Are there any privacy risks associated with using social networking sites?
Like many activities on the web, there are some privacy risks. You can minimise the risks by taking steps to protect your personal information online.
Protecting information online
Here are some of the things you should think about when using social networking sites. They are not meant to scare you, just help you to be prepared.
- Don't be under any illusions - it's not just your close friends listening in!
- Are you sure you want that information to be public?
- Remember that activities online affect your life offline
- Protected your own privacy? ...what about your friends?
- Watch out for identity theft
Sometimes it can feel like your MySpace page is like an online diary and the only people reading it are your close friends.
Think carefully about the information you post. Would you be comfortable with your teacher, uni lecturer, employer, parents or a police officer reading the information you post?
Be careful about what sort of information you post on social networking sites.
You have probably seen some of those media reports where people have applied for a job and found that their MySpace or Facebook page has let them down. Others have actually lost their jobs due to comments they have made about their employer on MySpace or Facebook.
Remember that comments you post on social networking sites are mostly public. So, think carefully about what information you publish about yourself.
If you have a message for a particular friend, consider sending it to their inbox rather than posting it publicly on their wall.
Imagine you are planning a party and post the details on your MySpace page including your address. On the day, strangers show up uninvited, gatecrash the party and vandalise your house.
This is an extreme example but it does happen!
A more common example is if you are part of a social group on MySpace or Facebook. If the group meets regularly or attends certain events, your membership of this group may allow people you don't know to find you.
When you are online on MySpace or Facebook, it can feel a bit like these sites are a world away from your real, physical life at home.
These different worlds aren't as far apart as you think. When you give out information about yourself online, you make it easier for people online to find you offline.
So, think carefully about who you want knowing where you live, what your phone number is, or which school you go to.
So you've been careful to protect your own privacy, but what about the privacy of other people? When you use a social networking site, the privacy of your friends and family is in your hands. Are they comfortable with (or do they even know about) the information you are revealing about them on your MySpace page?
A risk with social networking sites is that people lose control over their personal information – people who might not even use the site.
Think carefully about what you're going to post about others. Try putting yourself in their shoes. Maybe it'd be a good idea to ask your friend before you post that information or photo.
Remember that others have a right (like you) to control how information about them is made public.
Identity theft occurs when someone steals information about you, often so that they can steal money from you.
For example, if someone gets enough personal information about you, they may be able to apply for a credit card or a loan in your name. After they've taken off with the money, the ‘real' you is left with the bill and the bad credit rating.
Identity theft doesn't always have to involve money.
Your MySpace or Facebook account details and password could be stolen by an identity thief who then logs onto your profile, vandalises your page and sends messages to your friends pretending to be you.
You make it easier for identity thieves when you make lots of information about yourself public.