Is Social Media Eroding Our Privacy?

Monday, September 05, 2011

Allan Pratt, MBA

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The numbers reflect the attachment we’ve developed for social media: 750 million of us have Facebook accounts, 120 million of us have LinkedIn accounts, 200 million of us have Twitter accounts, 25 million of us have Google+ accounts – and we view 3 billion videos everyday on YouTube. And the numbers continue to grow.

We use the social web to connect and communicate with family, friends and colleagues; to share updates, news, and information; and to build corporate and personal brands resulting in increased business.

As we have become more and more absorbed in social media, when was the point that we stopped caring about our confidential information? When did we lose control of our privacy? Is the simple solution to blame Mark Zuckerberg? Or should we blame companies who want access to our data so that they can customize their marketing campaigns to target the most appropriate customers?

It appears that some European cultures place more value on their confidential data than Americans. Remember all the countries that sued Google last year during the Google Maps project? While valid points were raised by the lawsuits, there was a clever video on the subject (that Google created in late 2009). Check it out on Google’s YouTube channel at http://youtu.be/e5bALLcEygc.

But, I really don’t believe we ever stopped caring about our data. Instead, I believe that our focus just shifted. Our desire to create a more connected world took center stage as the #1 priority.

Consider this question: how many of us have met new and interesting people, received job offers, contributed as guest bloggers, etc., as a result of social networking? The answer is too many to count.

So with the benefits of social media in mind, here are my 10 tips to help you take back some control of your online privacy when creating or updating social media profiles:
  • Don’t use your real birth date when setting up online accounts, use a different year/month/date (but make it within 5-10 years of your actual year).
  • Don’t include your address, but if you must include something, include the zip code for the downtown area of your city.
  • Don’t use your child’s photo, a celebration photo from a wedding or other party, or a group shot as your profile photo – use a pet or a cartoon version of yourself (however, there is a caveat here: if you use LinkedIn or another site strictly for professional business-generation or personal branding purposes, the best choice for your profile photo/avatar is a professional portrait/head-shot.
  • Don’t include all of your links unless you want people to actually visit them.
  • Don’t include your interests or hobbies – since these characteristics will become fodder for companies to market uniquely to you – and unfortunately, some companies do not abide by the “unsubscribe” laws.
  • Don’t create links to feature your spouse, child, parent, sibling, etc.
  • Don’t use geotagging with photos – you don’t want to inadvertently show your vacation locations when you are miles away from home; but if you do share photos, make sure your home address, car license plates, and other data is not visible in the photos.
  • Avoid sharing and commenting on potentially polarizing topics, such as, religion and politics – there could be unwelcome consequences.
  • While not only part of the social media landscape, don’t provide your email address to frequent user groups, online surveys, contests, etc. – spam isn’t the only unwelcome gift you could receive in your email inbox.
  • Lastly, create email addresses for all social media sites or at least, use a different one than your main email address so that, if compromised, you can easily terminate one or more addresses and not impact your email communications – this will keep your main email address clean and not over-populated with unwanted emails.
At this point, you may wonder, what’s left to include in order to participate in social media? Social media is a great tool, don’t get me wrong. I have made excellent connections as a result of my social networking.

But, I stand firm when confidential information is requested in order to participate – if I cannot apply the tips I shared above, then I choose not to participate, and you should too.

Your personally identifiable information (PII) is valuable. Don’t give it away for free because one day – hopefully not tomorrow – you may regret over-sharing.

Cross-posted from Tips4Tech

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