Social Privacy

Posted by Katie McLaughlin on December 10, 2008

If you are one of the 130 million people worldwide that use Facebook, you may know of the magical knowledge that can be obtained from this networking website. You can find friends from long ago, images from that party you missed on the weekend, or even if that girl you liked in high school has found a partner or not.

Unfortunately, with such information being so readily uploaded and shared on this site, you need to understand your privacy in regards to this information. Facebook has 64 paragraphs detailing how Facebook will use the information they collect, and their obligations. If you don’t understand what you are doing on these type of sites, the information can be used for things that it may not be intended for.

Case in point: The Facebook Fairy. On Halloween last year, young Kevin Colvin, an intern for Anglo Irish Bank in the US, attempted to get out of work by stating he had a “family emergency” where he had to go to New York for a few days. This was found to be false after his boss found an image of him at a Halloween party from the time he was apparently otherwise occupied.

Cool wand indeed.

Kevin could have been outed (in the fact he skipped work, not the fact he was, at least for a night, a fairy) by his boss directly, if he was friends with him, one of the other Facebook friends he had, or indeed, anyone searching his name if his account was open for public view. In fact, he could have been found in an album where he was not even tagged, if a friend of a friend had flipped through an album from the night.

Technology advisors have preached the Internet Privacy sermon until they are blue in the face, but to what extent? If you have an open profile, anyone searching your name or indeed your email could find where you were born, your current relationship status, even if you were hung-over from last night’s party at the beach. If this person was your boss and you had called in sick, then you’re in a bit of strife.

I was recently caught out when I was asked if I knew someone from my university days. The person had found out that I had attended my tertiary institution by merely searching my online alias (yes, even you could find out where I studied). This is not that big of a deal for me, because that’s really all the information they can find out. I’ve locked down my account so much that the only thing you can get out of it is a 100x89px image of myself hiding behind assorted fruit, and my networks. This is of no major concern to myself, as I have always tried to protect my own privacy, albeit some people occasionally making a jab at my irregular gender, such information collected from others making such proclamations.

Other people may not think this is a big deal at all. Who cares if someone who met me at a drinks night finds my latest mobile phone photos of my girls with various alcoholic beverages, you might think. Depending on how you protect your details, more than just a boozy photograph could surface.

If you place your birth town on your profile, using your full name and going to a government public record site, someone could find out your address, your mothers maiden name, and your birth date, all of which could be used to assume your identity.

Wait a second, little red flag going up here. Is this just another spiel about how FaceSpace can steal my information and take my innocence?

Well, sort of.

You need to realize, and hopefully in your travels around cyberspace you’ve worked it out, that people are smart. They can take data from one place, information heard in passing from a conversation long ago, and connect the two into knowledge. People harping on about how consumer data can be used to make personnel profiles a la Eagle Eye have a point to their story. Knowingly giving information can be just one piece in a puzzle of working out who you are.

I’m not saying that you should disconnect all connection from the internet. By all means, continue to SuperPoke your hot next door neighbour that you’ve never actually spoken too and share stories about puppies with your aunt interstate. Just be precautious about how much you are saying in open channels. If you want to organize a meeting with a friend, do it in a private message, not on their Facebook wall. If you intend to post photos from that picnic, by all means tag your friends, but maybe lockdown the album to only people that you know.

In fact, why not take the time now to check your privacy settings. Ask a friend who doesn’t have you added to search for your profile. Can they see your name linked to your profile? Can they see your birth date even without your consent? You can lock all these things down by using the Privacy settings.

Also realize that this is not just confined to Facebook. MySpace have had privacy issues in the past, so use caution there as well.

The internet is for fun. Remember your personal security though. You wouldn’t give your wallet to a stranger at a bar, so don’t let your person be compromised.