Thursday, 5 June 2008

Privacy Online – How Much Would a “I’ll Google You” Get About You?

Even though online privacy has been a subject that everyone has known about for a long time, I still cant help but feel that with the explosion in social networking, a lot of the basic principles seem to have been lost somewhere.

By “principles” I mean:

  • Make yourself as hard to personally identify as possible.
  • People on the Internet should not be able to find where you live (unless you want them to).
  • You need to protect your friends and family as well as yourself, don’t put their information on display without permission.
  • In short, people should only ever know what you would be happy with someone shouting from a top of the building, with everyone stood around it, and pointing at you.
  • Not sharing information from one source with another (e.g. automatic “I’ll email your friends for you, just give me your ID and password for [service]”.

Some of the Problems

There have been numerous issues with private information being found on the Internet about people ranging from silly pranks being pulled to people losing their money, jobs, or even their lives. People often only think about the former and never the consequences of the latter. It’s serious stuff.

Some obvious examples:

  • People are being fired for finding “inappropriate” items on Facebook (or whatever) of their staff members.
  • Obvious harassment and threatening behaviour towards individuals.
  • Children and Adults alike (not only children are at risk) being stalked, or worse.
  • Personally identifiable information being used to access other information (bank details etc.).
  • There are tons of website’s that regurgitate information on other sites, so you data can be inadvertently copied from one site to another, without you knowing about it.

As said before, a large part of this is due to the fact that social networking has exploded. With MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and so on. There is literally MILLIONS of people posting huge amount of data about themselves on various servers around the world.

I, like a lot of others think social networking is great. I am now back in touch with people from school, I never forget friends birthdays, its nice to see us all growing up and doing our things and being happy.

What people fail to realise is that, left unchecked, ANYONE can see this, and this can be dangerous.

Some Solutions

So? What can we do to help get some sort of control over what the Internet can find out about ourselves? There are several things:

  1. ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS check the privacy settings for ANY sites where you put information about yourself in any way, shape or form. If you cannot find them, check the help, if its not in the help, contact them, if they do not help you, then you may well want to consider not trusting them with your data!
  2. If your unsure, don’t. If you ever think “should I put this on here” then you are probably best not to.
  3. As mentioned above, never enter your password and ID for one service into another, unless you trust the application vendor. 9/10 if I see anything like that, I either get out or skip it. Remember, just because they may not use your information directly, they could sell it on.
  4. If you don’t want your employer to see photos of you throwing up in a gutter on Saturday night or doing inappropriate things with the girl next door then don’t give them access to such material. If you want them on your contacts on Facebook (or whatever) then put them on a limited profile, or not add them at all. There are other networking sites designed for work such as LinkedIn.

The Biggest Winner (IMO)

I am all for rolling your sleeves up and having a go. So, check yourself out. The first place most searches start is Google. So, go to Google, type in your name, what comes up? Can you find information about yourself? Are you happy with it being there? If not, change it, go to the website, log in and check the privacy settings!

Vary your searches, name? Phone number? Email address? As soon as you can see where your information is being leaked from, you can fix it.

Remember, Google also offers Google Alerts which is a great way to keep on top of it. I have several Google Alerts trawling the net for me to check for my personal information. As of yet, there is nothing on the Internet about me that I would either be unhappy about you knowing, or wouldn’t tell you myself.

Exactly how it should be.

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