
Take Charge of Your Privacy
Here are some tips to help you stay safe while enjoying all that social media has to offer:
- Use Common Sense. Some people become so comfortable with the Internet that they feel comfortable sharing information online that they would never share with strangers on the street. Even with the best privacy settings, you should consider that what you post may be seen by others. Use common sense when posting information publicly online. Even if you are caught up in the moment, stop and think about what you’re posting. How would you feel if it were seen by your employer, future prospective employers, your coach or teachers, your parents, children, or friends? You should also consider the privacy of others, especially when posting a photo, video, or comment that relates to another person. Remember that even if you delete something you posted, it might still remain visible on web servers and accessible to search engines, forever.
- Evaluate Your Privacy Settings. Take the time to look for the privacy settings and privacy policies of all social networks, blogs, and other venues on which you have a profile and/or post information. If you can’t find the privacy settings, contact the website publisher and ask for this information. After adjusting your privacy settings, you should re-check them on an ongoing basis. It’s important to remember that many social networking sites have changed their privacy settings and policies over the years. Be aware that those settings and policies may change again. Check periodically to make sure that your privacy settings are up to date.
- Defend Against Phishing and Malware Attacks. Does a post you were tagged in or a DM you received look odd? Some posts or messages you receive through social networking sites may actually be phishing attacks or Trojan horses. You also need to beware of third-party applications, such as games and quizzes, found on some social networking sites. Using these applications may expose your computer to malicious code – or may make your information available to advertisers.
- Make Safeguarding Your Information Your Number One Goal. Protect your computer by keeping your antivirus software up to date. Updates are always important! Protect your profile by using smart passwords. And always independently verify the authenticity of a message or invitation before you click on it. Think Before you Click!
If you are interested in learning more tips to help keep you safe while you are online, you can download my free interactive ebook here. The book, CyberSecurity for the Digitally Challenged, is currently available with Apple Books and can be viewed on any IOS device.