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"Like" Your Privacy: Cover your bum online

By Chris Thomas on May 1st, 2012 • Facebook, Insuring your stuff, social media, Twitter, Life
Originally appeared in: Summer 2012

As users, we put a wealth of sensitive information online for social and professional purposes. But the whole experience can go from bad to worse at the click of a mouse--all it takes is a lack of privacy settings and a decent hacker. Before you tweet your life away, remember what's at stake: not just your reputation, but your privacy and identity, too.

A private matter

Social media networks constantly update their privacy settings and policies to keep up with hackers, spammers and your average evildoers. Or in the case of Facebook, they do it to avoid legal hassle. In November 2011, Facebook agreed to settle deceptive practice charges regarding user privacy with the Federal Trade Commission. The proposed settlement includes regularly scheduled privacy audits for the next 20 years. Facebook revamped its privacy settings in August 2011. Here's a run-down of what's new. You can:

  • Approve posts and pics that you've been tagged in before they show up on your profile.
  • See what your public profile looks like to others by clicking the "View Profile As" button.
  • Determine who can view individual posts as you post them.

Always review privacy policies to understand how your information is accessed and shared, and adjust the default settings accordingly. For example, Facebook's Timeline feature exposes an account's entire history. Maintaining privacy is essential for safe online socializing.

Hackers anonymous

Ever noticed suspicious posts plastering your feed that you know your friends would never submit? These might be indicators of hacked accounts. Before your own profiles become compromised, take these steps to safeguard against hackers.

• Enable https browsing in the Account Preferences (Twitter) or Security Settings (Facebook), especially if you're using a wireless network. (The green https and lock symbol in the browser's address bar means it's working.) It encrypts information like passwords, so eavesdroppers will have a harder time breaking in.

  • Turn on Facebook login approval and notifications to better secure each password entry. The security question function can also prevent outside parties from randomly creating a new password.
  • Use unique passwords for each online account, and change them every six months. A strong password should be more than six characters and contain capital letters, numbers and symbols.
  • Don't allow Internet browsers to save account usernames and passwords. The convenience isn't worth the risk of someone accessing your stored information.
  • Only "friend" people you know. A generic name connected to a familiar school or organization can be a dangerous friend approval.
  • Always log off.

If you've noticed fishy activity (e.g., behaviors you didn't approve, such as unauthorized sent messages or posts), your accounts might have been hacked. The first step is to change passwords. If needed, create new accounts that use the necessary privacy settings from the get-go. Check out support.twitter.com if you suspect tweeting has been compromised. For hacked Facebook accounts, go to facebook.com/security and click the "Take Action" icon to secure an account.

A need-to-know basis

Part of determining what sensitive information is okay for online use involves knowing your audience, which in reality can extend well outside your circle of friends. Listing social security numbers or your account numbers is an obvious dumb move, but posting something as simple as your birth date can also be fodder for identity thieves and stalkers.

This goes for listing your location, too. A 2010 Ponemon Institute survey revealed that 40% of respondents have shared home addresses using social media applications. Location-based apps like Facebook Places and Foursquare are cool, but they come with some dangerous repercussions. Consider this scenario: You tweet your address to a friend one week, post on Facebook that you're going on vacation the next, and hit up Foursquare for local restaurant deals once you're there. These actions transmit one message: you're not at home. In recent years, houses have been burglarized after similar social media activity. Staying connected is nice, but putting yourself at risk is a step too far.

The Bottom Line

Online safety is no joke. At Facebook, hundreds of full-time employees work just to tackle security issues. No one is impervious to a security breech, but utilizing all precautions can keep the criminals at bay.

Sources: cio.com; facebook.com; ftc.gov; twitter.com; wisegeek.com; foursquare.com; mashable.com; scribd.com; protectmyid.com; microsoft.com; wmur.com; google.com

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