5 Ways to Protect Your Privacy Online

Sometimes it feels like social networks like Facebook are on a campaign to do away with privacy entirely. We’re invited to share more and more of our information online, and then the rules change and we suddenly discover that people can access information we previously thought was hidden away.

Now this post is not intended to scare you. But it is important to think through the implications of what you share and what you do online, because it may have further reaching effects than you intend.

So what can you do to protect your privacy? Here are some tips:

  1. No one can share it if you don’t post it. Just because Facebook asks for your cell phone number, it doesn’t mean you have to hand it over. If there is information you would feel uncomfortable having displayed to the world if a setting is changed by a social network, then for goodness’ sake don’t post it.
  2. Check your privacy settings monthly. Facebook is notorious for changing things without giving its users a thorough understanding of what those changes mean. So double-check your privacy settings monthly (set a reminder in your calendar!), to be sure that they still reflect your wishes. Want to learn more about Facebook privacy settings? Start here.
  3. Understand geo-location tools thoroughly before using them. Tools like Facebook Places and FourSquare sound really cool. What fun to check in so that your friends know where you are! But there are things you need to consider before using them. Is it possible you could be alerting criminals to the fact that your house is empty? Are you posting your address, with a map, for anyone to access? Are your friends telling people your location without checking with you first? You really need to be sure you understand how these tools work before telling the world where you are every second of the day.
  4. Your connections may share information about you too. Imagine for a moment that you are friends on Facebook with your child’s teacher. While you may not post the name or location of your child’s school, the teacher may share this information as she talks about her job. And if you talk to that teacher online about your kids, it wouldn’t be too hard for a criminal to figure out exactly where your kids go to school, and even where to wait for them after school. Be careful!
  5. Photos reveal a lot about you. What could a stranger figure out about you just by looking at your pictures? Are there pictures of your house, your kids’ school, local landmarks that reveal your regular habits and location? Be sure that when you post pictures, you’re aware of who can see them, and how much they reveal about your day to day life.

Again, I’m not trying to scare you, and I’m also not saying you shouldn’t do any of the things above. I just want you to be aware that IF you choose to do these things, what the results could be. We don’t want to live our lives in fear. But we also don’t want to give out information that, if we thought about it, we might not choose to share. Nothing is fully secure on our social networks, because things change too rapidly.

My number one advice is always the same: If you don’t want people to know, don’t post it to your social networks!

Your thoughts?

2 Responses to 5 Ways to Protect Your Privacy Online
  1. Linda
    March 2, 2011 | 2:12 pm

    I like #2 and will put this in to effect. It sucks that they make these changes constantly! Good advice! I’m sharing it with all my buds. Also what do you think about local TV stations giving away items such as Ipads via their Fan pages? Is this a way to get your info too? Or does it just build their status with FB?

  2. Betsy
    March 2, 2011 | 1:18 pm

    I am also very wary of the status update “games” that ask you to post personal info that is commonly used to answer security questions for password resets. Yesterday, there was one that challenged members to post their parents’ middle names. These always raise big warning signs for me.

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