Beware! These Popular Websites Aren’t Safe…

Social Media is a Threat

to Your Privacy

Social media networks like Facebook deliver a lot of benefits.

I know grandparents who stay more connected with their grandchildren because of Facebook …

I know people who expand their hobbies through Pinterest….

I know young professionals who have gotten a better job because of connections on LinkedIn…

…and I know plenty of people who use social media to keep up with friends they otherwise would have lost track of long ago.

But here’s the thing … social media isn’t safe. It’s a huge threat to your privacy for a lot of reasons.

Now, I’m not suggesting you swear off social media. But if you’re going to use these networks, make sure you use them in an informed way.

5 Things You Must Know About Social Media

Monitor Privacy Settings – It doesn’t matter what social media networks you use, it’s a good idea to periodically check your privacy settings to make sure they are where you left them.

Privacy settings control who can see your profile, who your posts are shared with, how much information you release to the general public, and more.

But here’s the catch, sometimes those privacy settings are changed and you don’t know about it.

Facebook has been bad in the past. Usually when Facebook undergoes an update as a network, it reverts all the user’s privacy settings back to “default.” And doesn’t alert you that your privacy settings have changed. This year it’s being a little more transparent.

Facebook recently emailed all its members an announcement about upcoming updates to its Privacy Basics policy, scheduled to kick in on January 1, 2015:

We wanted to let you know we’re updating our terms and policies on January 1, 2015 and introducing Privacy Basics. You can check out the details below or on Facebook. Over the past year, we’ve introduced new features and controls to help you get more out of Facebook, and listened to people who have asked us to better explain how we get and use information.

In fact, Facebook’s actual privacy policies aren’t changing all that much; Facebook has merely clarified its terms. If you go to Facebook’s “Updating our terms and policies” blog post and read through, you’ll see where it clearly says “Nothing is changing with these updates.”

Even if you’ve taken the time to set your own privacy preferences in the past, it might be a good idea to go and check they haven’t reverted to Default settings which allows some of your information to be accessible to people or companies you didn’t expect. It’s easy to check. Go to the little padlock in the top left hand corner of your Facebook page and on the drop down, you’ll find the Privacy icon and a number of privacy options. Just click your choices and you’re good.

When posting photos, there’s another drop down box, which offers to the chance to limit viewing to just Friends, Friends of Friends and Public. You just have to remember to do it.

Ditch the Bells and Whistles – Some social media networks offer all sorts of free apps from games to quizzes to birthday calendars. Whenever you opt to use one of these apps, it will ask you for access to your profile. Granting access means that you’re giving the company that made the app permission to gather data on you so that it can either sell it or use it to market to you. Even more insidious, some of these apps will also use your profile as an in to gather data on your friends.

The more information you share with third parties, the more vulnerable you are to identity theft and online scams. If you can’t live without your favorite social media game, consider setting up a dummy account for gaming… one that you don’t friend people through or post to.

They know where you are: Modern communications mean most individuals today walk around with a beacon that transmits their location. Mobile phones register to a nearby tower as the owner moves through space and the phone company can collect that data in real time or retrospectively to physically place the phone with varying degrees of accuracy. Location-based services including map applications listing nearby restaurants, cinemas, friend finders and other social networks collect location data as part of providing the service or for contextual advertising.

Which means most social media applications on your phone or tablet use the inbuilt GPS to communicate with your surroundings and to stamp your messages with your location.

Don’t want everyone to know where you are? Turn off Location Services on your iPhone and Location on your Android. Take out the battery. Use an old school non-GPS phone. Or maybe a ham radio if you’re REALLY keen on going off-the-grid.

Be Careful Who You Follow – One feature of every social network is the ability to friend or follow or connect with people. It may seem harmless to connect with everyone who reaches out to you, but think twice about it.

You may be posting details about yourself that you don’t want strangers know. Like when you’re on vacation. Or where you’re planning to be at a certain time. Or what school your kids go to. In England, physical crimes related to social media have risen more than 300 percent. That’s a lot of people taking advantage of uninformed social media users.

Use Common Sense When Posting – Anything on social media can be captured and used against you. All it takes is for someone to do a screen capture while they’re viewing your post, and your post will never go away. Even if you delete it.

Here’s an example shared in an NBCNews story, which highlighted a young man who was denied a liver transplant because he’d posted pictures of himself at a bar to his social media feed on Twitter. He’d sworn he had been sober for more than a year, but his Twitter feed suggested otherwise. He never considered that his doctors might check his social media accounts.

Never brag about dodging taxes. Don’t discuss big purchases. Don’t criticize your boss or your work. Don’t drink and post to social media. Think carefully about posting medical information. Don’t post a photo of that priceless artwork.

When you post, think of yourself on a stage in front of the people you admire most, the people who have power over aspects of your life, and the people who wouldn’t mind taking you down a notch. If you’re not comfortable saying what you’re about to post in front of that crowd, then don’t post it.

REMEMBER: If you don’t post it, it won’t come back to haunt you.

Know the Ins and Outs of Your Network – Whatever network you use, make sure you understand how information is shared. On Twitter, for example, all your Tweets are public. They can be seen by anyone, whether that person follows you or not.

On Facebook and Google+, you can control who sees your posts. But remember, privacy policies change, so be sure to check your account settings often.

LinkedIn provides a lot of control over who can see what, but scammers and phishers are starting to learn the system.

No matter what network you’re on, if you ever receive a request for private information, verify with your connection before you provide it. You may be getting scammed.

Social media offers tremendous benefits to people living far from loved ones or looking to reconnect with old friends. It can also give you a way to build business connections. But if you’re going to wade into this online world, make sure you understand what you’re getting into. The dangers are many and they aren’t always obvious.