Social Media privacy: So who exactly can see my personal information?

Since the birth of social media sites such as Facebook, parents have internationally spent many an hour worrying about what exactly strangers can see on their children’s profiles. Today, however, social media privacy is not just a worry for anxious parents. Recent privacy breaches and ever-changing social media privacy laws have brought privacy on such sites to media attention of late. According to a recent survey, a staggering 50% of social media users report to have had problems concerning privacy. It is clear to anyone paying the smallest amount of attention that the popularity and growth of sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn show no signs of slowing. With consumers sharing a growing volume of increasingly varied content, there is a growing awareness of the need for stricter rules concerning privacy. So what can you – as a user – do to keep your information private?

I was extremely shocked recently when I read about a new smart phone application (developed in Russia) called “Girls Around Me”. Combining details made public by Facebook, Foursquare and Google Maps, the app (targeting young men) plots a map of attractive girls currently in the area surrounding the user. For an application to be exposing the whereabouts of individuals (while they have no idea whatsoever) just seems completely wrong. But is it really? Millions of people around the world regularly make use of social media, but 68% of American users say that they don’t understand what information they are sharing or who they are sharing it with. You could argue that if social media users are willing to share their personal data without ensuring that they completely understand privacy settings, then more fool them. Yes, all networks do offer default security settings, but in general these are fairly loose. They will not – for example – protect photos that you have been tagged in if a recruiter searches your Facebook profile. Many users are in fact surprised by just how little information is protected by the default settings. There is nearly always an option to customize privacy settings, enabling users to limit who can see what. Job seekers in particular would be wise to look into customizing their settings if they don’t want their next interviewer to see those photos.

We have all heard that hiring managers may well search our social media profiles before an interview to see what extra information they can find. It surprises me just how many avid social media users I have heard pondering over what exactly a recruiter or potential boss could see. Fully aware of the consequences, many of us still do not check what we are sharing with others, or take two minutes to adjust our privacy settings. It is clear that there is a real need for users to educate themselves on exactly what they are sharing through their use of social media. Did you know, for example, that every time you click “I agree “ to use a new Facebook application, you are agreeing to a new set of rules on sharing your information. Sure, nobody ever reads Terms and Conditions, but perhaps it is worthwhile taking the time to delete apps you don’t use and to look into the privacy settings of those you find useful. This may make you think twice about which applications you really need.

Given the nature of the information shared, Facebook is usually the network causing the most concern regarding privacy. The undeniable growth of social media motivates us to share more and more information. “Check-ins” on location-based services are a more recent addition to social media. As the “Girls Around You” example clearly illustrates, users should be very wary when using such applications. Countless stories in the news of youngsters mistakenly advertising the address of parties they are hosting to thousands of strangers perfectly illustrate the need for care. In an ideal world, it is best just not to use location-based services. Being quite this strict however does put restrictions on your use of social media.

So to really be safe, users can set up specific email accounts to use for social media (to avoid directing any spam brought about by social media to your main email account). Furthermore, it is advisable to make passwords as strong as possible (with numbers and letters, upper and lower case, no memorable names or dates…) and to change them regularly. To go even further, those really concerned about social media privacy could simply share less. If you don’t want the world to see a picture, don’t post it. If you’re not sure about the privacy settings of an application, then don’t use it. Simple! Such a strict approach however is easier said than done.  If you follow all the advice out there, your profile will be well protected, but probably not nearly as much fun. Really making the most of today’s social media experience necessitates a certain lack of privacy. Yes, it’s unwise to share your details through location-based apps, but how many avid social media users are honestly going to pass up the opportunity to take part in social media’s latest trend? It’s up to the individual to weigh up their own priorities and to decide what they value most highly; their social media freedom, or their privacy.

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The Dangerous World of LinkedIn

 

LinkedIn’s a great social network. Currently home to 145+ million users, it has a growth rate that is quite simply astonishing. It’s great for job seekers, it’s great for recruiters and it unquestionably rules the world of B2B. So basically it’s great, right?

Well, yes but as with everything in life it’s got its drawbacks. I’ve spoken previously about how LinkedIn can be an incredibly beneficial tool for job seekers (and of course other professionals) but today I want to discuss its dangers. What are the risks involved when using a LinkedIn account and what should you be avoiding?

I’m going to start with one of the hottest topics at the moment when it comes to social networking. This is something which has sparked global debate, and outrage in certain cases, and is probably the no.1 danger of LinkedIn. This is of course privacy. Now I’ve talked about privacy a little bit previous to this but in that case I chose to concentrate on the social media giant, Facebook (so if you’re worried about your privacy on Facebook then feel free to take a little look at that). But, as the title quite bluntly underlines, today is all about LinkedIn.

