More than 800 million people around the world share their photos, their latest activities and their innermost thoughts on Facebook on a daily basis and Twitter has more than 100 million active users. While no one can deny the power of social media to connect people with friends and family and to advance political causes, individuals still need to be wary of their personal privacy when using social media.
The obvious concern for many people is that employers and potential employers can gather information that could hurt their careers. Since employers even tend to discredit applicants with online paralegal certification versus an applicant with certification obtained through a more traditional means, there is no telling how having privy to your social media persona could hurt your chances of securing a job. Not only should individuals be careful of posting inappropriate party photos online, but they may also need to remember not to post their golf score from the day they called in sick to work.
More troubling for many people is that Facebook and other Internet sites use their searches and posts to create a profile that can then be used by advertisers to direct their appeals to their interests. According to a New York Times article, Facebook says they do not share personal data with advertisers. The Federal Trade Commission, in a settlement in November 2011 with Facebook, now requires Facebook to subject itself to regular privacy audits for the next two decades. Facebook will also need to keep its users informed about how their personal information is shared.
While Facebook says it does not share personal information with them, advertisers have embraced social media as a prime method of reaching potential customers. According to The Washington Post, Facebook earned a profit of $668 million in 2011 and had revenue of $3.7 billion, most of it from ads that target users based on their personal data.
In addition to advertisers and employers, other organizations may be trolling Facebook and Twitter for unprotected information. Police departments and detectives have found suspects through their use of social media. Some experts believe life insurance companies may begin searching social media for information about the habits of insurance applicants to be sure they are not lying about avocations such as sky diving.
Consumers of social media can take steps to protect their privacy, but these steps will not necessarily prevent the storage of personal information about individual’s search habits, online shopping or shared photos. In an article in PC World, several steps are recommended for social media users to protect their privacy. First and foremost, everyone needs to think carefully about the information they share in the context of who may be reading it. Even with privacy settings, it is best to assume that anyone can read anything posted in social media and that the information will stay available forever. Avoiding embarrassing or obnoxious comments should be rule number one for every social media user.
Some users assume that when they post something on Facebook, only their friends will see it. However, if a friend comments on your post, a friend of that friend can often trace back the conversation to the original post. Reviewing and frequently updating the privacy settings on a Facebook account provides a barrier to others easily accessing information, but will not prevent information from leaking out to those who are determined to see it.
Guest Author Bio:
Fiona Causer is currently a student pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Legal Studies. She enjoys writing and seeks to use it as a vehicle to convey ideas and engage others in discussing relevant issues of our day.