The real-world risks of Social Networks

In this little article, i’m going to be using “Facebook” (which I do use) as my example Social Network, but I’ve no doubt other networks have the same risks…

Firstly, unless you change the default privacy settings, anyone in the same “network” as you can probably see some or all of your personal details. Even if you don’t publish your full address, leaving your name, date of birth, and town lying around on the internet (whether it’s on a social network site, or a discussion forum profile) are enough to find you on 192.com, even if you’re not on the phone. Electoral role searches are easy.

Posting your home address, phone number, date of birth or any other identifiable personal information on any “public” forum (and that includes forums which require free registration to see profiles – there’s no background checks going on as to who can join) is just as bad, if not more so. Anyone with a little common sense can probably find you on other sites (especially if you’ve linked to them from your profile) and piece together more information than you give out in any one place.

Of course, if you own your own domain, your home address is quite possibly listed against that too… unless you’ve “opted out” at registration – here’s the WHOIS record for tvotw.co.uk (which is opted out) and for a business domain, which isn’t. Now, when you bought your domain, did you list it as a “opted out” domain? Now is a good time to check

Further to that, we’ll assume a mythical bad-guy now has enough information to locate your home and family in the real world – just from what is available to any other member on your social network website (that’s without you adding that person as a “friend”) or posted publically on the forum – then people post things like “looking forward to my holiday in <insert name of far-flung exotic destination> next week”.

For very little effort, a bad-guy now has your home address, and details of a time when you won’t be there. Don’t be too surprised when you get home to find your TV, stereo, laptop and jewellry are all gone.

Have fun explaining to your insurance company that you took reasonable precautions to secure your home. Posting your travel plans on a public website, along with enough information to pinpoint your home isn’t “reasonable precautions” in my opinion. Yes, write about the trip when you get back, but wait until then…

Then there are the people who will actually add complete strangers as “friends” – why not just give them the keys to your house, your credit cards and PIN codes…

On Facebook, when you’ve amended your privacy setttings, you’ll see a message saying something like “Your profile may include your picture, interests, photo albums, groups, wall and other things, depending on the profile details you have selected. But because you restricted your privacy settings, most people cannot get to your profile to see those things.” – contrary to the way it sounds – this is a good thing.

Ideally the only people who should have access to your profile are the people you’d give your personal details to anyway – and you certainly shouldn’t go around adding random people as “friends”, that’s a really really bad idea – stick to people you know. Just think about what details you’re giving random strangers access to when you post on the internet. A little common sense goes a long way, simply put, don’t post anything on the internet that you wouldn’t be happy to see posted on a giant billboard in your local town centre for all to see.

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