Some time ago, I wrote an open letter to Facebook, pointing out a number of things the social networking giant had done that betrayed the trust many of us put in it in its earlier days. And indeed, in the past few months, many more privacy concerns have surfaced that are causing some people to leave Facebook, using other social media or just abandoning the concept altogether.
However, there is more to be said, and I direct it at you, the Internet community at large. It is easy, when so many privacy concerns are surfacing, and Facebook and many other social media outlets are guilty of exposing more than you would like to show, to just blame them and complain about how you never wanted your boss to see that picture of you doing that keg-stand.
However, I call for you to take some responsibility, and to recognize that in the long run, your Internet privacy is in your own hands. It should not come as any great surprise that information put up on an Internet website is less secure than you would actually like. We love to delude ourselves into thinking otherwise (and I have been guilty of that in the past as well), but if we are honest with ourselves, we should remind ourselves that the best principle to live by is to never assume total privacy. If we are willing to put any information about ourselves on the Internet in the form of any social media (and really, these days it’s the norm), we must realize that someone probably has access to it that we didn’t intend.
That being said, there are some steps you can take to minimize privacy concerns. The most obvious (and these days, the least feasible) is simply to not join any social networking sites. After all, if you put no information about yourself online, then you have total privacy. Anonymous E-mail is common enough that you can exist in the 21st Century with total anonymity. But that is not always possible, nor is it always desirable (it depends on your personality, largely). So if we assume you want to put yourself on social networking, here are some tips to keep yourself as safe as possible:
- Choose your friends wisely. Sure, Mr. Party Animal might have been a great friend in high school, but if you’re trying to land a professional job, and your potential employer looks up your Facebook page and sees an all-caps drunken post from said Party Animal on your wall, it may look bad. If you really want to keep in touch with people, pay very close attention to your privacy settings for wall posts, or even ask some of your friends to abstain from posting things like that on your wall. Or if you really want to keep up with those friends, consider creating two profiles: one for your real friends, and one that will be more professional, and only use it for professional endeavors.
- Check your tags. Anyone can tag anyone else in any picture on Facebook. If you’re doing any serious job hunting, or you suspect a boss is keeping tabs on your social networking activities, check out what photos you and others have got tagged. If there’s anything you wouldn’t want a boss or potential boss to see, un-tag it. The same goes for notes.
- Follow the Internet Privacy Golden Rule. For me, that is “Don’t say or do anything on Facebook that you wouldn’t want your boss or mother to see”. After all, with the way things stand, there’s a good chance that at least some member of your family is on your friends list, or on the friends list of someone on your friends list. And as stated above, assume that your social networking profiles may be scrutinized by potential employers. So just be careful what your status updates may say.
Yes, it is unfair that our social networking has gotten so tied up with our jobs, and maybe sometimes we wish we could post something just for our friends, while keeping our family on a separate list, and do all of this without having multiple Facebook accounts. But what you have to understand is that our information is gold to advertisers, and no social networking site is going to turn down a lot of money just for the sake of maintaining our privacy. And as far as employers go, yes, it is also unfair that they would take our Internet profile and use it against us, but as long as the information is there, they want to see if they are hiring the right kind of person.
So, unfair or not, this is the world we live in right now. And until (or unless) a social networking site comes along that truly does care for our privacy – and don’t hold your breath on that one – we all must take our privacy into our own hands.