Social media and your privacy is an intriguing topic that we should all be concerned about. On the one hand, Pete Cashmore of Mashable has already rightfully declared some time ago that Privacy is Dead. On the other hand, there are those who are actually still afraid to join a social networking site because of privacy concerns. It is these people that I want to address in this blog post.
This week I got this question from my reader:
I have always used alias names and blind emails everywhere online to protect my personal info from ID Theft. Because I have a high credit score, I so far have not been ready to open up, what do you think?
Let me point out that everyone should have some social media privacy concerns. Facebook has made some blunders where they once made all of our profile information public by default. Location based services such as Foursquare announce to the world whenever we "check-in" to a location, making us prime targets for both stalkers as well as robbers who hang out on Please Rob Me to look for their next target.
But let's take a step back and remember my golden rule of social media privacy:
Don't say anything or post anything to your profile that you would not want any stranger to know.
It really is as simple as that! Only the information that you post could potentially harm you.
You do also have control over the flow of your social media information. Social networking sites like LinkedIn give you complete control over who gets to see how much of your profile. I even wrote a detailed blog post sometime ago on how to make a private LinkedIn profile. Facebook, for all that is said about them, is the same. So if you are really concerned, go to your Settings on each site and learn how they work before you post any private information. Or just don't post any private information!
Getting back to the question I received, it is true that there is always this risk when your information is public. That being said, if someone wanted to perform ID Theft on you, they could have done this _before_ social media. I had someone use my credit card illegally back in 2006, and when I contacted Citibank, they said that even they didn't have any control anymore and couldn't tell me how someone could have "cloaked" my card.
As for worries concerning high credit scores, I a not a financial professional but I believe that credit scores are only affected if there are a lot of calls made on your credit report or you are taking on new financial burdens. There are services out there like LifeLock that specialize in helping you control your credit reporting so that you are informed if there is any potential ID theft going on out there. If you are really concerned, the price you pay for services like theirs is minimal compared to your peace of mind gained.
It all comes down to weighing the pros and the cons, the benefits and potential costs associated of participating in social media. I personally believe that privacy has always been dead, and there are way more advantages than disadvantages in being active on social media. Google yourself and see what comes up about you outside of your social networking sites and you'll see what I mean.
Taking it one step further, I grew up with the understanding that any house at any time could be robbed if someone made a concentrated attempt to do so. I believe the same is true with our identities, and thus although social media could amplify your information, the issues of privacy and ID theft predate the advent of social media.
The choice is one that only you can make, but I believe that responsibly using social media can help you reap the benefits while mitigating potential risks involved.
Am I crazy? What do you think?