< rant > I had a completely different post started for this week, but that will wait for another time. I am going to address something that I have been seeing with increasing frequency, including a couple forwarded emails, that I think needs talking about.
I'm referring to all those posts, links, and other notifications warning everyone about the (lack of) privacy protection on social media like Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and others. The gist of most of them is something like this:
"Do you think your privacy is safe on Facebook (or wherever)? Think again. These so-called social media sties don't care about your privacy, and you will regret it if you allow them to continue to do what they are doing." Often, these dire warnings are followed by some procedure you can do to "safeguard" your privacy. It all sounds so horrible and threatening, doesn't it?
I call bullshit. First of all, while the social media sites do, indeed, want you to feel that you can use them to whatever extent you feel comfortable with, they are not there to lockdown every piece of information you may type into your profile or posts. They give you settings to tailor the visibility of your information, and you should use them. Ultimately, the one responsible for your privacy (or lack of) online is you. Yes, you. And you. You, too. You are the ones who decide what to make public and what not to.
It goes way beyond just adjusting your settings, however. Because, let's face it, this internet thing is public. Always has been, always will be. Social media sites are just that- social. And public. Despite the best intentions of any provider, the hackers and other unsavory types are out there, and they are working constantly to find workarounds to any and all of the safeguards. As soon as one is plugged, someone finds another loophole.
Added to that is the fact that providers like Facebook make their money off advertisements. You didn't think they gave you this huge forum for keeping in touch with your friends and family out of the goodness of their heart, did you? Not that I don't think they have good hearts, but it's expensive to run a thing like Facebook (or any of them), and goodness don't pay the bills. Facebook says upfront they will use your online activity to target ads to you. Your activity goes into a database. Want to see less of those ads? Think about what you say, what you like, who you follow. If you like every puppy and kitty you see, you can bet you are going to get pet related ads. Personally, I'm okay with most of that. The ads are reasonably unobtrusive, and I can ignore them easily. But they are going to be there, and there isn't a whole lot you can do about it.
So, what do you do?
Well, for one thing, if you truly do not want anyone other than a few select people to see any part of your information, don't post it online. Give it to them personally. If you don't personally know or can't independently verify the person, organization, business, or charity that wants you to "Like" or "Follow" them, don't. It's very easy for phishing scammers to set up bogus accounts that look real. Look at them as closely as you would a suspicious email. Trust me on this- hundreds more cancer patients are not going to die, and thousands of kittens are not going to be killed, if you don't Like some random social media page. If you wouldn't give out certain information in a public place where anyone could overhear it, maybe you shouldn't post it online, either.
Parents, monitor your kids. Sure, they all want Facebook and Twitter and all that, but if they are under consenting adult age, and they live in your house, they live by your rules. In other words, be parents. Don't expect Facebook and Twitter to do it for you. Make sure your kids friend you, and don't hide or block anything from you. If they do, cut them off. Give them some amount of freedom, and don't breathe down their necks night and day. However, if something does look suspicious, or they are liking every random page that comes across their feed, talk to them about scammers and why they should be careful.
I don't want to frighten anyone. I love Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and other online communities. I use them every day. I keep up with friends, family, and things I enjoy. I talk to people I don't see often, I share jokes, I discuss issues, and I will continue to do so. I do exercise caution. I do verify and check and try to make sure what I pass on is real. Do I make a mistake now and then? Sure. I am human. But each time I do, it serves to remind me that I should be more careful. After all, we are all responsible for whatever we do, online or off. The spammers and the phishers and the other less than legitimate types aren't going away. But if we all take a little care, we can lessen their effects. So, go on, update your status, tweet away, laugh at the latest joke making the rounds, and "awwww" at that cute kitty or puppy. Just be sure it's a real kitty or puppy first.
Oh, and please do not ask me to change my settings to "make things more secure." I have my settings the way I want them, thank you. And most of the time, those things either are already set that way by default, or the change won't do what you think it will. For example, the one you see all the time that says to click on my profile picture, and uncheck photos, and other items? All that will do is unsubscribe ME from your posts, and I won't see them. Which sort of defeats the purpose of being friends online in the first place, doesn't it? I won't do it. I'm content with my online experience as it is, and I don't feel that my privacy is in any way threatened by what I am doing.< /rant >