The problem with a social network is exactly that; it’s social. And the problem with that is the extreme difficultly to be simultaneously social whilst maintaining details about yourself to yourself. But the privacy issue with LinkedIn is not the same as it is with Facebook, or other social networks for that matter. In fact LinkedIn is one of the better social networking sites when it comes to account and profile privacy. The problem here lies in the user’s desire to share things about themselves without thinking carefully about who is going to see them. I’ll give you an example. I read an article on Forbes the other day which described the case of John Flexman, an employee of the gas exploration firm BG Group. I’m not going to go into too much detail about this specific case but basically Flexman had ticked the box highlighting his interest in “career opportunities” which resulted in him being fired. As crazy as that may seem, this is not an isolated incident. The details which you post on LinkedIn are going to be looked at, so make sure not to include information which could easily be misinterpreted!

But it’s not just selecting the options that LinkedIn gives you that causes problems. Many of you job seeking LinkedIn users will have included a summary on your profile. A little blurb about yourself which you think sums you up. Unfortunately, the way you describe yourself may not look as good through someone else’s eyes as it sounds in your head. I’ve read countless summaries which include paragraphs of irrelevant waffle that will immediately turn a potential employer into someone who’s never going to look at your profile again. Remember there’s difference between LinkedIn and a network like Facebook. Yes, LinkedIn is a social network but it’s also the professional one. I’m not saying you should make your profile over professional and incredibly boring but if you’re a job seeker my advice to you is simple: Use the summary as your job pitch. Tell them, whoever they might be, why you should get the job. Keep your stories about your crazy hobbies etc for your personal friends.

Another thing which is partially relevant to the privacy issue is the profile picture. Whoever visits your profile, or comes across you in a search, the first thing they will look at is your profile picture. So you would think the users of the professional network would take this into consideration and upload a suitable picture. Yet, the number of times I have come across a picture of someone drinking a beer or lying on a beach is quite simply astonishing. It’s fair enough that you want your LinkedIn profile to have personality, but a silly profile picture is not the way to go.

So there are just a few things which can cause problems on LinkedIn. Whether you’re a job seeker or currently employed the overall message is the same: Don’t rush the creation of your LinkedIn profile, don’t throw LinkedIn into the same pile as Facebook and ultimately make sure every bit of information, text or anything else that is visible is something you want people to see. And most importantly, if you avoid the problems, LinkedIn really is a great tool.

You’re being watched: Privacy is dead

Sharing is great. It’s easy, it’s fun and pretty much everyone does it. With the technology available today you can share anything, with anyone, from anywhere. Unfortunately though, there is one major negative impact of this for professionals: Privacy is dead. And Facebook, with its 800+ million user base, is the main culprit.

In 2010 Mark Zuckerberg labeled sharing as “the social norm.” What he didn’t choose to bring up, or even consider, was the other side of the sharing equation: Privacy. Now, there are various problems or dangers that can arise from the privacy issue but the one that’s most prevalent, and perhaps most influential at the moment, concerns the job seeker.

There’s been a lot of buzz about Facebook privacy in the recruitment world recently. According to a recent survey, around 70% of recruiters in the US have rejected an application based on information found online. That’s a pretty high number, and it’s important to underline that it isn’t just a trend confined to the US; it really is a global phenomenon.

So how are job seekers reacting? Well it is now quite commonplace for a jobseeker to invent a Facebook alias to protect themselves. By changing their display name and tightening their privacy settings, in terms of who sees what content, jobseekers (mostly young professionals/graduates) are essentially having to “hide” from potential employers. And with stats like that who can blame them?

It’s definitely becoming more and more important to manage your online reputation.

But it’s not just jobseekers that are at risk. It seems like every other day that I hear a “horror story” about someone who’s lost their job because of something they’ve said/done on Facebook. Anything from an inappropriate comment or an unsuitable photo or video to a criticism of a former employer/colleague or even a comment left by a friend or family member have landed people in hot water.

According to the same survey, 79% of US companies admitted to having used the internet to “better assess applicants.” As the world, and more importantly the working world, becomes more social, a site like Facebook becomes more and more influential for professionals. Although it did begin as a purely social site used for personal connections, it is now widely used for networking, job hunting and recruiting and therefore to ignore the privacy issue is a mistake which you are likely to regret.

So, what should (and shouldn’t) you be doing?

Number one for me is to take a look at your privacy settings. Make sure you only share posts, information, photos etc with the people you want to see them. Facebook “lists” make this an easier task. Secondly, make sure never to criticize or complain about your work on Facebook – nothing good can come of it! Thirdly, and this one’s probably less common but not unheard of, only accept to add people you know. The reason for this is that sometimes a recruiter will create an alias, friend you and essentially spy on you. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t believe that this occurs too often, and certainly none of the recruiters I know do it, but as I said it’s not unheard of and you should always be careful.

Remember a recruiter is well within their rights to research you. They will happily throw away your CV if they see something they don’t like and they can fire an existing employee for the same reason. So be careful! Your life is not as private as you think it is.