Recently, it was discovered that the private information of 50 million Facebook users was compromised – we don’t know exactly what that means, but we can be assured that at the very least, it means that a lot of personal information is no longer personal. But was our personal information ever personal?
Facebook has become the way that grandmothers see their grandchildren holding up the softball trophy, the way we find out that our college roommate had a new baby or got a new job, the way that our relatives in other countries keep up with family news, the way people make meeting times. Facebook confirms that we are a part of a community of like-minded people, and it allows us to participate more fully in civic life. Facebook has become the universal online connection with friends and family.
Even though it is a standard form of communication, it doesn’t mean that we don’t have to be very careful using it. We live now in a world where Twitter, Uber, Facebook and YouTube are using our personal information to sell us things and connect us with particular products based on the choices we make online. Yet, they are not regulated in the same way that other forms of communication are.
It is clear that their reach is deeper and broader than most of us thought, and that it is in our best interest to be cautious of what we put online. And we need to teach our children about the future impact of what they post.
Even though Facebook says it is now going to make the creation of privacy settings easier, it still does not address the enormous vulnerability of our personal information.
When you use social media, be aware of the following:
- Your posts are forever.
- Your posts can be forwarded outside your circle of friends.
- Your comments can be forwarded outside your circle of friends.
- Anyone you follow is visible.
- Anything you post on Facebook can be misinterpreted by your present or future employer.
- The issue is not freedom of speech. The issue is electronic media. It is everlasting.
Before you click the Post button on Facebook, take a few seconds to ask yourself if your post could come back to bite you. If there is even the slightest chance that it might, don’t post! Really, it is that simple.
Your posts can also turn up in Google search results. Your posts can be used against you by people who don’t like you. That can happen even when you didn’t give them explicit permission to do so. In fact, because you posted on Facebook, you did give them permission to share your post.
Ways to protect yourself:
- When you use a third-party website to access a game or an app, those can continue to access your data. Check the permissions you granted each app and remove any that you are no longer using or do not recognize.
- On the App Settings page there is another setting called Apps Others Use. Uncheck all the boxes if you don’t want any of your information accessed by your friends’ apps.
- Audit your Facebook privacy settings. For example, you can make sure that only your friends can see your Facebook posts, or that only you can see your friends list.
- Install a tracker blocker. There are add-ons that you can install in your browser that try to block trackers embedded on websites.
- Clear your browsing data. Periodically, you can clear your cookies and browsing history.
Be aware that Google retains everything. Forever. If somebody knows what they are looking for, they will find it. Make sure what they find will not reflect poorly on you.
Did your mother or your grandmother ever say, “If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all.” That’s still really good advice when it comes to your social media communications.
Facebook and other social media are not going to go away, and they can be used for good and helps us connect but remember that it also allows scammers to take our information. Be careful and do what you can to protect yourself.
And as always, pass it on to family and friends.
This article was written by Catherine Blinder, chief education and outreach officer of the Department of Consumer Protection of the State of Connecticut. To learn more about how the Department of Consumer Protection can help, visit us online at www.ct.gov/dcp.