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Private or Public?

by Randall Craig on May 4, 2010

Filed in: Blog, Make It Happen Tipsheet, Social Media

Tagged as: ,

Recent changes announced by 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 recently announced “Open Graph” initiative, they are providing the hooks and programming interfaces to allow other sites to use your information, in ways you could not possibly dream of. In fact, in the first week of its introduction, over 50,000-plus sites have implemented Facebook’s social media plug-ins. And when these sites get your information, they can now keep it, indefinitely. 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 change their terms of use, technology, and user interface relatively frequently, the privacy controls also get changed frequently to match.

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.

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Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)



Randall has been advising on Web and Social Strategy since 1994 when he put the Toronto Star online, the Globe and Mail's GlobeInvestor/Globefund, several financial institutions, and about 100+ other major organizations. He is the author of seven books, including the recently released "Everything Guide to Starting an Online Business", and speaks across North America on Social Media and Web Strategy. More at and

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