Friday, September 12, 2008

Private Eye... Is Watching You...

I've been thinking a bit about privacy and online security. I do know that through this 23 Things process quite a few people are understandably a little nervous about things like privacy and security. Because the unknown is a little scary, and of course we all hear those horror stories, be they true ones or urban myth.

I personally believe that online privacy and security is YOUR responsibility, and mine. I really feel that one has to take responsibility for their own "online footprint" as it is sometimes referred to.

I'm sure many of you remember when Stephanie Rice, the swimmer, got into a kerfuffle over the photos of her in a sexy costume at a party, having a few drinks that were visible on her Facebook account. Or perhaps you heard the story of Kevin Rudd's personal assistant, and how there was fuss over photos he posted on Facebook of sightseeing around London when he was over there working with KRudd.

Now I personally believe neither of these people did anything wrong. Their Facebook account is their Facebook account, and if they want to post photos of whatever they like - go for it. But perhaps it was a little unwise of them to leave those photos viewable to the public. Particularly when they are in the public eye and it is very simple in Facebook (and all other Web2.0 technologies) to set your photos, comments, blogs, you name it as visible to whatever level you like. You can have them set privately so only you can see them. You can set them so only certain people can see them, like your family and/or friends. Or you can set them so only people who are your "Facebook friends" can see them.

For example, I originally had a single Facebook account, and I had some of my colleages listed as my Facebook friends. Because I had photos on there of myself out partying on the weekend (certainly nothing shocking by 99% of people's standards), and I had colleagues that I actually don't know very well as my Facebook friends, I set up the privacy levels so that only my "real life" friends could see those photos. And that was MY responsibility to do so, because they are my photos and my Facebook account. And I have the responsibility to project to the world, in my online footprint, the image I want people to have of me. Do I want complete strangers to see photos of me drinking cocktails at a casino? No. Am I happy to allow my friends and family see these things? Yes.

Later I decided to make two Facebook accounts - one for professional use and one for personal use. This is just so that I could have all the silly, fun, frivolous stuff on my personal one and not clutter up the professional one.

The other point is, there is nowhere that you HAVE to share things like photos of yourself or people in your life, your birthdate, any of that information. Most times, you can put your real name in but have your username as something else. For example, on my personal MySpace, my real name is in there for MySpace purposes, but my username that everyone sees, is sleepydumpling (yeah alright, stop laughing you lot.) I've chosen this as a privacy step for myself. Facebook tends to work better with your real name, as it's for networking with people you actually know, but it's not compulsory.

If you want to put a picture on MySpace or Facebook but not a picture of yourself, you can. Sometimes I put up a picture of a cute animal, or a landscape, or a flower. Sometimes I put up joke pictures. Depending on my mood. There is nothing to say that you have to be totally identifiable. It's up to you.

When it comes to online security, use your common sense. Don't put up your phone number or address. Don't put your whole birth date visible to all and sundry. Don't tell people that you don't know information about yourself that can be used to trace MORE information about yourself.

I've had an online presence for about 10 years now myself. I'm involved in web forums for women's health groups and book clubs. I have a very strong MySpace and Facebook presence and I blog publicly. And with all of that... not once have I had any problems with security or privacy.

Yes, I've encountered the odd nutjob out there, but they haven't had any information about me that could lead them to find me in real life. They've just been a nutjob on a website that I've had to hit the "block user" button for. Easy peasy.

But that said, I travelled around the US for three months last year, staying with people I had "met" online, and made some of the most wonderful friends of my life. Not once did I feel unsafe or threatened. Because I took the responsibility to look after my own security. I knew which people were safe to stay with and spend the most time with, because like any other friendship, it had built up over time. I also knew which people who were nice but I still didn't know them well enough, so I arranged to meet them for lunch or dinner, rather than staying with them. I met dozens and dozens of people on my trip for the first time, and did not have a single bad experience.

Well, I did have one slightly weird experience... but that was with people I already knew!! Go figure!

If you're not sure about what you want to show in your Web2.0 accounts, try looking under things like "privacy" or "settings" and exploring how you can set up the levels of viewing of different sections in each one. I think you'll be surprised at just how much control you have of your online presence.

I know I control mine 100%.


Bev said...

Thanks for all your help and info you are doing a wonderful job. We will have to supply panadol for the aching head.

Troll said...

Thanks Kath- it's good to have a reminder that online security is just as applicable as the real-world kind.