My attention was called to a news story out of Nashua, NH today about 50 instances of breaking and entering, some simple robberies and some home invasions where the people were present. Why call my attention to it? Because the robber had used Facebook status updates to find empty homes, it was a story ripe for a social media panic attack. My guess? All 50+ profiles were set to completely public settings, not to friend-only viewing, and the robbers didn’t have to be friends with the people to see what they were doing online.
This is not the first time “stranger danger” and a fear of the internet has been in the news. PleaseRobMe.com, a site that calls attention to issues surrounding Foursquare checkins, has been featured more than once. Stories of parents fearing for their teen’s safety online also feature repeatedly, including a multi part series on Dateline featuring protective parents and their teens.
There is a perception of stranger issues with your job as well, even getting one teacher fired for making comments about her community and job on her personal profile – she didn’t pay attention to her privacy settings and her updates were public. Were her thoughts particularly revolutionary, or any different than any venting people may do about work? Not really.
In the end, it’s not often strangers you have to fear online, it’s yourself. Realistically, why are we still talking about the need for monitoring our own privacy in a proactive way at this stage of the internet’s development? I’ve said this at many speaking gigs and teaching gigs, but it bears repeating: everything you need to know about internet safety you learned in kindergarten. Don’t cross the street without looking both ways. Don’t take candy from strangers. The list goes on, but swap out a few words and you have your personal internet safety guideline written right there on your Star Wars lunch pail.
Every site gives you some kind of privacy controls. Every user of every site is going to use that site in their own way, the way they see fit – not always in a way you may see fit. Take time to learn how users interact where you work and play online. Take time to find and use the privacy settings. If you can’t find them, ask someone for help (chances are you know someone tech savvy enough to call). If a site doesn’t offer you enough privacy control to feel comfortable, there are hundreds of other sites you can find on which to have a presence – you don’t have to have a presence on a popular site just because other people like it. Do what feels right for you, be considerate of others, check your privacy settings weekly, don’t check in to location based services at your house, don’t check in to location based services if your house is left unattended – the common sense list goes on and on.
It takes about 5 minutes a day to check your settings around the internet and do your best to avoid being part of a preventable news story like this one. Aren’t you worth it?