Safe social networking


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2:28 p.m., Oct. 29, 2010----Online social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace are reshaping traditional ways people interact.

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They allow people to share information and media without phone calls, letters, printed pictures, face-to-face meetings or email. While social networking offers convenient ways to keep in touch, you can also compromise your privacy and security unless you take the necessary steps.

The idea behind social networking is that many people can see the information you post. Publicizing your status updates, pictures and videos is what makes these sites “social.”

To encourage interaction, many social networking sites make your information public by default. But not everything you post online should be publicly accessible.

Accessing the Web from the privacy of home, office or dorm creates a false sense of anonymity and security, leading many of us to share more information online than we would in person. Online communication lowers people's natural tendency to monitor what they would do or say in the presence of others.

Social networking raises unique issues in maintaining your privacy. At a face-to-face meeting with coworkers, you can simply shut the door to keep others from hearing your conversation. On social networking sites, “shutting the door” sometimes requires a complex series of privacy settings.

Remember that the business model for social networking sites contributes to privacy issues. Sites like Facebook generate revenue from ads that appear on a side bar, across the top of the site, or in a pop up. Sometimes they also make money by selling your information to advertisers.

In short, advertising revenue drives most social networking sites. Because a social networking site tries to gain information about you for resale to their customers, you should be careful about the information you share.

Here are some tips you should keep in mind to protect yourself and your personal information.

  • Review the site's privacy policy. Reputable social networking sites post a Terms of Service and Privacy statement that explains how the site will use the information you provide and what information the site will share with third parties. If you do not agree with the site's policy, or if the site doesn't publish its policy, do not use the site.
  • Manage your privacy settings. Learn about privacy settings and use them appropriately. Be selective when you publish personal information like your phone number and address. If you broadcast too much information, you may help unscrupulous people grab your information. To learn about privacy on Facebook, see Facebook's page on Controlling How You Share.
  • Build a positive reputation. Don't post information you wouldn't want your family or employer to see. Microsoft reported that 70 percent of job recruiters rejected candidates based on information they found online. Use your Web presence to develop a strong personal brand, which may help with future employment.
  • Be cautious about clicking links. Don't click a suspicious link, even if a friend posted it.
  • Follow UD's best practices. Learn about best practices at UD including installing antivirus software, avoiding phishing schemes, and using strong passwords. See UD's computer security page.
  • Notify the authorities if necessary. If someone is harassing or threatening you, remove them from your friends list, block them and report them to the appropriate authorities.

Editor's note: This is the final article in observance of National Cyber Security Awareness Month for 2010. See also “UD marks National Cyber Security Awareness Month,” “UD warned: Viruses can eat your computer alive,” “Protect yourself against password snatchers” and “Don't get hooked by a phishing scam.”

Article by Christopher Petrilla
Art by Larry Larraga