Tweet this, not that: Social networking and your safety

June 24, 2011

Do you ever broadcast on Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare (or others) where you’re eating lunch, who you’re with and or even when you’re on vacation? Do you care who’s seeing it? If you don’t, you probably should.

Would you get undressed in front of a window?

The meteoric growth of social networking has exposed millions of people’s personal activities to a far larger audience than most might be aware.

“It’s really just the erosion of privacy in general,” says Kurt Roemer, chief security strategist at Citrix Systems. “You’re giving away information you may not want to intentionally give away.”

The networks are becoming intertwined and your ability to have any meaningful control over that information is essentially lost. For instance, when you check in with Foursquare and it goes out on Twitter, that information becomes searchable. Same thing with people boasting of a Groupon deal or trying to solicit friends to join.

“That incestuous behavior between apps is only getting worse,” Roemer says.

He  says it’s time the growing universe of social networkers become aware of what can happen to information that was once considered personal but is now being widely distributed.

“You may end up having that information used in a way you’ve never intended,” he says. “With social media, you’re posting your secret diary for the world to see. Are you okay with that? Even a trusted friend could leak your secrets.”

Those of us who sign up for these programs agree to a host of terms the vast majority have no clear understanding of. In fact, most of these agreements can be changed time and again, and you’ll still not likely know what you’ve agreed to regarding how the information can be used.

But it’s clear, Roemer says, that a lot of people actively broadcasting their whereabouts and purchasing habits on social networks aren’t really thinking about that information getting cataloged. (It does).

Does it matter to you that you’re becoming a marketer’s dream? That you’re giving away information that can then be sold? “These free services cost a lot of money on the back end,” Roemer says.

One of the reasons they have such sophisticated infrastructures is data collection.

What do they know?

Your friends, where you shop, where you go. “That information is extremely valuable and becoming more valuable day by day,” Roemer says.

Most of the networks promise to separate your name from your data, but that’s when it comes to marketing. Or police use it to identify who might have been a witness to a crime? What about when criminals take advantage of this free flow of information?

As you check in from Disney or the beach or some other place that’s not where you live, can a tech-savvy crook use that as an invite to try to break into your house? Why not?

“It’s another way to advertise your vulnerability,” Roemer said. “It’s like leaving newspapers piling up in your driveway.”

Roemer said he’d love to see the companies tell consumers what happens to the information they collect and give back some of the control.

“There needs to be an interesting and innovative way you can determine what information you’re sharing,” he said.

In the meantime, here are some things to consider:

  • When you post something, would you be okay knowing it could be seen by more than just your friends?
  • Do you periodically go through the privacy settings on all your social networks so you know just how much leeway you’re giving?
  • Are you aware of which of the different networks you’ve permitted to send messages through to other networks?
  • Even if you don’t care today, could something you’re putting out there come back later and cause you problems in your personal or professional life?
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