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BLOGPrivate or Public?

by Randall CraigFiled in: Blog, Make It Happen Tipsheet, Social Media, TrustTagged as: ,

So many of the changes from Facebook highlight an important risk in Social Media: there is very little privacy, and there will be even less in the future. Facebook has long coveted connecting outward to the rest of the internet, and with their Open Graph initiative, they have provided the hooks and programming interfaces to allow other sites to use your information, in ways you could not possibly dream of.

In fact, over half of the web’s sites have implemented Facebook’s social media plug-ins of one form or another. And when these sites get your information, they (and often the plug-ins’ authors) can now keep it, indefinitely. And so can Facebook.  Furthermore, more of your Facebook information is now designated as public – and “public” itself means not just on Facebook, but also on any site that you frequent that uses Facebook’s social media plug-ins.

Why this matters: Your personal brand, in many ways, is defined by what is in your social media profiles, along with the aggregate of your comments, photos, and other social content. You may not realize – since it might be long ago – what actually is there, and who can use the information, and for what purpose.

At the most benign level, your friends may get a chuckle from your content. A bit further along, your social media profile might be used by recruiters to source you for a job… or to disqualify you from one. At the extreme, consider this: might insurance companies use this content to determine your risk level, and your insurance rates? Might landlords use this to disqualify you from renting? Or banks from giving you a loan? (If this sounds far-fetched, consider that the insurance industry already uses your personal credit scores to determine your insurance rates.) Since you can’t see who has seen your profile (or photos, or posts, etc), you have no idea who is looking, what their objectives are, or how they are going to use the information.

While there are “privacy” controls on most social media sites, they are too complicated for the majority of people to understand, let alone use. And since many social media sites constantly change their terms of use, technology, and user interface relatively frequently, the privacy controls also get changed frequently to match.

Even worse, the tech advertising platforms – Facebook and Google, but also others – marry your data with external data to make an even more invasive profile of you.

This week’s action plan: Privacy is our personal responsibility if we want to enjoy the benefits of free social media web sites. This week, protect yourself: lock down your profiles so that nobody but your closest friends can see anything that is “personal”. And consider removing anything not completely necessary. Finally, cleanse the public part of your social media profiles of anything that doesn’t show you as a “professional”. Social media is one of society’s greatest boons, but if you are going to use it, protect your privacy first.

Even more:  Download all of your data, to see what the tech platforms know about you, beyond what is on the public sites.  And use Facebook’s complicated “Off-Facebook Activity Tool” to limit what is shared beyond the platform.

Bottom line: If you’re not paying for the use of the product with dollars, you will be paying with your data.

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