Practice Safe Social Networking
Blogs and social networking can be fun to use and they can be helpful in staying in touch with friends or forging professional relationships. But posting personal information on your webpage can lead to unwanted attention. The lack of physical interaction provides a false sense of anonymity and security. It is easy to forget that more than just your friends and family can gain access to your site and view your information. When you post personal information in a social network site (such as Facebook or MySpace), you significantly increase the odds of people outside of your intended audience viewing your profile. Posting inappropriate material can lead to problems ranging from earning strikes against you from a potential employer to much more serious encounters with predators and criminals.
Think twice before posting:
- Personal information (things like your phone number, email address, home address, name and age).
- Photos or descriptions of illegal activities (advertising a party where underage drinking will be present, photos of yourself or others using illegal drugs)
- Material that might be considered pornographic (especially photos of children-even if you consider the photos perfectly harmless, nude photos of children under 18 could be considered child pornography)
- Any postings you might consider to be a joke can be taken seriously by a potential employer. Remember, the web can make a strong first impression.
- If others post inappropriate material of you on their site, such as Facebook, and tag you, remember to untag any unwanted material.
Secure your personal information
- Always use the strongest privacy account settings.
- Make your profile viewable to friends only, and not to everyone in your network.
- Use Google to search your name. The results are what potential employers will see, as well as anyone else on the internet if they Google you. Make sure there is nothing online that you don't want others to see.
Specific Steps to Social Network Safely
- Limit your personal information and never post your whereabouts
Avoid posting information such as your full name, home address, phone numbers, email address, instant messaging names, age, or birth date publicly to prevent identity theft. This article from PC World describes how Identity Thieves Harvest Social Networks. Be aware that everything that was posted on the web may be downloaded and saved by other parties. Read about possible scenarios when you post too much information on the web.
- Be aware of who can see your pictures and comments.
Think about the possible reactions of your potential employers, parents and relatives before posting. Never post provocative pictures of yourself or anyone else, and be sure any images you provide do not reveal any of the previously mentioned information. Always remember to look at the background of a picture too. Assume what you write or post on a social networking site is permanent. Even if you can delete your account, anyone on the Internet can easily download or print the information or save it to a computer.
- Be selective about who you accept as a friend on a social network.
Identity thieves might create fake profiles in order to get information from you. This is known as social engineering.
- Use caution when you click links that you receive in messages from your friends on your social Web site. Don't trust that a message is really from who it says it's from.
Hackers can break into accounts and send messages that look like they're from your friends, but aren't. If you suspect that a message is fraudulent, use an alternate method to contact your friend to find out. This includes invitations to join new social networks. Treat links in messages on these sites as you would links in email messages. Type the address of your social networking site directly into your browser or use your personal bookmarks. If you click a link to your site through email or another Web site, you might be entering your account name and password into a fake site where your personal information could be stolen.
- To avoid giving away email addresses of your friends, do not allow social networking services to scan your email address book.
When you join a new social network, you might receive an offer to enter your email address and password to find out who else is on the network. The site might use this information to send email messages to everyone in your contact list or even everyone you've ever sent an email message to with that email address. Social networking sites should explain that they're going to do this, but some do not.
- Avoid Online Quizzes
Avoid random "fun" surveys on the web; they are often decoys for targeted advertisement. Read this PC World article on the Hidden Secrets of Online Quizzes. Also know that any time you download an application in social networking sites such as Facebook, you are granting that application access to your and your friend's personal information. See ACLU's blog entry about Facebook quizzes.
- Be careful about installing extras on your site and delete unused widgets.
Many social networking sites allow you to download third-party applications that let you do more with your personal page. Criminals sometimes use these applications in order to steal your personal information. To download and use third-party applications safely, take the same safety precautions that you take with any other program or file you download from the Web. For more information, see Before you download files, help protect your computer. Read this Washington Post article about how third party widgets may cause privacy concerns.