Dealing with the Death of Privacy in the Facebook Age

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Dealing with the Death of Privacy in the Facebook Age

by Brian Prince

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Step 1: Acceptance

By signing up for a social networking site, be it Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace or Twitter, you are agreeing to share a certain amount of information with a network of friends and associates. This means that the first and most important line of defense against invasions of your privacy will always be you. If you don't want something to be seen by the public at large, then dont put that information online.

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Understanding Privacy Settings

Social networking sites have different built-in privacy and security features for users. For example, Facebook has added a way for users to control who can access certain status updates and other profile information. While critics say the controls are complicated, taking the time to go through the information about them—which depending on the site may be set to share your information with everyone by default—can save users future headaches.

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Who Owns the Data?

On some sites, users are not the owners of the photos and information they post, which is another reason to become familiar with the policies for individual sites. Some may sell user information or make it available to others even after your account is closed.

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Stop Sharing My Info

Many sites are guilty of doing this in various ways, such as sharing users' e-mails with others. This can lead to users getting hit with newsletters and advertisements they neither want nor expect. It can also take the form of the Facebook plug-ins that allow third-party sites to access information. All sites need to have a clear policy on how user information is shared with outside sources, as well as a clear way for users to opt in or out.

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Privacy by Default

A key reason Facebook is taking a beating over privacy the last few months is for refusing to make data private by default. A recent survey by a consumer watchdog group revealed many people aren't taking full advantage of Facebook's privacy controls, but this could because they don't understand the controls being offered. Making the default privacy setting at the most private levels keeps user data protected.

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Simplicity Is Key

In response to user concerns, Facebook is pledging to simplify its privacy settings. MySpace did as well, stating it would allow users to configure privacy settings separately for different parts of their profile and allow them to make information available to friends only, anyone on MySpace or anyone 18 or older in and outside the site.

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Employer Policies

Information published by employees should be in line with corporate policies regarding the disclosure of proprietary information. Businesses also should consider policies that cover information or statements about clients that could impact business.

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Know Who You Are Sharing with

Security researchers occasionally have tried to get social network users to accept "friends" who were fraudulent. Attackers can do this, too, to spread malware and conduct surveillance on potential targets. There also are plenty of stories of embarrassing photos making their way into the wrong hands. Be aware who you are "friending" and what information you are sharing.

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